Major League Baseball’s eyes figure to be pointed across the Pacific Ocean starting this week.
The Korea Baseball Organization is scheduled to begin regular season play at 10 p.m. (PT) Monday night – that’s Tuesday afternoon in Korea – with a regular five-game schedule.
For MLB, which has no firm idea when its games might start up again, evaluating the mixture of baseball in empty stands in the midst of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic could help create a template for how the game will eventually return in North America.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and a wide swath of executives and players across baseball seem increasingly optimistic that baseball will be played in North America this year, although there is nothing close to a starting date and a full 162-game Major League season seems out of the question.
What that return may look like could be played out in Seoul and environs in the coming days. It’s a good guess that some former Oakland A’s pitchers Dan Straily (with the A’s from 2012-14), Raul Alcantara ((2016-17) and Aaron Brooks (2018-19) now working in Korea will be hit up by their former teammates to know how the experiment is going.
The original starting date for KBO play was March 28, and there had been hope for a May 1 start. KBO executives say that if all goes as planned, the Korea version of the World Series conclude in November.
As a country, Korea is weeks, if not months ahead of the United States both in terms of having the population tested for the coronavirus and seeing the COVID-19 curve flattening. The plans are for Korea’s 10 teams to play in empty stadiums as it becomes the second baseball league worldwide to get going in 2020. Taiwan’s five-team league, which started up on April 11, also has its clubs play in empty stadiums.
According to The Korea Times, Saturday was the fourth consecutive day with fewer than 10 new cases of infections nationwide. In the USA, Saturday almost 4,000 new cases were reported.
The protocols in place in Korea will have players and staff enter and exit facilities through one door. Each person’s temperature will be taken upon each entry. All personnel not in baseball uniforms are required to wear masks and gloves.
Players who show symptoms of the coronavirus will be quarantined, and the stadium where he last played will be closed. If a player’s test is positive, contact tracing will be put in place to determine others that player might have infected. There will be no spitting and no high-fives allowed, and the possibility of three-week or longer shutdown is an option in case the coronavirus flares up again.
Korea’s experiment begins with the country having recorded 10,780 known cases of COVID-19 leading to 250 deaths as of midday Saturday. In the U.S., which has approximately six times the population of Korea, there have been 1.15 million cases and 66,605 deaths.
Given the huge differential in the numbers, what works in Korea would not necessarily work in the U.S. But MLB will be watching closely, looking for patterns, successes and failures.
Whether the rest of will watch it closely has yet to be determined. ESPN has been in negotiations to televise some of the Korea games back to the U.S., but nothing has been finalized.
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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