By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, March 5 (Yonhap) -- A new team has landed in South Korean baseball.
The SK Wyverns are no more in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), as the team's new corporate owner, Shinsegae Group's E-Mart, announced Friday they will now be called the SSG Landers.
SSG comes from Shinsegae's online mall, SSG.com. The nickname Landers was inspired in part by Incheon International Airport, the country's main gateway located in the club's west coast home city of Incheon, and the fact that travelers "land" there to arrive in South Korea. It's also a nod to Incheon's historic connection to baseball, with Shinsegae noting that baseball first "landed" in Incheon before any other city in South Korea.
Shinsegae also said it will try to land new baseball culture in Incheon.
The announcement came hours after the KBO's board of governors, made up of club owners, unanimously approved Shinsegae's entry into the league. The retail giant paid 6 billion won (US$5.3 million) in an entry fee.
The group had earlier trademarked "Landers" and also registered "ssglanders.com" as a domain name, leading to speculation that it would become the new name for the ballclub.
The team's stadium, currently called SK Happy Dream Park, will also be renamed.
In the KBO, corporate owners have their company name featured in front. Other examples are the NC Dinos and the Doosan Bears. The Kiwoom Heroes are the lone exception; Kiwoom Securities only has the naming rights and doesn't own the ballclub.
Until their new uniform is unveiled later this month, the players will be training and playing practice games in a temporary jersey. The new E-Mart jersey is expected to be ready by the start of the exhibition season on March 20. The Wyverns played their final scrimmage in the SK uniform earlier Friday on Jeju Island.
Word of Shinsegae Group's purchase of the ballclub from SK Telecom, the top mobile carrier, first leaked near the end of January, less than a week prior to the start of spring training. With SK Telecom in no apparent financial distress, the news of the sale was so abrupt and unexpected that many members of the ballclub said they first learned of the move through media.
The transaction was complete within a month, and the Wyverns players kept plugging away in spring training while coming to grips with the fact that they'll have a new uniform on their backs by the start of the regular season on April 3.
The club's surprise acquisition of Choo Shin-soo, former major league All-Star, should soften the blow for the anguished fan base. As one of the most successful Asian-born hitters in big league history, Choo brings instant credibility to the new-look team and has already generated plenty of buzz even before playing in his first game here.
The Wyverns came into existence after SK Group took over the cash-strapped Ssangbangwool Raiders and inherited their players for the 2000 season. The newly named Wyverns relocated from the southern town of Jeonju to Incheon.
In less than a decade, the Wyverns emerged as a new dynasty in the KBO. They played in a record-tying six consecutive Korean Series, from 2007 to 2012, and won it all in 2007, 2008 and 2010. Their most recent championship came in 2018.
The city of Incheon will now welcome its sixth different ballclub owner.
The west coast city had one of the six original teams in the inaugural 1982 season, called the Sammi Superstars. They were sold off in 1985 and became the Chungbo Pintos, who were then taken over by the cosmetics manufacturer Taepyungyang and became the Dolphins by 1988.
Hyundai Group stepped in for Taepyungyang, and the baseball club turned into the Unicorns starting in 1996. The Unicorns, which later moved south to Suwon, folded under some financial issues, and they got a fresh start in Seoul as the Heroes in 2008.
The Wyverns filled the void for Incheon fans in 2000 and their memorable 21-year run come to an end Friday.
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