Live baseball reportedly returning to ESPN with KBO deal

Live baseball is coming back to your television (and tablet and phone and laptop and whatever other way you used to watch live sports in the pre-coronavirus world).

You might not know many of the players in the Korea Baseball Organization — though there are some familiar names to baseball diehards — but you’ll know the baseball. And the baseball in the KBO is good.

ESPN and the KBO have reportedly agreed on a deal to broadcast KBO games. From this Yonhap News Agency story:

ESPN will air one game per day, with an Opening Day game between the Samsung Lions and the NC Dinos leading things off. The game is set to begin at 2 p.m. Tuesday Korean time, or 1 a.m. Tuesday Eastern Standard Time (EST).

MORE: No, the coronavirus study MLB signed up for won’t speed baseball’s return

Yep, you read that time correctly. Not the ideal time to watch baseball in the United States, but late-night live baseball is a thousand times better than no live baseball at all.

ESPN has been in negotiations with the KBO for broadcasting rights for a few weeks now, though the sports channel’s first offer wasn’t exactly lucrative. ESPN reportedly wanted the rights for free. That offer, obviously, wasn’t accepted.

According to the Yonhap News Agency report, exact terms and financials haven’t been released, though it’s safe to assume that the KBO is getting more than zero dollars from ESPN.

Former MLB players in the KBO

There’s a rich history of players who struggled, for one reason or another, before leaving for Korea to reboot their careers. Eric Thames, for example, jumpstarted his career with three great years in the KBO, then came back to MLB and hit 72 homers for the Brewers from 2017-19. Similarly, Josh Lindbloom had three excellent KBO seasons after his MLB career stalled, then signed a three-year, $9.125 million deal with Milwaukee this past offseason.

Each team is allowed three foreign players on its roster. Here’s a link to the list.

As for names you might know, Casey Kelly pitched for parts of four seasons in the majors — 2012 and 2015 with the Padres, 2016 with the Braves and 2018 with the Giants. He pitched in the KBO last season and fashioned a 2.55 ERA in 29 starts. Drew Rucinski pitched part of four years in the majors, too — 2014-15 with the Angels, 2017 with the Twins and 2018 with the Marlins. He turned in a 3.05 ERA in 30 starts in South Korea last year. Mel Rojas Jr. is the son of former MLB pitcher Mel Rojas, and after eight years in the minors with the Pirates and Braves organizations (he never quite made his MLB debut), he has become a star in KBO action. He has a .310 average and .940 OPS in three years in the league, including 67 homers and 218 RBIs in the past two seasons.

Coronavirus stipulations

Daily regulations: Umpires are wearing masks. Players don’t have to.

Here’s Daniel Kim, a journalist who covers the KBO, on the daily regulations. “Temp checks and masks have been part of daily lives for all of us here for sometime now. Whether it’s going into stadiums or just walking into office buildings, your temps are checked and you must wear masks. It has been part of our daily routine here so I think the players have adjusted to it as well.”

Journalist Jeeho Yoo was in attendance for the first preseason games on Monday. This is part of what he wrote:

“Players had to be checked for temperatures and report the results to the league office. After a run was scored, they could only do air high-fives, so that they wouldn’t be touching bare hands of their teammates. Umpires had to don masks and protective gloves, and so did bat boys. Spitting is strictly prohibited. That includes munching on sunflower seeds and spitting out shells.”

If any player tests positive for COVID-19, the league shuts down for three weeks. Each team would lose 18 games.

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