Baseball is back for Matt Williams, and the rest of us can only watch from an ocean’s distance away.
We can only watch Williams at work as the new manager of Korea’s Kia Tigers once in a while. ESPN has struck a deal for six games a week with the Korea Baseball Association, which is starting play with five games Tuesday (Monday PT). Most of the televised games will come at odd hours in North America given the time differential with the other side of the Pacific Ocean.
You won’t be able to see Williams tonight, even though it’s opening day for the manager, who spent the last two years as the Oakland A’s third base coach. The season opener on ESPN at 10 p.m. (PT) tonight pits NC Dinos against the Samsung Lions.
Most of the rest of the KBO games will be shown by ESPN2. Games Tues-Fri will air at 2:30 a.m. (PT), Saturdays at 1 a.m. (PT) and 10 p.m. on Sundays. The first time Williams’ KIA Tigers will show up on the ESPN2 schedule will be this Friday when they play the Samsung Lions.
Games will be played without any fans in the stands because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and players are subject to testing for the coronavirus. But it will be baseball with standings, batting averages and earned run averages - and WAR and WHIP if you prefer.
In an interview earlier this year with the Associated Press, Williams said “You never know when you are going to get another chance to manage.”
The 54-year-old Williams, who won a World Series ring with the Diamondbacks in 2001 and who managed the Washington Nationals in 2014-15 before moving on to the A’s and eventually to Korea, might have come back to Oakland for a third season were it not for a telephone call in got at his Los Angeles home after the 2019 season ended.
He was, and a few days later he had a new gig.
Even before the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic revved up and became a thing, postponing the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) season’s start by more than a month, Williams said he knew the experience was going to like nothing else.
“I’m the foreigner,” he said. “I’m the one that necessarily doesn’t belong. I have to look at it that way. I have to work overtime to try to get to know the guys, get to know the players.”
Williams does have some familiar faces around.
Mark Weidemaier will serve as Williams' bench coach. Weidemaier was part of the Nationals coaching staff from 2014-15. Hee-Seop Choi is Williams’ hitting coach. Although Williams has a personal interpreter, Choi, a Korean native, played four seasons in the Major Leagues with the Cubs, Marlins and Dodgers, can be expected to serve as an intermediary between the players and the man they call “gamdok, nin,” which translates roughly to “manager, sir.”
Williams is just the third American to manage a South Korea team after Jerry Royster and Trey Hillman. Both men managed in the U.S. before heading to Korea, but neither of the other two have gone back to the U.S. as a manager. Royster has since retired; Hillman is a coach with the Marlins.
That doesn’t seem to bother Williams.
“I don’t think it translates into managing in the major leagues,” Williams said. “I would imagine that at any point I could go back and coach. I’m not worried about that at this point.”
As for now, it’s time to play ball. First up is opening day, which sees KIA Tigers facing the Kiwoom Heroes.
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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