American interest in Korean baseball shows power of sports

photo: Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star

By Jeff Uveino

As the waning hours of Monday night crept into the early hours of Tuesday morning on the east coast, many American sports fans found their attention focused half way around the world.

It wasn’t until earlier that day that sports television giant ESPN announced that it would be broadcasting games from the Korea Baseball Organization, or the KBO.

Suddenly, thousands of baseball enthusiasts who had been deprived of the sport due to the postponement of Major League Baseball’s season became interested in South Korea’s premier baseball league. And, every major sports media outlet scrambled to put out a story that would help readers become familiar with the league.

Thursday marks 55 days without a ‘major four’ professional sporting event being played in the United States, and 190 days since MLB played the last game of its 2019 season.

Under no other circumstances would American sports fans be inclined to follow the KBO. After all, the product put out by MLB is widely regarded as the highest level of baseball in the world, and most weeknight Korean games start at 5:30 a.m. eastern time— perhaps the worst possible time for most in the US.

However, in a time when live sports are nearly impossible to come by, Korean baseball played in the middle of the night with no fans in attendance is oddly attractive for disciples of the sport, myself included.

You’d be hard pressed to find American baseball fans who followed the KBO before this week. Now, names such as the Samsung Lions, Kia Tigers and Lotte Giants suddenly carry weight.

American interest in Korean baseball not only shows the desire that we have for sports to return, but also the power of sport, which on several hours’ notice, caused thousands to stay glued to their television screens late through the night to catch this phenomenon.

Naturally, if one is going to follow a sports league, they will pick a favorite team. After some brief research, I was drawn to the Changwon-based NC Dinos. Despite lacking a championship in nine KBO seasons, the Dinos feature several bona-fide stars.

Catcher Eui Ji Yang was the league’s batting champion in 2019, hitting .354 with 20 home runs and 68 runs batted in. Outfielder Min Woo Park wasn’t far behind, batting .344 with six homers, 45 runs driven in and 18 stolen bases.

Outfielder Aaron Altherr, who played in over 350 MLB games from 2014-19, signed with the Dinos this past offseason, as did Drew Rucinski, a former Miami Marlin.

Now-Washington National Eric Thames became a breakout star in KBO with the Dinos, winning the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 2015 after posting a .381 batting average with 47 HR and 140 RBI.

The Dinos led the KBO in home runs in 2019, and their games are sure to feature an abundance of the league’s signature ‘bat flips’ that are not typically seen in the North American game.

The Dinos began KBO action on ESPN by beating the Lions, 4-0, on Tuesday’s Opening Day. The game was the first of six that will have aired live on the family of ESPN networks throughout the week.

While late-night KBO may not be the ideal fix to the baseball cravings of US fans, it will have to do for now as the COVID-19 crisis continues.

And, I will say, as I struggled to stay awake on Monday night to watch a baseball game played over 6000 miles from my home in upstate New York, I found the crack of the bat and the pop of the glove to sound comfortably familiar.

Column: Hudson, Bona softball players react to ongoing pandemic, canceled season

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Akim Hudson

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — COVID-19, Coronavirus or whichever you prefer to call it, has struck the United States and has sent waves of peril and panic from coast to coast.

Unless one has been living under a rock, they can observe the effects of Coronavirus.

No, I don’t mean the biological and anatomical effects and so forth, I mean the fact that approximately every square inch of the United States is paused. The New York State government was one of the first states on the quarantine wave, practically setting an hourglass on the fate of the St. Bonaventure school year.

But before I even breakdown how that went, I can’t just subside the termination of all sports in the world, yes literally the world.  

I remember, it was a Wednesday evening, I was just finishing a workout at SBU’s Richter Center, then I get a notification from ESPN reporting that the remainder of the NBA season has been suspended.

The NBA, being the eminent force that it is, practically made every other sports league play hardball. One by one, they all fell. MLB, MLS, even the damn NASCAR shut down.

I personally blame Rudy Gobert, but that’s neither here nor there.  

With all the sports leagues shutting down, reality sunk in and we all knew the inevitable NCAA shut down, but everyone avoided the elephant in the room and stayed as optimistic as they could.

Thursday morning, I attended a (mandatory) SGA meeting where Rob Defazio, director of the center for activities, recreation and leadership at Bona’s, broke the news that the Atlantic 10 basketball tournament had been cancelled, along with all of SBU’s spring sports.

Immediate shockwaves moved through the room.

It was just a sudden moment of shock, like one of those utterly unbelievable moments that couldn’t even elicit any reaction.  

I couldn’t help but feel a robust sense of sympathy for spring athletes for their loss (and empathy because my season for club basketball was also terminated).  

After that announcement, everyone really began to comprehend just how serious this whole situation was. Over the ensuing couple of days, many left St. Bonaventure, while some stayed until the week came to a halt, constantly pondering, “what’s next?”  

I held a rather spontaneous interview with several spring sports athletes on campus about their reaction to the sudden termination of their season.

Freshmen softball players Shannon Costello and Bella Reese, along with senior softball player Mckenna Holtz, voiced their opinions on the situation.

The first question was obviously how they felt about their season coming to a halt. Costello said that she was “extremely disappointed” about her season coming to a halt, yet she wasn’t “entirely surprised” because she’d already expected shut down after SBU’s weekend series in Maryland got cancelled.

Knowing the intentions of the NCAA were to keep them safe along with the knowledge that she is only a freshman and would have another season, Costello found clarity in the whole situation.

However, her “heart truly broke” for the seniors whose college careers have been vanquished. Which is a perfect Segway to our senior.

Holtz was in an absolute shock when she got the news.

She even took the initiative to meet with Bona coach Mike Threehouse because “part of [her] couldn’t believe it could be real” until further confirmation from him.

Reese had a reaction that was pretty much an exact conjugation of both Costello and Holtz, also in shock and disappointment, but a different sense of disappointment.

Reese’s disappointment was spearheaded by the team’s hard work basically being deducted to futility.

Divulging that there were changes during the offseason that put the team in position to improve, now it felt like the team had spent months constructing some sort of building only for it to be ravaged within a day. 

Next, I asked the student athletes how this pandemic had affected their day to day schedule.

Costello said she went home on the ensuing Saturday and swung at the batting cages, but there “definitely [was] like a void in [her] daily life.” Swinging at the cages just “wasn’t the same.”

After playing three previous seasons, Holt naturally built her schedule around softball. She said she “[doesn’t] know what to do with all [her] free time” and staying active without her teammates being available to go down to the fields with her is a “huge adjustment…[and will] take a long time before [she] can ever get used to not having practice”.

It’s human nature to be very habitual once we get conditioned, and it is very difficult to break that conditioning, I must say, this quarantine is making me go through withdrawals of my own as far as being active goes.

Reese, who redshirted this season, said her schedule wasn’t really that different after the termination of their season, but she was now “left accountable” of her workouts and so forth.

I must say that there was an archetypal response from all three student athletes of utter shock with somber overtones.

This quarantine has set us back as a nation, but when our safety is being put in perspective, whatever is necessary, I suppose I’ll conform. Sympathy to those whose season came to a screeching halt, or whose schedule has been bewildered by this quarantine.  

Stay as productive as you can amid the current circumstances. This is a time to focus on the betterment of yourself, especially health-wise.

Be smart, stay safe, live healthy, and work on yourself. As always, it is an honor to be able to express myself to you all, peace and prosperity, beloved.