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South Koreans lead off return of professional baseball

Column by Brian Hoffman, Sports Editor

Well, it’s now day 57 AG. That’s “After Gobert,” the date when Rudy of the Jazz was found to have the virus and all sports as we know it came to a halt.

Are you dying to watch baseball, like me? Are the World Series games from the past 20 years not doing it for you? After all, we know who won. What fun is that?

Well, did you know we have live baseball on TV this week, and we don’t know who will win. We may not even care, but at least its baseball.

Beginning Tuesday of this week ESPN will televise six games a week from South Korea’s professional league. Opening day in Korea was Tuesday in the KBO(Korea Baseball Organization).

You might want to record the games. Tuesday’s opener was at 2 pm, Korean time, but that’s one o’clock in the morning here. I stayed up to watch some of it, but as luck would have it the game was rain delayed for the first half hour and I fell asleep. However, I did record it and watched an inning or two the next morning.

Most games will air on ESPN2 at 5:30 pm, US Eastern Time, from Tuesday through Friday. On the weekends you can tune in at 4 am ET on Saturday and 1 am ET on Sundays.

“The KBO League is one of the greatest baseball leagues with world-class players and many exciting initiatives,” KBO commissioner Un-Chan Chung said. “During this unprecedented and difficult time, I hope the KBO League can bring consolation to the communities and provide guidelines to the world of sports. I am pleased that the KBO League can be introduced globally and hope this can be an opportunity for the development of our league and the sport.”

Casey Kelly [PHOTOS: Brian Hoffman]
There are a few names on the Korean rosters you’ll recognize. For one, former Salem Red Sox player Casey Kelly is a pitcher for the LG Twins. Once considered the top prospect in the Red Sox organization, Kelly was one of four players the Sox traded to San Diego for Adrian Gonzalez in December of 2010. Former Salem standout Anthony Rizzo also went to San Diego in that trade and was later dealt to the Cubs, where he blossomed as a big league star.

Tyler Wilson is another member of the Twins. He pitched at the University of Virginia and had a three year stint with the Orioles.

William Cuevas of the KT Wiz team pitched for the Salem Red Sox in 2013 and ’14. The Wiz also have Mel Rojas, Jr., a former prospect for the Pirates and Braves who hit over 30 homers in Korea in each of the past two years.

Dan Straily, who pitched close to 500 innings in the majors with the Reds and Marlins, is on the Lotte Giants. Aaron Altherr, who was the starting leftfielder for the Phillies a couple years ago, is on the NC Dinos along with former Orioles pitcher Mike Wright. There are a few other names baseball fans might recognize, but no one you’d consider a star, or even a regular, who played in the United States.

But what the heck, its baseball and its’ all we have right now. I’m going to give it a chance and maybe even find a favorite Korean team to root for. Can you buy a Kiwoom Heroes hat on the Internet?

COMING TO AN EMPTY PARK NEAR YOU

Getting back to this country, I keep hearing rumors that the Major League Baseball season is going to start play around the 4th of July.

If you’re a baseball fan, I’m sure you’ve heard the same things I have. They’re going to split the 30 teams up into three divisions of 10 each, geographically, and play a 100 game season, followed by playoffs and the World Series. The games will be played, at least to start out, in stadiums with no fans.

This isn’t ideal, but it’s better than nothing and at least we can watch it on TV. I only go to two or three live big league games in a season anyway, but I watch well over 100 on TV.

If this indeed comes to pass it will be interesting to see how they do it. With no fans it will be easy to get some great, and unusual, camera angles. And won’t it be strange to see home run balls, and even foul balls, go into the stands with no one chasing them?

I watched some of that Korean game on Tuesday and they had cutouts of fans in the stands to make it at least look like there was a crowd. I don’t know what they were made if, but if they were cardboard a hard rain would send them drooping and a stiff wind could send fans flying all over the stadium. How funny would that be?

I wonder if they’ll pipe in crowd noise? They used to do that with laughter for situation comedies on TV, and still do it with some. Normally it will be announced if a show is filmed “in front of a live audience,” and I always thought that was a redundant way to phrase it. Would you film it in front of a “dead audience?” That would not only be disturbing but you wouldn’t get much laughter from the peanut gallery. I suspect that “filmed in front of an audience” would be descriptive enough.

Remember when shows like “Three’s Company” had laugh tracks that went along with the script. Every time something was supposed to be funny, whether it was or not, a barrage of canned laughter would follow the punch line. It was somewhat annoying, but after a while you could just tune it out and decide for yourself what was funny.

The baseball broadcasts, with no fans in attendance(and notice I didn’t say “live” fans), could do the same thing with cheering. ESPN, or whoever is doing the game, could have a designated guy in the broadcast booth who would flip on cheering whenever something exciting happened. I know it could be done. Remember when the Atlanta Falcons got in a bit of trouble for pumping in crowd noise when the other team had the ball in 2016, getting a fine and losing a draft pick?

Let’s say the Yankees are playing the Nationals in Washington in what might be called an “Eastern Division” game of the proposed setup. Down a run in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and a man on second, Ryan Zimmerman drives one deep off Aroldis Chapman over the W.B. Mason sign in left centerfield. The ball rattles around in the empty seats as Nats teammates rush out to provide the traditional backslapping and Gatorade bath as the former UVA star rounds the bases.

Don’t you think this would lose a little something if there were no cheering? Tell me, do you want silence or do you want ESPN to pump in a “cheering track” to make it sound like there were fans at the game? To be honest, I don’t know which I’d prefer.

It should be interesting, if it happens at all. Until then, I’ll watch the Koreans and hope for a miracle vaccine.

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