Kevin Youkillis gets a little help from a certain someone in his rendition of "Just a Friend" *(0:46)

The MLB Cap Epidemic… in South Korea?

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           So I’ve been in Korea for the past three months this summer, and it feels wrong to be bad-mouthing Koreans about this as soon as I get back to good ol’ America. Just as a disclaimer, I am a Korean-American and I love Korea and pretty much everything about it… except this.

            You can’t walk more than 5 paces on the streets of Korea without seeing one, then another one after 5 more steps. Logically, you would think that I’m talking about something else, like an iPhone or a Hello Kitty doll. But no. I’m talking about a cap donning the symbol of a Major League Baseball team. Not a Korean professional team, but an American Major League Baseball team.

            At first glance, it would seem as if the place is running with MLB fever, as if Koreans follow American baseball more closely than Americans do. At first glance, it would seem as if they watch each and every game, keeping up with stats and following the division races.

        One day at work, I saw one of my coworkers proudly wearing an Oakland Athletics cap. This was still early on in the summer, and I hadn’t yet discerned the “genuineness” of this epidemic, so wide-eyed and excited about the potential of connecting with fellow baseball fans, I approached this coworker about her hat. I forgot how the conversation exactly went, probably because I walked away from this exchange more shocked about how it ended, but it began with me saying something along the lines of, “You’re an Oakland Athletics fan, huh? You guys aren’t doing too well this season, with Texas pretty much dominating the AL West.” After that, all I received in return was a blank stare. I spoke in, what I would like to believe to be, flawless Korean, and she had no idea what I was talking about. A few seconds of awkward silence passed by before she finally admitted that she indeed had no idea what I was talking about. Taken by surprise, I asked, “You do know what team is on your hat, don’t you?” She nodded her head. “You do know that symbol stands for the Oakland Athletics, right?” She nodded once more. “Then why did you buy that hat?” And in a puzzling yet no-shit-Sherlock tone, she responded, “I like the colors green and yellow.”

            I think it’s safe to say that this would NOT fly in America. At that moment, I needed a friend from America to be there with me so I could turn to him/her and scoff, “Can you believe this girl?” But that didn’t happen, and rather, I had to open my eyes to the truth that most Koreans on the street showing off their MLB caps were just like my coworker. They were serving as representations for baseball teams in America, like the Giants, Dodgers, White Sox, Braves, etc. Yet these people had no idea what exactly they were representing.

            There is one slight exception. I have noticed that the Cleveland Indians cap is very popular among Koreans, to the point where they have moved on to wearing Cleveland Indians t-shirts and carrying Cleveland Indians backpacks. The explanation? Shin-Soo Choo, the right fielder for the Cleveland Indians and one of the most successful Korean baseball players in MLB history. He served as a national symbol, the bridge between Koreans and American baseball, and I completely respected every Indians cap that I spotted in passing. But again, Koreans supported him only, and not the team. They wouldn’t have the slightest idea about Grady Sizemore or Fausto Carmona, and if Choo were traded to the Kansas City Royals tomorrow, Korea would be swept by a Royals cap epidemic the next day.

            What’s strange is that the most popular baseball cap in Korea BY FAR is the Boston Red Sox cap, which pisses me off not only because I am a Yankees fan, but also because I cannot figure out why. The Red Sox cap is relatively plain: a navy blue cap with a red, old-fashioned “B” in the center. It’s probably the least aesthetically pleasing cap next to, well, the Yankees cap. But for some reason, I have not gone a day without spotting maybe 4 or 5 on the heads of pedestrians. I first thought back to Byung-Hyun Kim, the pitcher from Korea distinguished by his submarine-style delivery and his notoriety for giving up the walk-off home run to Jeter in Game 4 of the World Series, bringing the Yankees even with the Diamondbacks. He had a short stint with Boston, where he was best known as the dude who flipped off the crowd after being booed into the dugout. But that doesn’t make sense… Why wouldn’t the most popular cap be a Diamondbacks cap, where Kim had been most successful? There had to be a better explanation. Maybe driven by their obsession with brand-name universities, Koreans figured that the Boston Red Sox cap would be the closest thing to Harvard gear (Harvard sucks, by the way… Go Bulldogs). A comprehensive and professional study should be conducted, but frankly speaking, we’ll probably never know (if anyone has any ideas/hypotheses, please come forward).

