Baseball: Korean fan from 'Surprise Zone' assaults umpire, gets life ban

SEOUL (REUTERS) - A South Korean baseball fan ran onto the field and assaulted an umpire on Wednesday, after climbing over a fence in the "Surprise Zone" at Champions Field stadium in the southern city of Gwangju.

The game between the Kia Tigers and SK Wyverns was held up before the start of the seventh inning after the fan ran over to the first base umpire Park Keun Young and put him in a headlock.

The 30-year-old was restrained by an SK coach and security guards before being handed over to police.

Local media said he had been drinking.

The "Surprise Zone" along the first base line at the Tigers' Champions Field, which opened earlier this year, is lower to the ground and juts out closer to the action. It usually has no security guards in order to give fans a better view.

A Tigers official told Reuters by telephone on Thursday the fan had been banned for life. "The fan will be banned from entering the stadium permanently," he said, adding that the umpire did not want the fan punished so he would only receive a 50,000 won (S$61) fine for a misdemeanour in a public place.

The official added that security would now be beefed up. "We will have security guards at the Surprise Zone from now on. Our fans don't want it but now that we have had an incident like this, we have no choice."

Park had provoked the ire of the home crowd on Wednesday by calling an SK runner safe at first base in the sixth inning, though television replays suggested the throw made it in time.

A Korean Baseball Organisation (KBO) official told Reuters: "The home team should not have allowed an incident like this to happen.

"Even if the umpire had made a bad call this is not appropriate behaviour. We had incidents like this before in the 1980s when spectators weren't as well behaved ... but I think it's the first one in recent years."

With a series of controversial calls in recent games there have been growing demands for the introduction of a video replay system, but the KBO official said that would require time and money, and that it was trying to improve the standard of umpires.

"We are trying to come up with ways of doing that but an umpire is not like a product. It is not like we educate them and they don't give bad calls any more."

Major League Baseball introduced an expanded instant replay system this season and the official said the KBO could follow suit if it proved successful.

"We have to see how it works in the United States first before we decide to do the same thing, and of course it requires a lot of money as well."

The Tigers won Wednesday's game 6-3.