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One diamond brings two nations together

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Steven Goetsch
  • 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
If you measured success strictly by a scoresheet, you would say the Osan American High School baseball team didn't do too well after losing to Cheonan Bukil High School 10-1 Friday. However, there was much more gained that afternoon. Relationships were formed. 

Two groups of boys, one American, one Korean, got a chance to go out and play the sport that they love in perfect "baseball weather" in the city of Cheonan. It was sport in its simplest form. Two cultures, where baseball is a staple, facing off against each other. 

After player introductions and both teams singing their respective national anthems, OAHS assistant coach Jess Shipley set the table with some words of inspiration. After all, they were playing the defending national champions. 

"You are playing for yourselves, your families, your base, your school and your country," said Shipley. Let's get pumped up and have a little national pride." 

Osan, being the guests, were first to bat and saw immediately why Bukil were the champs. With a stingy defense and aggressive pitching fanning two Osan batters in the first inning, Osan knew they had a battle on their hands. That appeared to rattle the Cougars as their pitcher Matt Clark walked a batter, threw a wild pitch and suddenly Osan faced a 3-0 deficit after one inning. 

Clark and the Cougars started to figure out Cheonan Bukil on both sides of the ball as Clark whiffed two Bukil batters in the second and their Korean opponents were set down scoreless in the third. 

Hwang Dae Yong, Bukil High School head coach, said both teams are very similar. 

"Our pitchers bring their legs up a lot higher, but other than that, everything else is the same," said Yong. 

One big difference is the Cheonan team has already played in two tournaments, whereas Osan has battled Mother Nature all spring to get on the field. 

Bukil reached into their deep bullpen and brought out another pitcher to try his hand against the Americans. Osan had a hard time getting runners on base, but made the most of their runners by going 4-for-4 on stolen base attempts. 

Osan pitchers struggled, but being their first game, it took longer to knock the rust off, which equated to seven unearned runs. In the eighth, the game was basically out of reach for Osan as both teams got the rest of their players some work. There was no "quit" in Osan as both head coach Rick Mitchell and assistant coaches Jess Shipley and Tim Clark rallied their players. 

"Seniors, I challenge you to make something happen. Let's end this game on a good note," said Coach Shipley. 

The challenge was put out to the Cougars, and they responded. Robert Jette led off the last inning with a walk, then stole second. After John Aplin struck out, Edwin Rodriguez had a chance to advance the runners but got caught looking. For a moment, it looked as if Osan's scoreless afternoon would not be broken. With nothing left to play for but pride, up stepped Scott Caine. He took a fastball and drove it deep to the left center field fence and easily scored Jette from second. 

After the game, both teams were all smiles as they mingled for a group photo. Then the Cougars were invited to partake in another Korean baseball tradition they were all too familiar with -- barbecue. The food just kept coming and coming, but also gave the opportunity for the two teams to get to know each other better. 

Daniel Burke, who was gracious in defeat, admired Bukil's abilities. 

"They are calm and confident, but not cocky. They are top-notch," said Burke.
Even though they lost that game, he realized they did accomplish something. "Both Americans and Koreans love baseball. By playing each other, it's a good way to show our appreciation and friendship for each other." 

Most of the Korean players have been playing baseball for eight years or more. Boys get the bug early, and decide they want to play. Sung-In Kang, a teacher at Bukil, tried to explain the attraction to baseball. 

"There is something special in baseball. There is heroism in baseball," he said. 

The success of Friday's game was echoed in the sentiments of both dugouts.
Coach Mitchell handed out souvenirs to all the Bukil players as a token of appreciation. 

"We are thankful to Cheonan Bukil High School for giving us this opportunity," he said .
Cheonan Bukil principal, Mr. Shin, Hyun-Ju agreed. "I hope the relationship between our two schools continues." 

The summer is a long one, and fueled by their love of baseball, and the spirit of competition, this relationship and cultural exchange will definitely go into extra innings.