It’s a steamy summer day, a scene laden with nostalgia: the distinct pop of a fresh can of beer; a row of hot dogs sizzling on a charcoal grill; the crack of a bat followed immediately with audible admiration from the crowd; caps, gloves, and Gatorade strewn among the spectators. To the waegookin, it might sound a picturesque day back in the homeland, but here in the DSL, it’s any given Sunday.
The Daegu Softball League is midway through its seventh season, a ten-team, 120-player vehicle of Sunday fun. It’s been named “the best sports league in all of Korea,” and though we can’t exactly verify by whom, after a Sunday spent hanging out with the DSLers at Keimyung University’s Daemyeong-dong Campus Ballpark, we can’t disagree. DSL co-founder Chris Bolger says he and his buddies started the league when they got “tired of sitting around in bars drinking,” and wanted to do something a little more active—like take their beverages outside. A beer league it is, but no one could argue that the league isn’t incredibly competitive—our conversation with Bolger was peppered with “oohs” and “aghs” from the crowd, heckles and hurrahs, cheers, curses, and some powerful cracks of the bat. Even so, no loss in this league is so distressing that it can’t be soothed with some maekju—the DSL keeps a cooler or two full of Cass at all games, selling beer for 2,000 KRW and routing all the profits directly back into the league.
From its humble beginnings back in 2007 with just four teams, the league has grown each year, more than doubling in size to its current ten. Foreigners, Koreans, men and women share an equal playing field, with 12-13 members on each squad (with memorable team names such as “We Got the Runs”, the “Multiple Scoregasms”, and the “Pitch Slappers”), and everyone gets time out on the diamond. Each team has three girls, two of which must be in play at all times. Bolger says the decision to go co-ed was conscious. “We’ve always been co-ed, just to have as many people involved as possible, and to keep that buzz too—if it was all guys, it’d just be too much testosterone.”
The DSL is packed full of perks for its players, like a regularly-updated website with stats, standings, and power rankings. There’s a weekly podcast, sometimes two, and pictures, videos, and articles written by some of the walking caricatures you’ll meet walking around a DSL Sunday. There’s an opening draft night after the captains pick their teams (word is it gets rowdy), and a banquet to close out the season with your standard roster of awards, separated by sex: Rookie of the Year; Most Improved; and MVP, as well as the coveted Championship Cup. But the biggest perk of the Daegu Softball League is pretty apparent after an hour or two on the bleachers, and Bolger puts it best. “The cool thing for me personally is watching people come out and do something awesome. A girl was going to get a fowl pop-up, and she missed it and she missed it. She got the next one and everyone cheered for her,” he says, his tone echoed by more excitement from the stands, another all-star play in the making.
“You can come to the park and make 119 friends by the end of the season.” Judging by the claps of high-five, the growing pyramid of empties, and the merry mob of players lingering from games finished hours ago, we’d say he hit that one right on the money.
The Daegu Softball League runs every year from April through mid-June. If you want to sign up for next year, or just learn more, head on over to http://www.daegusoftball.com.