Nothing Beats Watching Live Sports On Television
Baseball fans finally got an Opening Day on Tuesday.
Not in Chicago, Los Angeles or The Bronx.
But in Daegu, South Korea.
The Korea Baseball Organization took center stage as the first major sports league to attempt a comeback during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Samsung Lions hosted the NC Dinos inside an empty Samsung Lions Park and for about three hours, it felt like baseball was back.
Base coaches and umpires were wearing masks and fans weren’t allowed inside the stadium, but once the first pitch was thrown, it just looked like America’s pastime.
Pitchers in the KBO don’t throw as hard as most of their counterparts in Major League Baseball. There aren’t as many home runs hit as there are in the United States. But the KBO is still one of the higher levels of professional baseball in the world.
And for now, it’s the only one actually playing.
The KBO consists of 10 teams in eight cities playing 144 games apiece. Each team plays the nine others 16 times and there is a universal designated hitter. Games end as ties if the score is even after 12 innings and the top five teams in the standings qualify for the postseason.
ESPN took a flyer on broadcasts. The network will be airing a game six days per week and with a 13-hour time difference between Eastern Standard Time and Korean Standard Time, the reward far outweighs the risk.
If ratings for the games aren’t great, that’s OK. Games will start between 1 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. EST. Likely, only diehard baseball fans will tune in, and when they do they’ll see the game they’ve grown to love.
In just the first inning Tuesday, Samsung right fielder Kim Heon-gon and NC left fielder Lee Myung-gi both made great catches.
Samsung starting pitcher J.H. Baek, a left-hander who topped out at around 87 mph, didn’t overpower the Dinos hitters, but he was able to locate and change speeds well enough to be successful for three innings before he was hit hard in the top of the fourth.
NC starter Drew Rucinski threw a littler harder than Baek. The 31-year-old from Neenah, Wisconsin, played collegiately at Ohio State University before signing with the Cleveland Indians as a free agent in 2011. He then played with the Rockford RiverHawks of the Frontier League before getting another shot at the big leagues with the Los Angeles Angels, Minnesota Twins and Miami Marlins from 2013-18. In November of 2018, Rucinski took his talents overseas and found himself as the Dinos’ opening-day starter on Tuesday.
Samsung shortstop Tyler Saladino is another former Major Leaguer who has taken his talent to South Korea. Saladino was drafted in the seventh round of the 2010 draft by the Chicago White Sox and moved on to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018. When he became a free agent after last season, he decided to sign with the Lions, replacing Darin Ruf, who returned to the United States.
Midway through the game ESPN produced a graphic of COVID-19 precautions:
¯ No fans in stadium
¯ Temperature checks twice a day
¯ Face masks and gloves
¯ High-fives discouraged
¯ Ban on spitting
You didn’t really notice the lack of fans in the stadium until NC’s Na Sung-bum’s long home run to right field — it was upheld by instant replay — landed beyond the fence with no fanfare.
Later, Dinos Park Sok-min and Mo Chang-min hit back-to-back home runs to left field — the latter punctuating his with a huge bat flip down the third-base line.
Rucinski capped his 90-pitch, three-hit outing by escaping a jam with a groundout to end the sixth inning.
NC ended up winning the game, 4-0, opening its season on the right foot.
While Mike Trout, Gerrit Cole, Clayton Kershaw and Yadier Molina weren’t the players being highlighted Tuesday on ESPN, watching baseball for a few hours — no matter the time of day — was still a welcome release from the mundane day-to-day quarantine life that we are currently experiencing.
I’m not likely to watch the KBO six times per week, but until Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association or the National Hockey League figure out a safe way to return to their respective arenas it’ll do just fine.
The storytelling of “The Last Dance” is amazing. The nostalgia I feel when watching classic Buffalo Sabres games from their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1999 is wonderful.
But there is just something different about watching live sports on TV that nothing else can bring right now.