Baseball in the heart of the city

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Baseball in the heart of the city

Chung Jeh-won
The author is head of the sports news team at the JoongAng Ilbo.

“How about building a baseball field in Yongsan Park?” said a coworker who is a professional baseball fan. “That’s ridiculous,” I said. But he insisted. “Why do you think it’s not possible? In New York and Tokyo, baseball fields are in the middle of the city. It is not just for baseball games. A dome can be built and be utilized as a performance site,” he said.

Other colleagues agreed that it was a good idea. Even those who didn’t like professional baseball seem to find it appealing. And I started to consider the idea of building a dome in Yongsan Park of central Seoul more seriously.

What is Yongsan? It is in the middle of Seoul, but it was not a Korean territory for more than 130 years. The Qing Army stayed here after a massive Joseon soldiers’ rebellion was suppressed in 1882, and the Japanese Army stationed here before the Russo-Japanese War. We all know that the U.S. Forces took over this site after the 1950-53 Korean War and used it until recently.

Building a dome in this valuable and expensive site? Does it make sense to build a dome in Yongsan Park when there’s not enough land for apartments, and even the Taereung Golf Course is about to be demolished for apartment construction? Many people believe that artificial structures should not be built in Yongsan Park. We all agree that the last remaining green site in Seoul should be preserved for the future. It should be turned into a park with forests, birds and streams like Central Park in New York. The general consensus is to minimize development and preserve nature.

The big picture is right. I oppose building a concrete building in a wooded park. But building a dome would not ruin the park either. Actually, there’s no better idea in terms of efficient utilization of the park. The total area of Yongsan Park is about 3 million square meters (749 acres), and a dome would only take up about 60,000 square meters (646,000 square feet), which is only 2 percent of the entire park.

Then why a dome? Seoul has the Jamsil Field and the Gocheok Sky Dome. Currently, two baseball clubs, LG and Doosan, share the Jamsil Field. If a dome is built in Yongsan, they should no longer have to share one field. The New York Yankees have Yankee Stadium and the Mets have Citi Field as home fields. Seoul could have Jamsil Baseball Stadium south of the Han River and Yongsan Dome in the north. Gocheok Sky Dome, the only dome in Korea, has serious transportation problems. The dome was built in an empty site in an area with heavy traffic, and accessibility is poor. As it has limited parking space, visitors have a hard time when driving their own cars.

The Korean Series in professional baseball is in progress. I visited Gocheok Dome a few days ago, and I heard complaints in the subway. “Who came up with the idea of building a dome here?” Only one subway line passes through the Gocheok Dome area. In Japan, six train and subway lines, including Marunouchi, go to the Tokyo Dome.

Building a dome in Yongsan can resolve all these challenges. There are six subway stations around Yongsan Park: Seobinggo, Shinyongsan, Ichon, Samgakji, Sookmyung Women’s University and Noksapyeong. It boasts superb access in all directions.

From April to November, it can be used for baseball, and for the rest of the year, it can be become a performance site. Thorough planning for the next 100 years is needed to create a cultural space for sports and arts. It will be an attraction for men and women, young and old in the heart of Seoul.

I am not arguing a baseball dome should be built in Yongsan Park right away. It is worth listening to people’s opinions and discussing efficient utilization of the park. If funding is needed for the construction, the naming rights can be sold. New York Mets’ home stadium is called Citi Field, named for Citi Group. The home to the Colorado Rockies is Coors Field. Selling the naming rights to a company can help secure financial resources. It could be Amorepacific Dome or LG Dome. A dome in Yongsan is worth considering. In English, a baseball field is referred to as a “ballpark.” In other words, a baseball field is a park.
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