Cheers for cheerleaders
My thanks to the SK Wyverns for having introduced me to a new word ― new to me, that is. Wyvern ― how many people know the dictionary definition of a Wyvern ― ``a two-legged dragon having wings and a barbed and knotted tail”?
That was a question I was tempted to ask while watching the last two games of the Korean Series in which the Wyverns went down to defeat by the Samsung Lions, first in Incheon’s Munhak Stadium on Saturday afternoon and then Monday night at Jamsil.
My guessing was that few if anyone among the screaming, chanting, singing Wyvern fans would have a clue about the meaning of the word. Wrong. The wyvern, it turns out, has an esteemed place in the annals of heraldry, appearing on shields and name plates. How could I not have known? For that matter, how come nobody over 30 or so seemed to have any idea, either?
The answer is a reminder of the generation gap. I may have read about King Arthur and his knights and even dabbled in Shakespeare but never deeply enough to perceive the existence of a beast whose name did not show up in the school and college courses of my youth.
But ask kids under 30, and they know all about wyverns. Why? The answer is we’re living in the digital age, the era of information technology, and the wyvern appears on computer screens worldwide, gnarling and grimacing, chasing good guys and bad guys, switching its hideous tail and baring its awful teeth.
You have to be into computer games to know all that, and how many graying men and women do you see in PC rooms packed with school-age kids? When I told my sons in college I’d made up for missing the American world series by going to Korean Series games between the Lions and the Wyverns, I admitted I’d never heard of a wyvern and assumed they hadn’t, either. How wrong could I have been! They seemed totally familiar with the creature and not a little surprised that I had never heard of it, or him, or her.
The next question, though, is why images of the wyvern aren’t publicized by the SK club. I may have missed something, but I didn’t see a wyvern on the Wyvern cap that I was wearing on the Wyvern side in Incheon. Nor did I find a wyvern on SK uniforms and souvenir shirts, and I didn’t see anyone garbed as a wyvern on the field in between innings, spitting fire in defiance of the Lions. Surely an enactment of a wyvern battling a lion would have been appropriate.
One feature of the great show of baseball in Korea would seem to lend itself to the wyvern image. Periodically, great balls of fire erupt from tubes on either side of the stands. One club or the other launches the fireballs at moments of high drama. Fusillade after fusillade burst into the air from three tubes on the Samsung side after Kang Bong-kyu blasted a solo shot off a hapless American journeyman pitcher, Brian Gordon. That home run, as it happened, was all the Lions needed to shut out the Wyverns, 1 to 0, and win the series.
True, American fire regulations might not countenance such bursts of flames so close to the fans. I did feel the heat of the flames after finding an empty seat beneath the cannon during the last game. All around me, the fan response was about the most exuberant I’ve ever seen in a baseball stadium.
Raucous loudspeakers sounded off at every touch of drama, whether a routine pop fly or a base hit or a walk or a strike out, and cheer leaders, looking like members of the girl groups you see on TV, gyrated and jumped, always smiling in unison, between innings.
I’m not sure how the Korean game compares with what you see in the States. There were definitely some fine plays. The Lions shortstop bobbled a grounder in one of the games I saw but made up for it with some fancy backhanded stabs. The hitting had its moments but was probably not as powerful as you’re likely to see in the U.S. As for the pitching, well, it was enough to snuff out some serious threats, but who can really tell from 150 feet away?
In one area, though, the Koreans come out way ahead. That’s in fan enthusiasm. U.S. ballparks might not be advised to emulate the Korean flamethrowers, but I wouldn’t mind if they had cheerleaders carrying on between innings.
If U.S. football and basketball teams can have them, why not American baseball teams? There’s a Korean act that’s definitely ready for export.
Donald Kirk, author and journalist, is a fan of the National League’s Washington Nationals and the American League’s Baltimore Orioles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.