Baseball quietly returns to South Korea as matches start without fans

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SEOUL, South Korea – The South Korean baseball league has announced that it will start its deferred season on May 5 and has wasted no time in starting the preseason games.

It was a distinctly quiet start on Tuesday for two weeks of exhibition games and training for the top 10 Korean baseball teams, with no fans allowed in the stadiums.

In one of Tuesday’s five games, the LG Twins defeated defending Korean series champion Doosan Bears 5-2 at an echoing stadium in Seoul with more than 20,000 seats empty.

The referees wore masks and gloves, and some coaches and team staff wore masks in canoes. Some of the players and a coach wore messages on their caps stating “Corona 19 Out”.

The initial preseason from March 14 to 24 and the opening day, originally scheduled for March 28, have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has practically ended high performance sports around the world.

The KBO’s decision to restart comes with a problem, however. Fans will only be able to watch the first games of the regular season on TV. League organizers plan to gradually open the games to fans once they are confident that the threats from COVID-19 are greatly reduced.

Kim Kwang-hwan, chief marketing officer for LG Twins, said that all the playing conditions were better than not playing at all, noting that there would be some quick adjustments with the “just 15 days” season.

“I think athletes do better in training matches against other teams than in intra-team scrums,” said Kim. “Although it will start with crowd-free matches, they will be able to show good performances to the fans and will also be happy to play in front of them once the coronavirus crisis has passed.” “

All of the live photographers and television cameras were positioned in seats normally used by regular spectators, away from the shelter, for the Twins-Doosan Bears game. Anyone who entered the stadium had their temperature checked.

The South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that the two managers, Ryu Joong-il for the Twins and Kim Tae-hyoung for the Bears, were filling in their lines with regulars, with former MVP hitter Kim Jae- hwan being the only notable absence. .

The league plans to maintain a 144-game regular season schedule, but has cut its All-Star game and shortened the first round of the playoffs from best of five to best of three.

South Korea reported on Tuesday nine new coronavirus infections and one more death, bringing its total to 10,683 cases and 237 deaths.

As deaths and infections continue to increase worldwide, the will to reopen top-level sports leagues and other major events have triggered warnings from health officials that the crisis that has killed more than 170,000 people in the world is far from over and that relaxing social distancing orders too quickly could allow the virus to reappear.

The KBO said it could shorten the regular season further if infections broke out. The league will advise players to wear face masks in the locker room and ask them to download smartphone apps to report their daily health to league officials.

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