On Tuesday, the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) and ESPN reached an agreement for the cable provider to televise six games per week for the foreseeable future.
The season-opening game for the KBO features the NC Dinos and Samsung Lions on ESPN at 11 p.m. MDT on Monday.
Dinos are favored by Draft Kings Sportsbook at -167; the line for the Lions is +130.
All future games will be played on ESPN2, including Wednesday morning’s matchup of the Doosan Bears and LG Twins at 3:30 a.m.
What you’ll see
Baseball. Do you need more than that?
Though Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball is considered to be a higher level than KBO, the quality of play in South Korea is still very good and considered akin to Triple-A.
The KBO is actually the second professional baseball league to get back to action, following in the footsteps of the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) in Taiwan several weeks ago.
While the start of baseball in the Republic of Korea in 1982 only had an eight-year head start over the CPBL, it has a much richer history of players having success in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) as well as the MLB.
Currently, former graduates of the KBO include Hyun-Jin Ryu (Toronto), Ji-Man Choi (Tampa Bay), Eric Thames (Washington), Merrill Kelly (Arizona), Josh Lindblom (Milwaukee) and Kwang-Hyun Kim (St. Louis).
You’ll also notice an increase in bat flips. Demonstrating flair is welcomed in that region of the Korean Peninsula, as are displays of respect.
When a player is hit by a pitch, it is customary for the pitcher to tip his cap as a good-natured gesture towards the batter. On occasion, you may even see a pitcher bow after a hit-by-pitch.
What you won’t see
Typical baseball behaviors on a diamond or in a stadium are gone for the time being.
No high-fives. No spitting. No fans.
Expect such protocol to become commonplace when MLB returns due to the impending threat of COVID-19.
The CPBL instituted robotic fans – some wearing protective masks – to occupy some of the real estate around the ballpark in an effort to spruce things up a bit.
Umpires and base coaches will be wearing gloves and masks, and there’s potential for some players to wear masks.
Who you’ll see
Advertising abounds in South Korea as teams are not named for their home city, such as Seoul, Busan and Daegu. Rather, each team sells their naming right to a corporation.
Because of such an embrace to corporatization, we have teams such as the Kia Tigers, Doosan Bears and the aforementioned Samsung Lions.
The league is comprised of 10 teams made up of primarily South Korean players. Each team is allowed three foreign-born players and, for the first time this season, all three can be on the field at the same time. (Previously, the limit was two on the field at a time.)
Of current foreigners, only Roberto Ramos of the LG Twins has had any major connections with the Colorado Rockies.
A 16th round selection in the 2014 MLB Draft, the 25-year-old first baseman mashed at Triple-A for the Albuquerque Isotopes, batting .309 with 30 home runs and 105 runs batted in.
As much upside as there seems to be with that much production, Colorado did not give him an opportunity in September when rosters expanded and with none of the other 29 teams deeming him worthy of a Rule 5 selection, he accepted the guaranteed contract of $300K from the Twins; with incentives, Ramos could earn upwards of $500K, a total just below that of the MLB minimum.
For whom should I root?
Each organization has a history of championships, trials and tribulations. There’s a good chance you may want to watch a few games and learn a bit more about each team before swearing allegiance, even though half of the teams will make the postseason.
In the meantime, here’s some information about each team’s success and their former Rockies.
Kia Tigers: 11 championships; Byung-hyun Kim (2014-15)
Samsung Lions: 8 championships; Seunghwan Oh (2005-13)
Doosan Bears: 6 championships, winner of 2019 Korean Series; Sun-woo Kim (2008-13)
SK Wyverns: 4 championships; Harvey Pulliam (2000)
LG Twins: 2 championships; Jim Tatum (2000), Tim Harrikala (2007)
Lotte Giants: 2 championships; Kit Pellow (2005)
Hanwha Eagles: 1 championship; Wilin Rosario (2016-17)
Kiwoom Heroes: 0 championships, 2008 expansion team, playoffs in six of last seven seasons
NC Dinos: 0 championships, 2013 expansion team; Eddie Butler (2019), Christian Friedrich (2019)