Baseball Is Back!*
Opening Day finally arrived! No, it wasn’t the start of the Washington Nationals’ title defense, rather it was the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) live on ESPN, and not a moment too soon.
With South Korea getting things under relative control, they’ve begun to inch back toward normalcy. As part of that, the KBO has started its 2020 season playing games before empty stadiums.
ESPN’s coverage of the KBO began Monday at 1am ET, with the NC Dinos facing the Samsung Lions. Leading the way for NC was former Marlin Drew Rucinski, who threw 6 innings of 3-hit (and 4-walk) ball, and Chang-min Mo, who went 3-for-4 with a double, a homer, and 2 RBI. The Dinos won 4-0.
Also in action, though not televised in the States, were the Lotte Giants. Giants pitcher Dan Straily, formerly of the Baltimore Orioles, said the stands were peppered with cardboard cut-out fans and the scoreboard in the outfield showed several fans watching via Zoom. As odd as it was, he added that he “can’t say enough about how blessed we are just to be able to play.” As baseball fans starved for action, the feeling is mutual.
One aspect of Korean baseball that will be new to fans of Major League Baseball are the cheerleaders, a sight made even more surreal by the presence of the masks on their faces. And one element of baseball that is controversial among American baseball fans, but is enthusiastically embraced in Korea, is the bat flip. Players in the KBO make Joey Bats look like a half-stepper.
However, don’t mistake their love of the bat flip for the naivete of recent converts; Koreans have been playing baseball for more than a century. Maybe, just maybe, exposure to the unbridled joy of over-the-top bat flips will help Americans finally see the light.
As is often the case with foreign leagues, the KBO is littered with guys who never quite made it or just washed out in the States. In addition to Straily and Rucinski, there’s ex-Pirate Josh Lindblom, who led the Doosan Bears to the title last season by going 20-3 with a 2.50 ERA. His teammate, former Angel José Miguel Fernández, led the team in runs, hits, doubles, batting average, OBP, and OPS.
ESPN will carry games live each day, now through Sunday, and because the time zones aren’t exactly US-friendly, there will be rebroadcasts each afternoon. Coverage will continue beyond this week, though it will move primarily to ESPN2. Check out this week's KBO schedule below.
Wednesday, May 6
2pm ET — ESPN2 — Doosan Bears vs. LG Twins (Rebroadcast)
Thursday, May 7
2:30am ET — ESPN2 — Doosan Bears vs. LG Twins (Rebroadcast)
5:30am ET — ESPN2 — NC Dinos vs. Samsung Lions (Live)
3pm ET — ESPN2 — NC Dinos vs. Samsung Lions (Rebroadcast)
Friday, May 8
2:30am ET — ESPN2 — NC Dinos vs. Samsung Lions (Rebroadcast)
5:30am ET — ESPN2 — Kia Tigers vs. Samsung Lions (Live)
3pm ET — ESPN2 — Kia Tigers vs. Samsung Lions (Rebroadcast)
Saturday, May 9
1am ET — ESPN2 — Kia Tigers vs. Samsung Lions (Rebroadcast)
4am ET — ESPN2 — LG Twins vs. NC Dinos (Live)
10pm ET — ESPN2 — LG Twins vs. NC Dinos (Rebroadcast)
Sunday, May 10
1am ET — ESPN2 — LG Twins vs. NC Dinos (Live)