Naju College women’s baseball team in a league of its own

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Naju College women’s baseball team in a league of its own

“Go! Go!” the team yelled, as a batter tore round the bases at a baseball ground in Yeongsanpo Municipal Park in Naju, South Jeolla province.
A second baseman missed a ground ball. “You should position yourself low like this and don't take your eyes off the ball,” growled the coach. Looking sheepish, the player duly stooped lower.
In another corner of the ground, three pitchers practiced while another coach dished out advice and checked the speed of the balls with a speed gun. In among pitches as fast as 110 kilometers (68 miles) per hour were a few vicious curve balls.
Naju College is home to Korea’s first female university baseball team. Lee Gyeong-hun, 42, the team's manager and a former baseball player for Mokpo Commercial High School, started the team after recruiting 13 players from female baseball clubs nationwide in Korea.
In order to join the team, the players had to quit their jobs and enroll in the university. Every day the women take regular classes in the morning before training in the afternoon. They live in dormitories, and their tuition is covered by the university and Gwangju-South Jeolla Province Women's Baseball Association.
The women, who started formal training last December, are united in their passion for baseball. Some want to become baseball coaches in the future while others dream of playing for the national team.
“In four to five years there will be a lot of female baseball clubs sponsored by companies,” said Lee Gyeong-ok, 32, an outfielder.
As the only married woman on the team, Park Hyeong-ok, a 52-year-old outfielder, has earned the nickname “big sister.” But being married was no obstacle to Ms. Park’s baseball career: her husband even agreed to move with her from Busan to Gwangju, so she could live closer to the team’s training ground.
“After graduating from university, I would like to coach female baseball players,” Ms. Park said.
The women come from diverse backgrounds.
Team captain Jo Hye-mi, 30, graduated from a vocational high school and worked at Jeonbuk Bank before joining the team. Despite taking up baseball just two years ago ― with the Swing baseball club in Gwangju ― Ms. Jo is a powerful slugger and has a good sense of how to implement strategy, according to team manager Mr. Lee.
Lee Yu-yeong, 27, a pitcher, studied physical education at Dankook University and worked for a retailer. A badminton player in high school, she has a strong shoulder, and can conjure up both 110-kilometer-per-hour pitches and fast-dropping curve balls. Ms. Lee's younger sister, Min-jeong, 24, is also on the team.
In fact, many of the women on the team have some sporting pedigree.
For instance, 27-year-old Kim Hye-jeom is an experienced taekwondo athlete who has competed in the sport’s world championships. And Kim Su-mi, 23, an outfielder, was a hockey player at Keimung University.
The youngest on the team, 20-year-old Jeong Yi-seul, is known for her quick feet and her encyclopedic knowledge about baseball.
“My dream is to play for the national team and take part in the Women's Baseball World Cup,” Ms. Jeong said.

by Seo Hyung-sik
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