Seoul gets Dodgers fever as MLB exhibition games begin

Dodgers fever descended on western Seoul on Sunday as one of the most famous sports teams in the world made their first appearance on Korean soil in the first of six games to be played here over the next week.

The Los Angeles Dodgers took on the KBO’s Kiwoom Heroes in the first of four exhibition games at Gocheok Sky Dome in western Seoul shortly after midday on Sunday, with the San Diego Padres set to face the Korean national team in a second game later on Sunday evening as of press time.

Los Angeles Dodgers' designated hitter Shohei Ohtani, center, and pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, left, walk together at the start of an exhibition game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Kiwoom Heroes at Gocheok Sky Dome in western Seoul on Sunday.  [AP/YONHAP]

Los Angeles Dodgers’ designated hitter Shohei Ohtani, center, and pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, left, walk together at the start of an exhibition game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Kiwoom Heroes at Gocheok Sky Dome in western Seoul on Sunday. [AP/YONHAP]


The four games on Sunday and Monday will be followed by the 2024 MLB Seoul Series, a two-game series between the Dodgers and Padres that officially starts the 2024 MLB season.

The Dodgers beat the Heroes 14-3 in the opening game on Sunday, with Dodgers starter Michael Grove taking the win with no hits while striking out four over two innings of work. The Kiwoom Heroes’ Ariel Jurado was hit with the loss, giving up four runs on five hits while striking out three and walking four in four innings pitched.

Kiwoom Heroes' Ariel Jurado pitches during the first inning of the exhibition game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Kiwoom Heroes at Gocheok Sky Dome in western Seoul on Sunday. [AP/YONHAP]

Kiwoom Heroes’ Ariel Jurado pitches during the first inning of the exhibition game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Kiwoom Heroes at Gocheok Sky Dome in western Seoul on Sunday. [AP/YONHAP]

The Dodgers’ newest star Shohei Ohtani started at designated hitter for the California side, striking out swinging in the two-hole spot in the first and second innings before being replaced in the third.

The brief outing, announced by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts before the game, gave Korean fans a quick glimpse of perhaps the most famous face in baseball as he prepares for his first official game with the Dodgers after joining the club on the biggest deal in professional sports history over the offseason.

Although the man himself was only briefly in the game, Ohtani shirts were dotted all over the crowd at Gocheok Sky Dome. A rare example of a player surpassing the often-bitter sporting rivalry between Korea and Japan, Ohtani is a very popular figure among baseball fans in Korea and was met by a large crowd when he landed at Incheon International Airport in Incheon on Friday.

Los Angeles Dodgers' Shohei Ohtani waves as he walks with security guards during the baseball team's arrival at Incheon International Airport on Friday. [AP/YONHAP]


Los Angeles Dodgers’ Shohei Ohtani waves as he walks with security guards during the baseball team’s arrival at Incheon International Airport on Friday. [AP/YONHAP]

“Japan and Korea, they’ve always had a great rivalry when it comes to sports. I’ve always watched the games between Japan and Korea and I always respected, looked up to Team Korea and the Korean players,” Ohtani said in a press conference on Saturday.

“So being accepted like this and welcomed is a very good feeling. And I want to put on a very good show for everyone.”

But while Ohtani and the Dodgers may have brought the Majors to Korea, there was still plenty of KBO spirit on display at Gocheok on Sunday.

In a nod to Korean baseball culture, both the Dodgers and Padres have hired cheerleading teams for the duration of their stay in Korea. And while the Dodgers’ new troupe could not quite capture the rowdy atmosphere of a typical KBO game — there was nonstop cheering, but clearly far fewer fans who actually knew the words — their appearance did add a distinctly Korean feel to proceedings.

Sunday’s exhibition game was scheduled to be followed by a clash between the Padres and the Korean national team later in the evening, with the Padres back at midday on Monday to face the KBO champion LG Twins and the Dodgers in the evening to take on the Korean national team.

Sunday evening marks the first time that Padres’ infielder Kim Ha-seong, the first Korean ever to win an MLB Gold Glove award, has appeared at Gocheok since he left the Heroes at the end of the 2020 season to move to the big leagues.

“It’s an honor for me to play in the first MLB games in Korea. And I think other Asian players that came before me paved the way,” Kim said in a press conference Saturday. “I think an occasion like this will allow more Asian players to dream of playing in the majors,” Kim added. “I hope more of them will challenge themselves.”

San Diego Padres' Kim Ha-Seong speaks during a press conference at Gocheok Sky Dome in western Seoul on Saturday. [AFP/YONHAP]

San Diego Padres’ Kim Ha-Seong speaks during a press conference at Gocheok Sky Dome in western Seoul on Saturday. [AFP/YONHAP]

Kim is joined on the Padres’ lineup by countryman Go Woo-suk, a closer who joined the big league team from the LG Twins over the offseason, although whether Go has done enough to see any playing time in Seoul remains to be seen.

The Dodgers and Padres will return to Gocheok on Wednesday for Game 1 of the Seoul Series at 7:07 p.m., with Game 2 scheduled at the same time on Thursday.


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