Lessons from Life’s Minor League: Sammi Superstars' Last Fan Club by Park Min-gyu

  • onNovember 3, 2014
  • Vol.15 Spring 2012
  • byKim Yonghee
Sammi Superstars' Last Fan Club

Is it true what they say, that passion is what drives humans to life? Isn’t passion a kind of self-hypnosis that drives one towards a hallucination of one’s own making? Invisible but powerful forces, such as enthusiasm and wonder, for instance, compel one towards a mysterious end. They say that sport is an illusion used by a state to mobilize its people. But if not for sports, would people be able to put up with this insane civilization in which they are driven to near insanity and want to go insane but can’t? Humans are creatures of illusion.

Sammi Superstars' Last Fan Club, a novel by Park Min-gyu, tells a story about sports enthusiasts. With a pure love for sports, fans devote themselves to the object of their adoration. What kinds of things took place in Korea in 1982? Students were desperately memorizing the Charter of National Education. At five o’clock in the afternoon, everyone would stop what they were doing and stand still, facing the national flag with hands on their chests. They would “pledge their allegiance to the flag whenever and wherever,” and “sing all four verses of the national anthem, which they couldn’t do without.” A boy who has just entered middle school posts on his desk a slogan that says, “Boys, be ambitious!”

In 1982, the Yushin dictatorship came to an end and a new military dictatorship came into power. The authorities established a nationwide professional baseball organization to cover up the May 1980 massacre in Gwangju and steer the public’s attention elsewhere. Adults and children alike joined fan clubs.

The professional baseball team of Incheon, where the boy protagonist lives, is the Sammi Superstars. Sammi Superstars, with a winning percentage of .250 with 10 victories and 30 losses, never manages to avoid finishing dead last in the six-team league, from their founding in 1982 to their end in 1985. The members of the kids’ fan club, who go around carrying Sammi Superstars sports bags and wearing Sammi Superstars baseball caps and jackets, watch the games at the ballpark, with scores going from 8:1 to 10:1, sometimes thinking, “Is it right for people of one nation to fight each other like this?” and at other times, “Oh, no, that’s just my luck!”

Thus the boy comes to think, “What you belong to changes your life.” If only the boys had rooted for the OB Bears, even if they were thick-headed fools, if only they had lived in an area where people rooted for OB! If they had, they wouldn’t have had to feel such deep frustration about where they belonged during their adolescence, when “boys should be ambitious.”

Park’s novel restores the memories of everyday life and culture of the 1980s, which had been covered up due to a political and historical overload. In the 80s there was tear gas and firebombs and water torture and burning oneself to death. But there was also the singer Hyeuni’s “Dawn Shower,” the TV animation “Mazinga Z,” Jo Yongpil’s “I Can’t Find You, Nightingale,” and the movie “Superman.” There was a micro-narrative in the 80s in which people went wild over professional baseball and learned to cope with deep wounds dealt by life. There was a narrative of hidden passion. When Sammi loses again, the boys who had been cheering for them at the game, burst out in rage, unleashing their pent-up frustration: “Maybe they’re playing soccer.”

As a big fan of professional baseball, the boys come to learn of “life’s minor league.” The world of minorities, away from the mainstream, makes a clean break from the order and regulation of the world. It jeers at the “world of professionals,” who offer themselves up as ransom. It revels in the fact that coming in last in a game can be quite interesting. In an era of military dictatorship, when tear gas and firebombs are rampant, boys get wildly excited over professional baseball, through which they learn the bitter lessons of life and the truth about losing. The ballpark is a scene of battle, a scene of sorrow. The author, however, conveys with humor the message that the minor league, not the majors, leads to true freedom and leisure through which we can break away from the violence of modern civilization, rife with an obsession for speed. For the truth is, we are trudging on with our lives, having lost our sense of fun due to work, and having given up our innocence for duties and responsibilities. 

Author's Profile

Park Min-gyu debuted in 2003 with two widely-acclaimed novels: The Sammi Superstar’s Last Fan Club and Legend of Earth’s Heroes. He has authored the short story collections Castella and Double, and the novels Ping Pong and Pavane for a Dead Princess. His books in translation include Pavane for a Dead Princess (Dalkey Archive, 2014), Pavane pour une infante défunte (Decrescenzo éditeurs, 2014), and Ping-Pong (Editions Intervalles, 2016).