Sports fans in North America will be getting their first taste of live baseball since mid-March as ESPN and the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) have come to terms on an agreement to broadcast Korean league baseball games on their network.
The KBO began their preseason games mid-April as their nation recovers from the COVID-19 crisis. The games have returned to empty stadiums, while umpires and players practice social distancing by wearing protective masks and gloves. They will be opening their regular season this week and now those Americans missing baseball will have live games to follow––albeit most games will be played in the early morning or late in the evening.
The preseason games have been broadcast on Korean television networks and highlights have been available on YouTube to an American audience of die-hard baseball fans with Korean language commentary.
The ESPN agreement presumably includes English-speaking play-by-play commentary and provides the American audience a glimpse into what North American sports fans can be prepared to see in the coming months. MLB has yet to reveal a confirmed return to the field and the introduction of KBO baseball to an American audience could pressure MLB to announce the return in the coming days.
Baseball fans may recognize some former MLB players playing in the Korean Baseball Organization but the majority of Korean-born talent in the league will be new to the American baseball fan. Former Athletics and Cubs pitcher Dan Straily is among the American-born, former MLB players playing in the league and he will be the Opening Day starter for the Lotte Giants Tuesday.
Straily will be facing off against former Marlins and Angels starter Odrisamer Despaigne of the KT Wiz.
The Korean Baseball Organization was founded in 1982 and has been the developmental league for many future MLB stars including Hyun-Jin Ryu and Jung-Ho Kang. Additionally, current MLB players like Eric Thames and Josh Lindblom have taken their talents from the MLB to KBO and earned Most Valuable Player honors in the league before returning to the states.
While most of the players we will watch in KBO broadcast games on ESPN will never play North American baseball, they will provide professional baseball to American sports fans.