The Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) kicked off its season on May 5, which is Children’s Day, a popular holiday South Korea, with a fan-less game between the NC Dinos and the Samsung Lions. NC won 4-0.
KBO games are being broadcast on ESPN 2, and highlights are shown on Sportscenter. Live games begin at 5:30 am EST on weekdays at 1 am EST on weekends. ESPN initially tried to acquire the rights for free but eventually settled on paying an undisclosed sum.
ESPN’s KBO schedule for the first few week shows that top teams like Doosan, the defending champs, LG, Samsung, and Kia are frequently being broadcast.
ESPN’s broadcasters call the games from their homes, and, in the LG-Doosan game I watched, they included many interviews with American players who have played in Korea, players’ wives, and Americans with expertise on Korean baseball.
Pitcher Josh Lindblom, who signed with the MLB’s Milwaukee Brewers in December 2019, won the 2019 MVP award while going 15-4 as a starter for Doosan, was among those interviewed. Each KBO team is allowed to have three foreign players.
Not only are there American players with MLB experience playing in the KBO, there are also more than a dozen Koreans who made it to the MLB.
Many players from the older generation of Korean stars did not play in the KBO. The most successful Korean MLB player of all time, Chan Ho Park, who went 124-98 with the Dodgers and other teams, only played the final year of his career in the KBO after a 16-year-career in the MLB. Current player Shin-soo Choo, who made his MLB debut in 2005 and made the All-Star Game in 2018, also started out his professional career with the Mariners. Of the three current Korean MLB players, only Hyun-jin Ryu, who posted a 2.98 ERA for in seven seasons for the Dodgers and now signed with the Blue Jays, started out his career in the KBO.
I will be following the KBO throughout the season and hope to attend some games after I arrive in Korea in July, should the games eventually be opened to spectators.