Resilient Athletes

South Korea finds a way to bring back baseball


This ongoing photo series examines the ways the coronavirus pandemic has upended and reshaped athletes' lives.

The Korea Baseball Organization, the highest level of baseball in South Korea, is scheduled to begin Tuesday -- making it one of the first major professional sports leagues to return to action during the coronavirus pandemic. Four-time Korean Series champion SK Wyverns and the nine other KBO teams have been playing intrasquad games without fans in the seats -- an emptiness that will be felt at an even more elevated level when the regular season begins this week.

The 39th KBO season had been scheduled to begin March 28, but it was postponed on March 10. The initial hope was that the season could start at the end of April, after a brief stoppage of activities. It was ultimately delayed until May, but no fans will be allowed to attend.
Exhibition games resumed April 21. The KBO expects to play the entirety of its 144-game schedule, stretching the season into November.
Intrasquad exhibitions have helped players get accustomed to playing without fans in the stadium, but it's still a strange feeling. "Most of the players are a bit worried and feeling awkward because they haven't experienced this," LG Twins catcher Kang-Nam Yoo says. "I am personally sorry that there will be no sound of fans rooting for their teams, which usually gives so much power and energy to the players on the ground."
"It's not easy getting in good condition, since the season was delayed," says SK Wyverns relief pitcher Jin-yong Seo. "So I try to get in 100% condition through practice and intrasquad games."
Coaches have made sure to wear masks more often because they are in close proximity to players as they give instructions. "I am worried about COVID-19," says SK Wyverns assistant Kyung-Oan Park, left. "So I am trying to wear a mask even during practice or intrasquad games. Most coaches talk a lot with players."
Regular-season rules now prohibit spitting and high-fives, and umpires must wear masks and sanitary gloves. Players and coaches will be expected to check their body temperature before entering the stadium. If any team member tests positive for COVID-19 at any point in the season, the league will be suspended for a minimum of three weeks.
Without any other live sports currently, the KBO will be able to showcase its talent during a time when fans -- and scouts -- would normally divide their attention between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. "Good luck to the whole world, including USA," says Hee Jin Park, a KBO agent for Brion Company. "We didn't know how precious everyday life is so far, but now we know. At least COVID left us this lesson. I hope to see MLB opening this season soon."
Games will continue to be livestreamed on the internet, giving fans around the world the only live baseball action.
“We didn't know how precious everyday life is so far, but now we know. At least COVID left us this lesson.”
"After all, to entertain is the basic purpose and function of any sport, and it's about time baseball served its function," Yoo says.
Written by Anthony Gulizia

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