PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — Three Americans working for the U.S. military in South Korea are such ardent fans of a local baseball team that their Korean counterparts see them as a fixture.
Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-largest city in the peninsula’s southeast, is home to the Samsung Lions. It’s also home to camps Henry, Walker and George.
Jeff Mondella, Chris Burslie and Kenny Lamothe are computer system administrators who work as civilian contractors. Mondella and Lamothe work at Camp Walker, Burslie at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul.
“There’s not too many foreigners that go to the game and there’s not too many foreigners that cheer as loud as we do,” said Mondella, 39, of Detroit.
“And we’re at so many games that just the general fans know us,” he said. “They know our names. We … go to a game and 30 to 50 people are saying ‘Hi’ to us.”
For about two years, they’ve been traveling from city to city to root for the Lions.
“Normally it’s Chris and I. Kenny can’t get away a lot,” Mondella said.
This year alone, Mondella has made it to 14 games played variously in Daegu, Daejon, Busan, and as far north from Daegu as Seoul and Incheon.
They’ll show up in the stands in blue and white Samsung Lions jerseys and ball caps. At times, they’ll don blue wigs and blue face paint.
“We have these irritating blue horns that we blow too,” Mondella said. “They pretty much startle people in the first inning. They’re real loud. They got like three mini-horns.
“Every good play — every time they strike somebody out, every time we get a walk, every time we get a hit, every time we get a run — those horns are blowin’.’
“Either Chris will start out — ‘Doo-da-da-loo’ and then I’ll go ‘Doo-da-da-loo’ and then Kenny — ‘Doo-da-da-loo’ and then we’ll follow it up with one big blow.
“Sometimes we do strikes and balls individually,” Mondella said.
“It’s just a mood, I don’t know,” Lamothe said in trying to explain his passion for the Lions. “It’s the local pro team.
“The stadium is so small, it’s so personal,” said Lamothe, 26, an “Army brat” who grew up in South Korea. “You get to know the people around you a lot better, you stick out being a Yankee. They’re very nice and kind and it’s comfortable, really comfortable, being there.
“We bring our own case of beer, our own chicken or pizza, whatever we desire for that evening to eat,” Mondella said. “And we give ’em to the Koreans who are there. They enjoy the Miller Lite that we bring. So it’s more of a family atmosphere.”
The Lions’ management honored them as among its outstanding fans at a February ceremony.
“It was a big deal,” Mondella said. “It was a nice little trophy and they gave us 300,000 won gift certificates (about $320) and we were in the newspaper and they said we were on TV, too.”
“There’s a group of Koreans that we sit with for every game and we call one of them ‘Mom’ and one of them ‘Dad,’” Mondella said. “I guess after seeing us for two years, we’ve become part of that family.”