Celebrities start up a league of their own

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Celebrities start up a league of their own

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From left, Lotte Giants leading cheerleader Park Gi-ryang, musical actress Lisa, comedian Hwang Ji-hyeon, singer Cho Gap-gyeong, sports model Kim Jung-hwa and actress Park Zia take part in a training at a baseball stadium in Goyang, Gyeonggi, on the day the baseball team is formed. By Yang Gwang-sam

Forty Korean female celebrities gathered together at a baseball stadium in Goyang, Gyeonggi, on Sept. 21. They donned uniforms, got some gloves and started throwing baseballs like any professional player. But they missed a lot of balls. Still, their eyes were filled with passion for the game.

This was the start of the first female celebrities’ baseball team in Korea, the Hanstar Female Celebrities Baseball Team. Hanstar Media, a company that hosts celebrity baseball and basketball matches, held the team’s official inauguration ceremony on Sept. 21 at the stadium in Goyang.

The celebrities included Lotte Giants leading cheerleader Park Gi-ryang, MBC Sports Plus baseball broadcaster Bae Ji-hyun, sports announcer Jung Sun-ju, musical actress Lisa, singers Gilgun and Miryo and comedians Hwang Ji-hyeon and Heo Min.

Singer Cho Gap-gyeong, 48, enrolled as a player-coach of the team on the suggestion of her husband, Hong Seo-beom. Former members of the national basketball team Chun Eun-sook, 46, and Lee Yeon-hwa, 32, signed on to conquer a whole new sport.

The coaching staff is all male. Former Lotte Giants manager Yang Seung-ho took the helm as manager, while singer Kim Chang-ryul and actor Seo Ji-seok, who are veterans of a male celebrities’ baseball team, decided to serve under him.

“I didn’t want to be manager of the team at first because I thought celebrities only play baseball to become more famous,” Yang said.

“Their skills were like third graders at first. Nevertheless, I was surprised to see them train passionately even with swollen faces hit by a ball, and now they are actually capable of doing a double play.”

The Hanstar Female Celebrities Baseball Team has trained twice a week since last July. In spite of their busy schedules, nearly three-fourths of the team have regularly trained. While at first they could only throw a ball for 5 meters (16 feet), their balls now go further than 18.44 meters, which is the distance between the pitching mound and home plate.

Cheerleader Park Gi-ryang, who is famous for her model-like height and weight, is not good at throwing balls far due to weak shoulder power. But she is a great catcher.

“I decided to play baseball because I wasn’t satisfied with simply watching baseball from the stands,” said Park.

“Lotte Giants infielder Hwang Jae-gyun inspired me by asking, ‘Do you really think you can play baseball?’ I wanted to become a pitcher, but it was much harder than I thought. Instead, since I’m good at catching balls, I want to become a first baseman.”

Although the all-female baseball team is still in its infancy, the dreams of the players are already big.

“Professional baseball was able to achieve over seven million people attending per year because of the increase in the number of women in the audience,” said Park Jung-chul, a leader of the team.

“I hope this female celebrities’ team can stimulate Korean women to participate more in playing baseball.”

There are currently 42 non-professional women’s baseball teams in Korea with 820 players. That is a small number compared to the figures for men: 20,000 teams with 460,000
players.

Some female celebrities such as actress Park Zia, 23, who graduated from Seoul Action School, even dream about getting on the national women’s baseball team. Park Zia is considered a fireball on the celebrity team. The speed of her pitches is sometimes faster than 90 kilometers per hour (56 miles per hour).

“I dreamed about becoming a baseball player, but I had to give it up since women’s baseball did not exist in the past,” Park Zia said. “I’m happy to play and learn baseball again. As my next dream is to participate in the Women’s Baseball World Cup as a national player, I’m currently learning a wide range of pitches like the four seam, two seam fastball and slider.”

“A few players seem distinguished enough to be chosen as national players,” said manager Yang. “Park Zia, for example, is able to do dozens of pitches consecutively. I’m sure she can become a national player if she trains hard with professional coaches.”

The Women’s Baseball World Cup, considered the most prominent event for female baseball players, will be held in Gijang, Busan, in August 2016.

BY PARK SO-YOUNG [koo.yurim@joongang.co.kr]

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