The new baseball season began Tuesday in South Korea after a weeks-long delay because of the coronavirus pandemic. The crack of the bat and the sound of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt echoed around empty stadiums. Korean Baseball became one of the world’s first major professional sports to return to action amid the pandemic.
Players and coaches go through fever screenings before entering stadiums. Umpires and base coaches must wear masks during games. Masks and latex gloves will be required at training facilities. Fans will be barred from games until the KBO is convinced the risk of infection has been minimized. If any member of a team tests positive for the coronavirus this season, the league will be shut down for at least three weeks.
The teams tried to create a festive atmosphere in the empty stadiums. In a game in Jamsil Stadium, the outfield seats were decked with huge banners of the LG Twins’ cheering slogans. Twins outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, who spent some time with the Baltimore Orioles, hit the league’s first home run of the season.
A full season of baseball seemed doubtful in early March when South Korea was reporting about 500 new virus infections a day, forcing the KBO to postpone its March 28 season openers. The KBO plans to maintain a 144-game regular-season schedule. But it decided to shorten the first round of the playoffs from best-of-five to best-of-three series.