Baseball returns as professional sport returns to South Korea


The Seoul-based Doosan Bears and LG Twins are Korea’s biggest rivals in the country’s most popular entertainment sport, and their joint stadium in the capital’s Jamsil district is said to be typically crowded.

LG Twins’ Chae Eun-seong (right) hits a ball during a pre-season baseball game between Seoul-based Doosan Bears and LG Twins at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on April 21, 2020 (AFP)

Professional sports returned to South Korea on Tuesday as coronavirus restrictions relax, with the first pitch thrown in a pre-season baseball derby past empty stands.

The Seoul-based Doosan Bears and LG Twins are Korea’s biggest rivals in the country’s most popular entertainment sport, and their joint stadium in the capital’s Jamsil district is said to be typically crowded.

But with fans banned, the stands were empty when the Twins’ Cha Woo-chan threw the first pitch.

Even the cheerleaders – an essential part of energizing the atmosphere of what would normally be a feverish encounter – were also absent.

The stadium was silent, except for the continuous clicking of camera shutters from around 50 members of the media and the occasional screaming from the shelters.

Journalists were not allowed to approach the players.

“Although it takes place behind closed doors, I think it’s good that we can organize these matches for the fans watching from home,” said Kim Kwang-hwan, media manager of LG Twins.

“We hope that the coronavirus epidemic will be contained soon so that many fans can come and enjoy our game as in previous years.”

Sports fans around the world have been deprived of live action due to the virus, with broadcasters resorting to game rehearsals from years past, while leagues face the prospect of paying rights holders refunds of several million dollars.

South Korea experienced one of the worst early outbreaks of the disease outside of China, prompting professional sports, including football and baseball, to suspend or delay their seasons.

But the South appears to have brought its outbreak under control with a massive “trace, test and cure” program and Seoul said over the weekend it would allow the resumption of outdoor sport behind closed doors in light of a decline constant new virus cases.

No spitting

The Jamsil derby was among the first 20 preseason games, and the Korea Baseball Organization announced on Tuesday that the regular season will begin behind closed doors on May 5.

Strict health guidelines were applied.

Players should have their temperature checked twice before matches, with face masks strongly recommended in all parts of the stadium except the pitch and the canoe during the match, the KBO said.

Players have been asked not to shake hands or trade high-fives, while spitting is prohibited.

The Doosan Bears were last year’s KBO champions, but the LG Twins lost 5-2 in a one-sided game.

Still, more than 700,000 fans logged in to watch the game live on Naver, the country’s largest portal.

“I like to relieve my stress by cheering on at the stadium while munching on chicken and drinking a mug of beer and it’s a shame I can’t do that,” said Bears fan Yi Hyon-hui.

“But I think it’s a lot better than being afraid of contracting the virus,” she said, adding, “It’s a very good decision for all the fans who have been waiting.”

South Korea reported nine new cases of Covid-19 on Monday – the country’s fourth consecutive day with fewer than 20 new infections – bringing the total to 10,683.

South Korean football clubs are also expected to be back in action shortly after the K-League said they would be allowed to play practice matches from Tuesday.

Women golfers across the country are also gearing up to play, with the announcement that the Korea Ladies Professional Golf Association championship will kick off on May 14 in Yangju, east of Seoul.

Source: AFP


Sara R. Cicero