Even though there’s no baseball being played in the United States at the moment, the KBO League has provided not just a delightful distraction from everything going on right now, but also a glimpse into the future.
Review of the Start of the KBO Season
The 2020 KBO League season opened up this week to a lot of fanfare, for a variety of reasons. First off, the KBO League, which is arguably the third-best professional baseball league in the world (behind the Nippon Baseball League in Japan and MLB), started its season after weeks of delays due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. Second, the changes in the presentation were significant. No fans in the stands, umpires & coaches wearing masks, as well as other oddities (no spitting) were easily noticeable in the first few games.
Second, there’s been a significant increase in interest in the KBO League here in the United States. ESPN this week reached an agreement with Eclat Media Group to air KBO games in the U.S. throughout the 2020 season. FanDuel and DraftKings are now offering DFS plays for the KBO. If you would have told someone a few months ago that KBO games would be on ESPN2 in May during the MLB season and the height of the NBA and NHL Playoffs, that person would have said that you’re crazy. But thanks to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the KBO League now is the only game in town.
And so far, the play has been enjoyable. Yes, the pitching is not the same as it is in MLB, as most pitchers there pitch to contact and don’t have high velocities. Nor is the hitting, as there aren’t as many prolific power hits in Korea as there are in the United States. Still, the games have been competitive and exciting, and really, that’s all we could ask for at this time. The pitching has been quality thus far, and it’s refreshing to see hitters take the ball to the opposite field frequently.
While it may not be the same as MLB, I’m certainly not complaining.
Effect of Foreign Players in KBO
Something else that I believe has helped the KBO connect with the U.S. audience is the presence of foreign players in Korea. The vast majority of baseball fans were probably unaware of players like Jae-hwan Bae and Suk-min Park before 2020. However, baseball fans are familiar with names like Tyler Saladino, Dan Straily, Aaron Altherr, and Drew Rucinski, all of whom are former MLB players. The presence of former MLB players not only helps the presentation of the league as a legitimate alternative to Major League Baseball but also helps fans connect to some of the faces in the KBO.
The New Normal of Baseball
Lastly, it’s also important to note that these KBO games also give fans here in the United States a glimpse at what we can expect in the future. Even though Major League Baseball could return to action as early as July, fans won’t be allowed to attend games for most, if not, all of 2020. KBO League games not only give us a chance to see how these games may work in the future, but Korea could also serve as a blueprint for sports leagues and how they can present empty-stadium games to hungry sports fans.
Is the KBO Perfect?
No, the KBO League isn’t perfect by any means, but neither is Major League Baseball. While the play may not be what we as fans have come to expect, it’s certainly a welcome sight. Now if only these KBO hitters can teach MLB hitters to go the other way with the ball.
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