            Some other theories… The Atlanta Braves cap is popular because Usher is also popular, and he is seen wearing a Braves cap in the “Yeah” music video, and now Korean people believe the “A” just stands for A-town (as in the first lyrics of the song: “Peace up, A-town.” Speaking of music artists, Jay-Z may be responsible for making the Yankees cap relatively popular among Koreans, who all love listening to “Empire State of Mind.” And maybe Wiz Khalifa and “Black and Yellow” = many Pirates caps? I’m not sure. But caps that have gained popularity SOLELY on their “hotness” include the Astros, Giants, and White Sox.

            This epidemic has been rampant for a couple of years now, and shows no signs of letting up. In response to the epidemic, multiple MLB shops have been opened in downtown areas of Seoul, and many street vendors are selling caps for very low prices. Whether authentic or replica, these caps will continue to dominate Korea, not as a testament to the fervor for baseball, but as… sigh… a fashion statement. Boys, girls, men, and women of ALL ages owned at least one MLB cap, and would plop it on their heads for at least a couple of days per week. Especially common is the phenomenon of boyfriend and girlfriend modeling the same MLB cap while hand-in-hand, strolling right along.

When I first arrived in Korea, I would perk up at the sight of a Yankees cap, knowing that I had been in the presence of a fellow fan and eager at the possibility of discussing topics like Jeter’s 3,000 and A-Rod’s bullcrap. Unfortunately, by the end of the summer, I became jaded and numb to all caps. They didn’t symbolize anything to me anymore. Rather, they took up space and looked amazingly chic and adorable with each and every outfit they complemented.

Preview of PGA Golf Championship

Historically the PGA Championship is the major championship that lacks excitement compared to the Masters, US Open, and British Open. But this year, the PGA Championship might be the most exciting out of all of them. With Tiger Woods’ recent return to the golf course without longtime caddie Stevie Williams, there is a lot of buzz around this tournament. Especially after Adam Scott’s win last week at WGC-Bridgestone who Williams is now caddying for, Tiger will be even more motivated to win this week. It will definitely be interesting to see if Tiger can regain his old form and return to dominance. But with young players like Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, and Dustin Johnson competing for majors, Tiger’s dominance looks to be over. Many have been crowning McIlroy as the “new Tiger” after his eight stroke victory at the U.S. Open. But with a disappointing performance at the British Open, talk of dominance has tempered. This weekend will be interesting in determining whether it is still Tiger’s era or the start of a new one.

A New Era for United States Men’s Soccer

At 9:00 p.m eastern time tonight, new head coach, Jurgen Klinsmann will usher in a new era for United States men’s soccer. While this game is against the highly regarded Mexican national team, the result will not matter too much. With Klinsmann only being on the job for two weeks, I am not expecting too much in terms of results. But there are a couple of things that I will be looking for when I watch this game.

  1. More Attacking Style Soccer-Under Bob Bradley, the United States was known for their counter attacking style of soccer. This strategy was predicated on strong defense led by Tim Howard in goal. This startegy definitely worked in some instances such as the Spain game in the 2009 Confederations Cup. But this strategy also failed the United States when they had to break down an opponent who would be in a defensive shell.
  2. Young Players-How will the young players respond when playing against a team like Mexico? Will players like Tim Ream, Juan Agudelo, Zach Llyod, Brek Shea, Jose Torres, Edgar Castillo, Bill Hamid, Michael Orozco, and Freddy Adu step up on the international level? Some unknown commodities will hopefully get their chance like Edgar Castillo, Brek Shea, Michael Orozco, and Zach Llyod. Klinsmann has said that he will evaluate everyone in the player pool.
  3. Tactical Changes-I will be really interested in seeing how Klinsmann sets up the United States lineup. Will he keep Bob Bradley’s perferred 4-2-3-1 lineup, go with a conventional 4-4-2 lineup, or experiment with a more attacking 4-3-3 lineup? Also, with a lineup change, it will be interesting to see how players perform in different positions.

There are plenty of questions going into this game and there will probably be more after the game. But with a coach that has taken Germany to third place in a World Cup, I am looking forward to the future with Jurgen Klinsmann as the United States men’s soccer coach.

