Baseball is not just a popular pastime in North and Latin America- the sport has a big following in South Korea, too. That includes a trio of podcasters who produce a weekly show about the ballgame. But none of them have actually ever seen a match. That’s because all three are totally blind.
Reporter Jason Strother has their story from Seoul.
Korean baseball fans are pretty passionate about their favorite teams. At the stadium, they sing songs together and dance in step with cheerleaders.
But for Kwon Soon-chul, some of his best memories of the sport come from listening to ball games on the radio as a kid.
What he heard over the airwaves fascinated him.
“As a totally blind person of course I can’t visually enjoy the game,” Kwon told me. “So for me, I concentrate on the sounds of the game, the catcher catching the ball, the batter hitting the ball. I like this energetic sound of a ball game“
Kwon, now 35, says baseball’s slow pace makes it the ideal sport for the blind. Broadcasters describe the action on the field play by play and there’s a lot of down time to discuss things like a player’s stats.
His friend, 31-year old Lee Chang-hoon, who’s also blind, is a huge baseball fan, too. He even had the honour of throwing out the opening pitch, and starting a Korean league game in 2012.
Kwon and Lee love the sport so much that in 2015 they started their own podcast, called Jukan Yago Way, or Weekly Baseball Why. It’s now one of the most downloaded sports podcasts in Korea.
The show gives a weekly wrap up of what’s going on in the Korean league as well as in the North American Major League. And last year, Kwon and Lee asked Ko Jeong-hyun, who’s also blind, to join their lineup.
Ko tells me the show is not 3 blind guys talking about baseball.
“We don’t even tell our listeners that we’re blind.,” he says. “They probably think we’re just average, amateur baseball fans”
Two sighted presenters join them on the show as well.
Kwon Soon-chil produces the show himself. He shows me how it’s done by using screen reading software that describes out loud what appears on his laptop.
Kwon says he loves radio- in addition to the baseball podcast he hosts his own show on adaptive technology and contributes to another program on disability issues.
But broadcasting doesn’t pay the bills.
Kwon and the other guys all work either full or part time as masseurs. South Korea’s visually impaired have a constitutionally protected right to work in the massage industry.
Lee Pyeong-dong, who heads the Korea Blind Union, explains that the law was made to help the blind, but it’s also held them back.
“Many South Koreans have held a prejudice that the blind are only qualified to be masseurs, including the blind themselves,” Lee explains.” Schools for the blind only taught massage so many believed this was their only career choice”
Lee says these days there are more jobs for the visually impaired in South Korea. But, it’s still hard for a blind person to be completely financially independent here.
Podcast producer Kwon Soon-chul says for him, working in the massage business is still a necessity.
“If I could just make a living by doing only broadcasting, I would quit working as a masseur. But right now, that’s not possible. I’m glad that I have this job to fall back on, though,” he says.
For now, Kwon and the other guys plan to keep the baseball podcast going for as long as they can, even though they’re funding it with their own money. Some of it goes to paying sports journalists to come on each episode.
Panelist Ko Jeong-hyun says that’s when they really shatter expectations about blind people.
“These professional reporters are so surprised that some blind guys understand baseball and know how it’s played”
Ko tells me it’s in those moments that he feels proudest about his passion for the game.