While most of the world's sporting leagues remain on hold due to COVID-19, the Korea Baseball Organization opened its 2020 season earlier this month and has been up and running for the last two and a half weeks.
Although KBO was founded in 1982 and a number of current and former major leaguers have played in the league, many Americans are watching the Lotte Giants, Doosan Bears, NC Dinos, Samsung Lions and other KBO teams for the first time with ESPN airing the games live.
What about the league should you know about, what about the teams, who are the key players, what are the economics of this super popular sport in this country, and how has COVID-19 affected the game in South Korea?
It's the topic of our News In-depth tonight with Kang San, Sports writer at Sports Donga, the sports arm of one of South Korea's leading dailies, the Donga Ilbo.
The season started off May 5, and we're already at the 16th KBO game-day today.
How has it been reporting on KBO so far?
Until now, it's going really well.
At least it does not have any more issues about Coronavirus. And players feel safe.
I remember the first day of this season. All the stadiums were so crowded with writers and photographers from foreign countries. Now very peaceful.
What's different about this season under COVID-19 circumstances?
It's a lot different from normal season.
Usually when we arrive at stadium, we go straight to the home team Dugout. We report on the manager's comments, which is usually the game plan for that day, reviews… something like that. As a reporter, this is very important information to write an article.
Then, we can have interviews with specific players freely. But usually we let the PR department know before the interview… who we want to meet and interview.
After that we go to the away team Dugout. Then, it's repeat ? we do the same thing as we did at home team dugout.
Are there any notable silver linings brought by COVID-19?
Players realized that fans are very important.
Most of the players said that they really want to meet the fans as soon as possible.
The presence of fans in the ballpark affects players' concentration.
Some of the players definitely prefer a crowded ballpark.
There have been rumors of Doosan going bankrupt - can you give us information on how that has been affecting the Doosan Bears?
Honestly, Doosan Bears do not have any problem to run this season.
I talked with a member of Doosan Group PR department on Wednesday. That source said that they don't have any plans to sell off the Doosan Bears team.
In my opinion, players are not going to affected by this situation. Kiwoom Heroes also had a similar situation back in 2017 and they got through it with no problems.
I would say Doosan players have the strongest winning mentality among the KBO League teams. Manager KIM Tae Hyung also said "The way we get over this situation, is just win the game."
Another rumor that we want to lay to rest is about the juicing of the balls. Are the balls back to being juiced? Are KBO ballparks just smaller? What is going on?
Well… Ballparks don't change. They are the same as last season.
Official Balls? The same. Did not make any changes.
Compared to last season, the number of Average Home Runs and Runs have increased dramatically. That is true.
So, that caused KBO to check game balls again and again… thoroughly… in detail.
But they could not find any changes.
I heard from former players that Batters have more things to develop and adjust… compared to pitchers, like equipment and technique, etc..
No matter what the rumors say, in my opinion, there are no changes with the balls. It's the Batters that have changed They have finally adopted well to the league's official ball.
Well, as incredibly ironic as it may sound, the league cannot be enjoyed by fans on site at the stadiums, but it's being enjoyed by an unprecedented number with the addition of a whole new demographics.
In the U.S. east coast, baseball fans are waking up each day to enjoy early breakfast KBO on ESPN.
They're adopting KBO teams, learning about the league and following the games.
What about KBO excites those used to Major League Baseball?
Joining us live is sports commentator, Daniel Kim.
Hey there, Daniel. So, you've been commentating on KBO games everyday in English for American fans. You're also quite active on social media.
How has KBO been received in the U.S.?
What are some of the main differences between MLB and KBO that fans have been observing?
What is it about KBO do you think that's so attractive to do U.S. fans?
Do you think Americans' interest in KBO will last even after the opening of MLB?
What are some strengths that KBO has over other leagues around the world?
Daniel Kim, sports commentator and founder of DKTV, thanks for speaking to us.
We're hearing news that former Pittsburgh Pirates Kang Jung-ho made his request to return to the KBO. Decisions won't be made until next week but it seems legal repercussions for his DUI in 2016 are unavoidable here in Korea, even after his suspended sentence from the Major League for the 2017 season. How is he received as a player in KBO? What is ahead of him?
It's been a general consensus among players that even with efforts to recreate fans being in the stands, it just isn't the same.
How are the players' performances kicking off this season? Any players to pay particular attention to?
All the teams have their normal cheering squad when they play at home. But they don't feel it makes a big difference.
And for the visiting team, it is just sound from the home team dugout.
Actual fans cheering is the biggest source of energy for the players.
With that said players performances are not bad this season… except for one or two teams.
Players to pay particular attention to…
My pick for pitcher is KOO Chang-Mo of the NC Dinos.
He throws fastballs over 150km, sliders, splitters, curve balls…
In KBO League, Lefties usually don't throw splitters very much. But KOO Chang-Mo is a lefty, and splitter is his winning pitch.
For batter is Jose Miguel Fernandez, of the Doosan Bears.
He made 197 hits last year, which is the most in the league. And he's already ahead this season. The course of the ball, pitch type, it all doesn't matter for him.
At the beginning of last year, Fernandez had a hard time with balls coming in high course ? towards the upper body.
But he got over that He is great in defense as well.
How about KBO as a whole? We're only at the beginning of the season, but Lotte Giants fans are clearly already excited
Can you give us a rundown of teams highlights?
Lotte Giants are a very popular team. So fans were really excited when they won the first 6 games in a row
Now Giants are back to struggling, but fans still feel that… at last… their team has changed from last season.
NC Dinos are doing really well… Doosan Bears and LG Twins also good.
2018 season champions SK Wyverns have started the season in big struggle, losing 10 games in a row, but that streak is over so let's see how they do.
Well, exciting season ahead of us. Hopefully, we'll be able to head back to the stadiums to enjoy the games first hand and cheering is also a huge part of the baseball culture here in Korea.
Kang San, sports writer at Sports Donga, thank you for coming on our show tonight. We appreciate it.