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KBO Opening Day did not disappoint

Korean Baseball Opening Day brought the rain and the fire

I didn’t intend to stay up late and watch Opening Day for the KBO. I happened to check Slack about ten minutes before the broadcast for the NC Dinos and Samsung Lions game was set to begin on ESPN and I thought, “Why not?”

We’ve all be longing for baseball or any live sports over the last two months. We’ve grabbed onto every scrap of news about when and how MLB might return only to be disappointed later that day as holes are poked through every scenario. So live baseball games? That count? Doesn’t matter that it’s half a world away, let’s watch!

As I tuned into ESPN, I found myself getting as excited as I would for the Opening Day games at the start of the MLB season. No, it’s not the Rockies, but it’s baseball! It’s back! Let’s get to it!

So, of course, there was a rain delay.

Karl Ravech and Eduardo Perez were posted up in their homes in front of bookshelves filled with photo frames and memorabilia, and they were clearly still in the adjustment phase. They frequently stepped on each other’s lines since they were so used to broadcasting next to each other. They brought on Eric Thames, who not only did not have a deep and threatening voice but was also absolutely delightful. He talked up the KBO, the transition back to MLB, and the challenges of sitting out while in Korea, they were playing ball.

By the time the game got going I was able to find some Twitch streams of the other games, which, since they were all in Korean, proved difficult to follow without the context of player names or other background information. But otherwise, whether it was watching Ravech and Perez try to figure out how to call a game from two different rooms on the other side of the world from where the game was taking place, it was the same game. Sure, the radar gun topped out in the low-90’s instead of the upper 90’s, and some players swung so hard they pirouetted upon missing the pitch, but it was baseball.

Flipping between ESPN and Twitch, it was easy to forget that I was watching baseball on the other side of the world in the middle of the night. There were slick pick ups at third base (Park Sok-min of the Dinos made several such plays). There were impressive catches in the outfield. There were differences, though. The deadened ball means that outfielders are incentivized to play No Doubles Defense throughout the game, which also made for common bunt attempts by guys in the heart of the lineup. And relievers came in from the bullpen in sports cars luxury sedans.

There were no fans in the stands. Umpires wore masks, as did most of the coaches. And there were dingers. But despite everyone thinking “KBO=Batflips,” not every dinger had a bat flip. But when they did...

The games went on. There were hits, rallies, and some nasty, nasty pitches.

Oh, and I almost forgot, one game was delayed in the fourth inning due to a building fire across the highway.

KBO: bringing the rain and the fire.

The games, by and large, were entertaining. The NC Dinos hit three dongers en route to a victory over the Samsung Lions (you can watch the replay later today on ESPN2). The LG Twins proved they’re the superior cell phone by winning their game, defeating defending champs Doosan Bears, 8-2. The Heroes overcame that fire delay and went on to win big, 11-2.

But there was also history. Warwick Saupold, an Australian pitcher and former big leaguer, threw a complete game two-hit shutout as the Eagles defeated the SK Wyverns, 3-0, in two hours and six minutes. It was the fastest Opening Day game in KBO history (Rob Manfred fainted with joy), the first shutout of his career, and the first Opening Day win for the Eagles in 10 years!

But the game of the day belongs to the Lotte Giants and KT Wiz. It was 1-1 in the bottom of the sixth when Kang Baek-So smashed a home run to right field. But there was a lot of game left and the next inning, a dagger:

The Giants ended up running away with the game, but the drama! The intrigue! The actual physical baseball games that count! Perhaps most surprising was how many people were up late in the states watching on Twitter. People were picking their favorite teams and seemed genuinely excited to be awake at 1 am watching baseball. Memes were born.

Ravech and Perez fought through some technical difficulties on ESPN, like coming back from commercial and having audio but not video of the game, or an interviewee whose microphone malfunctioned, or having to put up with Jeff Passan showing up for an inning at 2 am local in a full suit and tie. (He loosened it up a bit). And, when the NC Dinos launched their third home run of the game on the ESPN broadcast, KBO insider and true hero Daniel Kim compared Lions Stadium not to Coors Field but to Great American Ballpark, as he should.

There was a lot of talk about the coronavirus, and how the KBO might be setting a precedent for how American sports may or may not return. Again, the stands were empty and plenty of people on and around the field wore masks, so the reminders weren’t far away.

During this pandemic, I’ve had my mind focused on things close to home, so the lack of Rockies baseball, or any baseball, wasn’t affecting me too much, especially with the Purple Row Sim. But in the middle of the night on Monday, I was reminded of how much I do love the game. Baseball was happening half a world away and it made me long for when they would take place again closer to home. But, for now, the KBO was here to fill the void. And it did not disappoint.