Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
As summer moods begin to take hold in early May, the pastime of baseball begins to blossom. Clutch hits puncturing the outfield grass to nasty splitters and sliders bombarding the batter’s box begin to become more common. Even bat-flips begin to show their groove on the field and spark controversy among fans.
However, these sites and scenes of the sport of baseball are not happening at Petco Park, Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. The New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers or World Series-reigning Washington Nationals are not performing these feats, either.
In fact, the sights and sounds of baseball are not even occurring on this continent. Instead of Petco or Wrigley, it occurs at Gocheok Sky Dome or Jamsil Baseball Stadium. Instead of the Yankees or the Dodgers, it is the Tigers and Giants. No, it is not Detroit, nor San Francisco. Instead? Kia and Lotte.
In South Korea.
In a society nearly devoid of sports, the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) has been a source of light in a dark time with COVID-19 grasping the world around it. Even with the double-digit time difference, fans from every corner of the baseball-loving community have tuned in to get a look at what the Korean product on the field has to offer.
Major League Baseball should also take notice.
Now, it has to be said that while KBO games are being played, the atmosphere is not what it would be usually. Fans cannot attend games. Players and coaches must remain socially diligent and masks are encouraged. Spitting is not allowed. Even still, MLB should take notes.
The first major hurdle for MLB to cross would have to be to re-open and begin season play. Beyond the obvious, though, there are still ways to improve.
No matter the year, the KBO has always been a hitting league. “Hitting,” though, is an understatement. With small ballparks and homers everywhere (Even with a de-juiced ball that has been introduced this year in the league), the hitting still holds an advantage over MLB in that it is more situational. More notice is taken on hitting it the other way for extra-bases if a shift is on. Slapping it into the gaps is encouraged. The KBO realizes home runs will come no matter what, and instead of solely focusing on the long ball, they have worked on everything in-between. MLB, meanwhile, has become more home run-or-bust. Instead of working on the stuff in-between, it has become all-or-nothing, which can quickly bore fans away.
Even when discussing the fan atmosphere (when they will inevitably return to the stands), the KBO is different. While MLB bans horns and has not ever latched onto the chanting you usually see in soccer, the KBO encourages both. While MLB encourages fans to talk and socialize with each other, the KBO encourages fans to interact and cooperate together.
While the KBO is not perfect – it suffers from a marketing perspective similarly to MLB in regard to livestreaming and player advertising – it establishes a solid base as to what works on the diamond and in the stadium seats. In an era where MLB is attempting to get younger viewership that will not flip the channel after a minute, it might not have to look far.
Even in light of COVID-19, KBO has performed. It has impacted. It has entertained.
Now, it is time MLB learned.