NFL Offseason Review: New York Jets

The Gang Green has been hard at work this off-season trying to bolster a team that has made it to the past two AFC Championship games. The tandem of Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan are always cooking up bold and surprising moves to take the New York Jets to the next level. The 2011 NFL Offseason is a typical Tannenbaum/Ryan summer filled with audacious additions and subtractions.

Let’s take a look at what the Jets have done this off-season:

Draft Picks:

  • DT Muhammad Wilkerson (4 years; option for 5th year)
  • DE Kenrick Ellis (4 years)
  • RB Bilal Powell (4 years)
  • WR Jeremy Kerley (4 years)
  • QB Greg McElroy (4 years)
  • WR Scotty McKnight (4 years)

Re-signed:

  • WR Santonio Holmes (5 years - $50 Million)
  • OT Wayne Hunter (4 years - $13 Million)
  • K Nick Folk (1 year)
  • S Eric Smith (3 years - $7.5 Million)
  • CB Donald Strickland (1 year)
  • MLB David Harris (4 years - $36 Million)
  • CB Antonio Cromartie (4 years - $32 Million)
  • S Brodney Pool (1 year)

Additions:

  • WR Plaxico Burress (1 year - $3 Million)
  • WR Derrick Mason

Subtractions:

  • WR Brad Smith (Signed with Buffalo)
  • P Steve Weatherford (Signed with NY Giants)
  • DE Jason Taylor (Signed with Miami)
  • WR Braylon Edwards (Signed with San Francisco)
  • WR Jerricho Cotchery (Cut/Free Agent)

Retired:

  • FB Tony Richardson
  • DT Kris Jenkins
  • OT Damien Woody

Targets:

  • CB Nnamdi Asomaugh (Signed with Philadelphia)
  • WR Randy Moss (Retired)
  • TE Todd Heap (Signed with Arizona)
  • DE Sean Ellis (Pending)

The New York Jets have reloaded their already talented roster and appear to be Super Bowl contenders for the upcoming NFL season. The front office made it a priority to re-sign wide receiver, Santonio Holmes, as he proved to be the playmaker that the Jets needed for Mark Sanchez. Signing Holmes also meant that the Jets would have to part ways with Braylon Edwards. Their second priority was filling up the 2nd cornerback spot, opposite of All Pro Darrelle Revis. An attempt to sign Nnamdi Asomaugh failed as he spurned the Jets offer and joined the Philadelphia Eagles. New York quickly re-signed Antonio Cromartie after losing out on Nnamdi. Losing out on Nnamdi also meant that the Jets would lose out on Brad Smith, who agreed to terms with the Buffalo Bills. After cutting off contract talks with Edwards, the Jets shifted their attention to Plaxico Burress. Burress signed with the New York football team not named the Giants. The bold addition of Burress led to the New York Jets releasing veteran receiver Jerricho Cotchery, as Cotch no longer felt regarded as a number 1/2 receiver. With Cotch gone, the Jets signed former Raven Derrick Mason to be their 3rd receiver. The Jets assured their future at the Linebacking position by locking up The Hitman, David Harris. Overall, the offseason has been a positive one for the Jets, however questions are still in the air. The Jets are still in need of a legitimate pass rusher for their defense. Rex Ryan’s defense would benefit from an acquisition of a solid Defensive End. The “Flight Boys” (Holmes, Edwards, & Cotchery) have been disbanded and newly acquired receiver Plaxico Burress, out of the league for the past 3 years, will have to step in to give Sanchez a red-zone target. Mark Sanchez will have to step up and prove to critics that he is a reliable playmaker that the New York Jets need. Super Bowl hopes for the Jets hinge on number 6. All these off-season moves will be futile if Sanchez does not come through.

Grade: A-

Intentional or Unintentional? Not sure, but this sideline picture is golden regardless

Intentional or Unintentional? Not sure, but this sideline picture is golden regardless

Baseball Trading Deadline: Winners and Losers

Every year during the trading deadline, a lot of player movement happens. Teams that are usually out of the playoff picture become sellers, while teams in the playoff hunt become buyers. Over the years, the trade deadline has propelled a team to the World Series or allowed a team to acquire top prospects to build future teams. Let’s see who the winners and losers were at this year’s trade deadline.

