The lights are out, and the television’s glow isn’t enough to illuminate the clock.
Based on the near-empty bag of coconut crisps on the coffee table, I’d guess it’s about 3:30 a.m. Or, if you prefer, it’s the seventh inning of the Korean Baseball Organization opener on ESPN.
Just like that, six weeks of baseball sobriety have been wiped out. I may go cold turkey every winter, but this was the first April of my lifetime that had not included a live baseball game.
And now, it looks like it was all for naught.
All it took was an over-the-shoulder catch by Samsung Lions rightfielder Hun Gon Kim in the first inning, and I was jonesing for Bob Costas. This is crazy. It’s demented.
A grown man should not be watching a baseball game in the middle of the night between two teams he had never heard of while sitting alone in the dark. So I make a mental note to talk my son into staying up and watching — checks the ESPN schedule — the Doosan Bears game with me tonight.
It’s worth it, you know.
If you’re a baseball junkie, the KBO is a reasonable facsimile to Major League Baseball. The outfielders can’t throw worth a darn, half the players look like they’d lose a footrace to your Aunt Louise, and all the pitchers resemble a 39-year-old reliever who has lost his fastball. But it’s still pretty darned good.
In some ways, it feels like watching MLB games from the late 1960s.
The games go quicker because hitters aren’t stepping out of the box after every pitch, and pitchers aren’t feigning deep thoughts while getting the signs. There aren’t as many home runs or strikeouts, which means more chances in the field and the defense was solid.
Also, Tuesday’s openers were all played in the afternoon in South Korea, and the ballparks looked like they were dropped in the middle of neighborhoods with trees beyond the outfield wall like Forbes Field once had in Pittsburgh or Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.
And did I mention there were no fans in the bleachers?
While South Korea may be farther ahead of the curve than the United States when it comes to handling the coronavirus, the country is still not prepared to open its gates to large crowds. So the Samsung Lions-N.C. Dinos game on ESPN overnight Tuesday had just a smattering of people (presumably team employees) behind home plate.
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At Happy Dream Ballpark in Incheon (Can we petition Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago be renamed Shiny Happy People Ballpark?) they went so far as to fill the bleachers with posters of faux fans. Other ballparks had mascots and cheerleaders and the occasional song between innings. The umpires wore masks for health reasons, and so did most of the non-playing personnel around the stadium.
And yet, from a viewer’s perspective, none of that really mattered. There was enough ambient noise to create a buzz, and the broadcasters filled in the rest of the spaces.
Meanwhile, it was still baseball on the field.
It’s a little hard to get emotionally involved in a game when you don’t know any of the players or the teams, but ESPN announcers Karl Ravech and Eduardo Perez (with each broadcasting from their own home) did a nice job of weaving biographies and histories into the telecast, much like an Olympic event. ESPN is currently planning to show a Korean game six nights a week, with live broadcasts starting between 1 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. with replays throughout the day.
The point is, this is all the regular season-baseball we are likely to have in May. And June. And maybe a good portion of July. The target date for re-starting the MLB season seems to shift depending on the virus news of the day. You might be optimistic on Monday, and crying in your Rays pajama pants by Tuesday.
So you may want to invest a little time in getting to know the Samsung Lions, Lotte Giants or Kiwoom Heroes. All you need to enjoy baseball this month is an open mind.
And maybe a nap.