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Get to know the KBO: ESPN to air South Korean baseball games

REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Opening Day has finally arrived — just not Major League Baseball’s. 

Per multiple reports, ESPN has reached an agreement with the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) to air six live games per week, beginning with the South Korean league’s Opening Day on Tuesday between the NC Dinos and Samsung Lions. 

The game will air live at 1 a.m. ET on ESPN with English commentary dubbed over, remotely. 

The ensuing schedule for this week is as follows: 

  • Wednesday, May 6: Doosan Bears vs. LG Twins (5:30 a.m.)
  • Thursday, May 7: Dinos vs. Lions (5:30 a.m.)
  • Friday, May 8: Kia Tigers vs. Lions (5:30 a.m.)
  • Saturday, May 9: Twins vs. Dinos (4 a.m.)
  • Sunday, May 10: Twins vs. Dinos (1 a.m.)

Established in 1982, the KBO consists of 10 teams that play 144-game schedules with the top five teams making the postseason — a plan that is still on slate despite the season being delayed amidst the coronavirus pandemic. The season was scheduled to start on March 28, just two days after Major League Baseball’s Opening Day. 

But on March 1, South Korea was one of the most heavily affected areas after numbers skyrocketed. On Feb. 25, the country had just 977 reported cases. Eleven days later, that number swelled to 7,041. 

Successful steps taken to implement testing and cut off the spread of the virus, however, has seen positive cases drop to fewer than 50 per day since April 8, allowing for baseball to return. 

For American fans looking to get in the Korean baseball scene, you can learn a little bit about each of the 10 teams here: 

Doosan Bears: Doosan has been one of the more successful KBO franchises in recent years, winning three KBO Series championships since 2015, including last season when they swept the Kiwoom Heroes in four games. With six championships (third in KBO history), the Bears are like the San Francisco Giants, mending years of heartbreak with multiple titles over the last decade.

2019 finish: 88-55 (T-1st), KBO champions

Player to watch: Jose Miguel Fernandez, DH/1B (.344/.409/.483, 15 HR, 88 RBI in 2019)


Hanwha Eagles:
The Eagles are much like the Philadelphia Phillies in that they’ve fielded some solid teams, have gotten to the Big Dance, yet can’t get over the top often. They’ve won just one of their six KBO Series appearances, the latest coming in 2006.

2019 finish: 58-86 (9th place)

Player to watch: Seong-yeol Lee, IF/OF/DH (21 HR, 85 RBI in 2019)

 

Kia Tigers: The Tigers are sort of like the Yankees of the KBO with 11 championships, boasting past successes to lay the groundwork of tradition. In the first 15 years of the league, the Tigers won nine titles, adding another two in 2009 and 2017. 

2019 finish: 62-80 (7th place)

Player to watch: Hyeon-Jong Yang, SP (16-8, 2.29 ERA, 163 K’s in 2019)

 

Kiwoom Heroes: I see a lot of the Tampa Bay Rays in the Kiwoom Heroes. A small-market-like team that has defied the odds in recent years to put together some successful campaigns. While they haven’t won a KBO title, they were runners-up in 2014 and 2019. 

2019 finish: 86-57 (3rd place), KBO Series runners-up

Player to watch: ByungHo Park, 1B (.959 OPS, 33 HR, 98 RBI in 2019)

 

KT Wiz: The KT Wiz are like the Seattle Mariners — an expansion team that hasn’t won anything. The Wiz have yet to make a KBO Series since their founding in 2015, much like the Mariners have yet to make a World Series since… 1977.

2019 finish: 71-71 (6th place)

Player to watch: Mel Rojas Jr., OF (.322/.381/.530, 24 HR, 102 RBI in 2019)

 

LG Twins: The Twins share a striking similarity to the Atlanta Braves. Their most successful period came around the 1990s and they didn’t fully capitalize on the opportunities during that stretch. While the Braves won just one title in the decade they dominated, the Twins won two (1992, 1994) and were runners-up in 1997, 1998, and 2002. 

2019 finish: 79-64 (4th)

Player to watch: Casey Kelly, SP (14-12, 2.55 ERA, 126 K’s in 2019)

 

Lotte Giants: The Giants are the Mets Kia Tigers, in a way. They are a prominent rival of Kia but have not had nearly as much success. They have two titles to their name in 1984 and 1992 but have been runners-up three times in the KBO Series (their World Series) — the latest coming in 1999.

2019 finish: 48-93 (10th place)

Player to watch: Jun-woo Jeon, LF (.301, 22 HR, 83 RBI in 2019)

 

NC Dinos: Established in 2011, the Dinos were runners-up in the KBO Series in 2016. An expansion team with a second-place finish to its name? Sounds a lot like the Colorado Rockies. 

2019 finish: 73-69 (5th place)

Player to watch: Ui-Ji Yang, C (.354/.438/.574, 20 HR in 2019)

 

Samsung Lions: The Samsung Lions are similar to the Los Angeles Dodgers because they’ve played the role of bridesmaid plenty of times in the KBO Series. While the Dodgers have lost an MLB-record 14 World Series, the Lions have dropped 10 KBO Series since 1982. They’ve also won eight titles, though, which is second behind the Tigers. 

2019 finish: 60-83 (8th place)

Player to watch: Ja-wook Koo, OF (.771 OPS, 15 HR, 71 RBI in 2019)

 

SK Wyverns: Since 2000 when they entered the KBO, SK Wyverns has been a lot like the St. Louis Cardinals. While they don’t boast a history that goes back to the start of the league, they are constantly in the mix for titles. In their 19 seasons, they’ve won four KBO titles and were runners-up in another four. 

2019 finish: 88-55 (T-1st), lost in semifinals

Player to watch: Jeong Choi, 3B (29 HR, 99 RBI in 2019)

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