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.

Ngalakulondi primed to cook the competition

By Jeff Uveino

Move over “Chef Curry,” there’s a new “chef” in basketball.

Freshman Tshiefu Ngalakulondi is ready to start his college basketball career at St. Bonaventure. “Chef,” as he goes by, is a 6-foot-6-inch small forward hailing from Manchester, New Hampshire.

Attending Proctor Academy, he averaged 16 points and eight rebounds per game over his senior season in high school. He was named to the Class AA All-New England team both his junior and senior seasons.

Ngalakulondi was ranked by ESPN as the #2 recruit to come out of the state of New Hampshire this past year, and the #91 recruit out of the entire East region. He opened up about the recruiting process.

“I looked at mostly A-10 schools,” Ngalakulondi said. “I knew that this was a great league, and I knew that the team was going to be good this year so that was another reason that I chose to come here.”

Attending a preparatory high school, Ngalakulondi expressed, has made the transition from high school to college somewhat easier for him.

“It’s not too much of a difference because in high school I was living on campus, so I already had a feel for living away from home and being in that environment. So, the adjustment is not as hard,” he said.

Ngalakulondi will be looking to make a difference for the Bonnies this season, and has plenty of competitors to battle with in practice. An upperclassmen-heavy team, Ngalakulondi said that he has learned a lot from the experienced veterans on the roster.

“It’s not high school anymore,” he said. “It’s a whole new level. Bigger, stronger guys, faster guys. They’ve helped me transition over, it’s been helpful having them to look up to because they’ve been here and know what they’re doing, so they can show me the ropes.”

With many experts picking St. Bonaventure to get an NCAA tournament bid this year, the team knows that they will have to meet high expectations all season. Ngalakulondi has embraced the attention that the Bonnies have been getting from the media, but knows that they need to go out and perform.

“It’s great, it’s really something I’m looking forward to,” he said. “Predictions don’t really mean anything, you have to put in the work and that will make us accomplish our goals.”

Ngalakulondi ‘s size should play a large part in his game. Although he stands at 6-foot-6, his athleticism allows him to play like he’s 6-foot-8.

With big men Amadi Ikpeze and Josh Ayeni returning, however, Ngalakulondi will have to work to see consistent minutes during his rookie season.

“My goal is to come out with energy and help the team win however I can,” he said. “Whether its rebounding, running the floor, knocking down shots, it’s just whatever I can do to make the team win.”

Ngalakulondi offered what he thinks the Bonnies have to do in order to find success deep into the postseason.

“We just have to play together, play hard all the time, and stay out of foul trouble. If we do all of those things, we can have a really good season,” he said.

Regardless of his role this season, Ngalakulondi has a long career ahead of him at Bonaventure, and his potential begs Bonnies fans to ask, what is the ‘Chef’ cooking?

 

Men’s basketball: “Dickie V” talks Bonnies, Atlantic 10, NCAA

By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio

ESPN analyst Dick Vitale, a basketball icon simply known to fans as “Dickie V,” was gracious enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to talk Bonaventure basketball, his favorite Reilly Center memory, the Atlantic 10 and the college landscape as a whole.

Here’s my interview with Dickie V:

Opinion: NFL cares more about money than player safety

By Tanner Jubenville, @TMJubenville

The National Football League’s concerns with player safety and lust for profit remain incompatible.

The league continues to schedule Thursday night games which forces players to compete on less rest. Players who play on Thursday face a higher risk of injury than those who don’t.

Several players, both current and retired, have spoken out against Thursday games.

“Go get into a car accident and play two days later. That’s how it feels,” says former Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson.

“It’s definitely an issue in terms of health and safety,” says Redskins linebacker London Fletcher.

Studies have shown players who play on three days of rest risk a higher chance of injury than players with six days rest.

Continue reading “Opinion: NFL cares more about money than player safety”