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(LEAD) Back where they belong: KBO fans return to stadium for reg. season stretch drive

All News 20:29 October 19, 2021

(ATTN: ADDS photos, details)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 19 (Yonhap) -- Namgung Ho-seung hadn't been to a ball game since May. Back then, all clubs in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) were playing in front of fans, albeit at limited numbers. But once the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic struck in July, gates at stadiums in the greater Seoul area were slammed shut.

Like many others, Namgung was reduced to watching his favorite team, Seoul-based LG Twins, on television. Traveling out of town was not an option, as the pandemic raged on.

But Tuesday, he was back at Jamsil Baseball Stadium, as ballparks in and around the capital city opened back up.

Fans of the LG Twins cheer on their Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club during a KBO regular season game against the Kiwoom Heroes at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Oct. 19, 2021. (Yonhap)

The government lifted its ban on attendance in sporting events in the area starting this week, provided that fans are fully vaccinated. Open-air venues can admit up to 30 percent of their capacity. For indoor facilities, the cap is 20 percent.

The Twins, as they hosted the Kiwoom Heroes, became the first KBO club to bring fans back under the new guidelines, as the country is inching toward some semblance of normalcy.

Fans of the LG Twins cheer on their Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club during a KBO regular season game against the Kiwoom Heroes at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Oct. 19, 2021. (Yonhap)

At 30 percent capacity, Jamsil can have up to 7,405 fans at Twins' games. On this chilly Tuesday evening, though, the Twins and the Heroes played before 1,624 people.

South Korea is also trying to encourage people to get their jabs, and opening sports games to vaxxed people is among the incentives.

Fans prepare to enter Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Oct. 19, 2021, before a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game between the LG Twins and the Kiwoom Heroes. (Yonhap)

"I had some reservations about getting vaccinated, but now that I am enjoying a ball game in person, I am glad I got my shot," said Namgung, who had to provide proof of his vaccination and get his temperature checked before entering Jamsil. "I feel a lot safer today than I did in May."

A university student surnamed Hyun, a fan of the Heroes, also attended her last game in May. She said she was excited to finally watch a game in person but added, "The playoffs are almost here, and I wish (the loosening of the rules) had happened sooner."

Fans of the LG Twins cheer on their Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club during a KBO regular season game against the Kiwoom Heroes at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Oct. 19, 2021. (Yonhap)

The KBO said fans will be subject to the same set of health and safety protocols from earlier this year, when they were allowed to come to games.

Eating and drinking in the stands will still be prohibited, with fans only allowed to consume food and beverages at designated concessions areas. Vocal cheering is also banned and masks are mandatory.

"These rules are there for a reason," Hyun said. "I am just thankful we're able to go to games now."

A Twins fan named Kim Byung-joo had asked for a day off from work Tuesday well before the ban on crowds was lifted. The timing worked out perfectly for the 40-year-old, who typically goes to games on weekends.

Fans entering Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Oct. 19, 2021, have their proof of COVID-19 vaccination checked before attending a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game between the LG Twins and the Kiwoom Heroes. (Yonhap)

"I was so excited. I figured the regular season would end without any fans, but better late than never," Kim said. "I kept refreshing the ticking website to see when tickets would go on sale."

The regular season will conclude on Oct. 30. The Twins are in the thick of the postseason race, and they found themselves just 2.5 games behind the first-place KT Wiz entering Tuesday.

Their last championship came in 1994. They haven't even been to the Korean Series since 2002.

Will the drought end this year?

"Well, it'd be nice if we could win it," Kim said with a sheepish smile.

A fan of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club LG Twins shows his proof of COVID-19 vaccination after arriving at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Oct. 19, 2021, for a KBO regular season game between the Twins and the Kiwoom Heroes. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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