Korea Baseball Organization will have curious MLB fans watching as regular season begins

Korea Baseball Organization will have curious MLB fans watching as regular season begins

It may be taking place halfway around the world, but live regular-season baseball is about to begin.

After a five-week delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) is finally ready for opening day on Tuesday. Meanwhile, envious North Americans will be able to watch the games live — as long as they're willing to rise before the sun does.

ESPN has reached a deal with the KBO to air six live games per week — with the network getting the game feed from South Korea and using ESPN announcers to call the action remotely.

It may not be the optimal setup, but it's live baseball and that's what really matters.

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Chung Soo-bin of Doosan Bears bats during a preseason game against the LG Twins in Seoul, South Korea. The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) has announced that the 2020 regular season, postponed from its March 28 start date, will begin May 5.

What is the KBO?

Professional baseball in South Korea is made up of 10 teams in eight cities, almost all of them owned by — and named after — a major corporation.

Doosan Bears (defending KBO champions)

Hanwha Eagles

Kia Tigers

Kiwoom Heroes

KT Wiz

LG Twins

Lotte Giants

NC Dinos

Samsung Lions

SK Wyverns

Despite the late start to the regular season, the KBO still hopes to complete a full 144-game schedule. Play will begin with no fans in the stands. The KBO's success or failure could be an indication of how MLB may look to proceed when it's ready to begin play, possibly by late June.

Baseball fans can expect plenty of offense, and yes ... bat flips are encouraged.

Are there any current Korean-born MLB players?

Three, in fact.

Texas Rangers OF Shin-Soo Choo has played 15 seasons in the majors, collecting 1,645 hits and earning All-Star honors for the first time in 2018.

Toronto Blue Jays LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu spent six seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers before signing with the Jays as a free agent this offseason. He had a career year in 2019, going 14-5, leading the National League with a 2.32 ERA and finishing second to Jacob deGrom in the NL Cy Young voting.

Tampa Bay Rays 1B/DH Ji-Man Choi has played for four teams in four seasons, but seemed to find a home with the Rays last year, posting career-high totals in home runs (19) and RBI (63).

In addition, the St. Louis Cardinals signed left-hander Kwang-Hyun Kim this winter after 12 years in the KBO. He's expected to compete for a spot in the team's starting rotation.

Are there any KBO players MLB fans will recognize?

Perhaps the most recognizable figure isn't a player, but a manager. Five-time MLB All-Star and former Washington Nationals skipper Matt Williams was hired this offseason to lead the KBO's most storied franchise, the Kia Tigers.

As for the players, every KBO team is allowed a maximum of three foreigners, so there will be a few somewhat familiar names sprinkled throughout the league.

The Tigers, for example, have former Oakland A's pitcher Aaron Brooks and ex-Houston Astros outfielder Preston Tucker.

The LG Twins have former Boston Red Sox first-rounder Casey Kelly at the front of their pitching rotation.

Former Texas Rangers pitcher Adrian Sampson was supposed to be a cornerstone of the Lotte Giants rotation. However, he has been unable to travel to Korea due to the coronavirus outbreak. The Giants also have eight-year MLB veteran Dan Straily, who played last season with the Baltimore Orioles.

Who else is worth watching?

1B Byung-ho Park, Heroes. Minnesota Twins fans might remember Park for his less-than-stellar 2016 season (.191, 12 HR, 24 RBI in 215 AB), but he's been a star in the KBO. Park won the league's home run crown last season with 33.

LHP Hyeon-Jong Yang, Tigers. The 2017 KBO MVP went 16-8 on the mound and led the league last season with a 2.29 ERA.

SS Ha-Seong Kim, Heroes. One of the league's top all-around players, Kim hit .307 with 19 home runs and 33 stolen bases. He's also just 24.

C Eui-Ji Yang, Dinos. Yang led the KBO in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging last season (.354/.438/.574) and finished second in the MVP voting.

OF Baek-Ho Kang, Wiz. A budding star at age 20, Kang hit .336/.416/.495 and boasts one of the highest leg kicks of any batter in the league.

RHP Jong-Hoon Park, Wyverns. A true submariner, Park has a release point that's about six inches off the ground. At 28, he has designs on being posted to MLB after this season, according to veteran KBO observer Tim McLeod.

What's the TV schedule?

ESPN will broadcast six games per week, beginning on opening day, May 5.

Tuesday, May 5: NC Dinos vs. Samsung Lions, 1 a.m. ET (Karl Ravech, Eduardo Perez)

Wednesday, May 6: Doosan Bears vs. LG Twins, 5:30 a.m. ET (Karl Ravech, Eduardo Perez)

Thursday, May 7: NC Dinos vs. Samsung Lions, 5:30 a.m. ET (Karl Ravech, Eduardo Perez)

Friday, May 8: Kia Tigers vs. Samsung Lions, 5:30 a.m. ET (Jon Sciambi, Kyle Peterson)

Saturday, May 9: LG Twins vs. NC Dinos, 4:00 a.m. ET (Jon Sciambi, Jessica Mendoza)

Sunday, May 10: LG Twins vs. NC Dinos, 1:00 a.m. ET (Jon Sciambi, Jessica Mendoza)

Follow Gardner on Twitter @SteveAGardner

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2020/05/04/kbo-baseball-what-know-league-gets-underway-espn-exposure/3079509001/

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