Photo: Chung Sung-Jun, Getty Images
The broadcast wasn’t great. Eduardo Perez kept talking over Karl Ravech. Ravech himself looked like he was about to fall asleep at any moment. And when Na Sung-bum knocked a towering dinger over the right-field foul pole for the first run of the game, both Perez and Ravech reacted like the ball had drifted harmlessly foul.
Nevertheless, it was baseball. And after nearly two months since the disappearance of American sports, the presence of the opening day of the Korea Baseball Organization on my television was a welcome sight. On Monday night, the NC Dinos faced off against the Samsung Lions on ESPN. Thanks to Sung-bum’s homer and a later tater by Mo Chang-min alongside an effectively wild appearance by starting pitcher Drew Rucinski, the Dinos shut out the lowly Lions, 4-0.
Yes, there were rough substitutes for the real thing in the weeks after the NBA abruptly shut down in mid-March. The far-flung Belarusian Premier League never ceased its action, and Taiwan’s CPBL brought live baseball back into our lives three weeks ago.
For me and for many other live-sports starved fans in the United States, however, the return of the KBO felt like the real return of legitimate live sports. (No offense intended to the CPBL. Some offense intended to Belarus.) ESPN’s partnership with the KBO allows for a legitimate path to accessibility for American fans. The quality of play in the KBO resembles the high minors, which is basically indistinguishable from Major League play. And the English-language infrastructure around the KBO allows for the extratextual activity that really rounds out the sports fan experience.
This last point is key. Yes, I have missed the actual sports themselves. I have missed throwing a Mariners game on the background every night while I wash dishes or read a book or putter around the house. I miss the tense moments late in games and I miss the chess match between a pitcher facing a star hitter on his third time through the order. (I miss it less when it’s Mike Trout.) But what I really miss is everything that happens when the game isn’t happening.
I miss the daily stream of posts to sift through on the sports subreddits. I miss leafing through the waiver wire to discover the best second baseman to stream for my fantasy baseball team. I miss the Fangraphs posts and the inchoate early-season data and the leaderboards and the podcasts.
This sort of stuff has filled the gaps of my life since I was eight years old. For the last 20-ish years, I have taken for granted the daily background noise of sports and all its attendant instruments. Until, two months ago, it abruptly stopped.
Yes, KBO games are most frequently played at 2:30 A.M PST. I am not going to wake up at 2:30 to see the KT Wiz battle the Doosan Bears in an empty stadium. But I do have an entirely new league with which to completely immerse myself.
Thanks to the English-language website MyKBO, I can visit a well-organized repository of both historical and current stats. Dan Szymborski ran some rough projections for the 2020 KBO season, giving me a general idea of which teams are favored and which players are stars. I’m even thinking about signing up for fantasy KBO, allowing me to scratch the itch of my fantasy sports addiction.
The global pandemic is an extremely disorienting experience. We are essentially isolated in our homes. Many of our familiar modes of entertainment — movies, readings, going to bars with friends — are on hold for the indefinite future. If the federal government somehow figures out how to manage the crisis with just a minimal level of competence, American sports may eventually return. For now, we have the KBO. It isn’t perfect, but it’s still a miracle.
Michael Rosen is an SFGATE digital editor. Email: email@example.com(opens in new tab).