Winners:

  1. Philadelphia Phillies-The Phillies were able to obtain Hunter Pence from the Houston Astros without having to give up their top prospects.
  2. Texas Rangers-They solidified the bullpen with the additions of Mike Adams from the San Diego Padres and Koji Uehara from the Baltimore Orioles. The Rangers might look even more dangerous than last year when they made the World Series. 
  3. San Francisco Giants-They were able to add some more offense into their lineup with Carlos Beltran. They look primed for another World Series title run. 

Losers:

  1. New York Yankees-Usually the Yankees are very active during the trade deadline in order to prepare for the playoff run, but the Yankees were unusually quiet. They have major starting pitching problems other than CC Sabathia and they could have tried to get Ubaldo Jimenez to address those problems.
  2. Los Angeles Angels-Not much was done by the Angels to improve this deadline. While the Rangers got better, the Angels kept their team intact. it will be very hard for them to keep up with the Rangers for the rest of the season in the AL West division.
Crowning of a New British Open Champion: Darren Clarke

Life is a journey of highs and lows, ups and downs, or any other metaphor you want to insert there. Darren Clarke, a 42 year-old golf professional from Northern Ireland has been through it all. From professional success in the Ryder Cup to personal hardship with his wife passing away from breast cancer, Clarke has had a long and winding road in life. (He did not have a top 10 in a major since 2001. Even ESPN offered him a spot on the commentary team before the tournament. That’s how little people thought of his chances.) But on Sunday, he accomplished a feat that he can add next to his name, a British Open champion. This victory goes beyond golf. Darren Clarke’s attitude about life after his wife’s death was tremendous and shows the outlook that he has in life. Watching his acceptance speech on television, I saw a man who was humble even in the light of victory. Throughout the week, his attitude of being a “regular” guy garnered support from the fans at Royal St. Georges Golf Club. Even in his speech as the champion, he talked about filling the claret jug with some Irish ”black stuff” and enjoying the night. People saw a man who was easily relatable and one of their own. At least for one day, Darren Clarke was no “regular” guy.

Interaction Between Athletes and Fans

In the past week, the relationship between fans and athletes has come to the forefront of sports news. Specifically, 39 year-old Texas Rangers fan, Shannon Stone fell 20 feet on his head when Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers tossed him a baseball for Stone’s six year old son. Within the hour, Stone was pronounced dead. Then on Monday during the home run derby, Keith Carmickle almost fell off the bleachers. But his friend and his brother were there to prevent him from falling 20 feet. The picture of him dangling from the stands was probably the single most memorable scene of the 2011 MLB all-star break. (If that was the most exciting image of all-star weekend, something needs to change. I love sports but I was more interested in bad reality television shows like The Bachelorette. But that’s another story.) While these incidents have happened recently, they are not uncommon. There have been many instances throughout the years of people falling from the stands to reach for a foul ball or home run. Also in other sports, different player/fan interactions have happened such as the Ron Artest…I mean the Metta WorldPeace incident. So what things need to be done to foster a safe place to watch a sporting event?

  1. Stadiums need to raise the railings in the stadiums. Some of the railings barely come up to the hip of some fans.  How is this structure supposed to protect us?
  2. Have more security. While standing in line sucks before games, safety is the most important thing. For example, the beating of a San Francisco Giants fan outside of Dodgers stadium at the beginning of the year could have been prevented if there were more cops outside the stadium after the game.  
  3. Stop alcohol sales after a certain time frame.  While I know most stadiums have this practice in place, some fans still get belligerent to the point they put themselves and others in danger. 
  4. Finally people need to use common sense. If you see something that shouldn’t be happening just stop the person.  

What other things can be done to prevent tragedies like this from happening? 

2011 ESPYS

Like the Oscars, Grammys, Golden Globes, Emmys, and Tony awards, sports has their own version of an awards show. For one night athletes get to dress up like movie stars and pose for pictures on the red carpet. In the past, stars like Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, and Brett Favre have all made appearances at the awards ceremony. Awards are handed out in many different categories including best male athlete, best female athlete, and best team as well as many other categories. Also, voting can take place online so make sure you vote for your favorite athletes. Throughout the show, expect many laughs because comedian, Seth Meyers returns from last year’s show to host this year’s show. Skits like Will Ferrell accepting Tiger Woods’ award in 2008 was a hilarious and memorable moment.

So watch on July 13, 2011 at 9:00 p.m. live on ESPN and vote at http://espn.go.com/espys/#!/voting/