Live baseball is returning to ESPN, but you’ll either need to stay up late or set an early alarm to catch the action.
Starting early Tuesday morning, the network will begin airing live games from the KBO League — South Korea’s most-popular sports league. The first game will be the league’s Opening Day matchup between NC Dinos and Samsung Lions, which will begin at 1 a.m. Tuesday on ESPN. Longtime ESPN announcers Karl Ravech and Eduardo Perez will handle the early-morning call. Former Phillies outfielder Aaron Altherr is on the Dinos’ roster, though it’s unclear if he’ll get any playing time.
ESPN will re-air the game Tuesday afternoon at 3 p.m. on ESPN2.
For now, ESPN will air six live games per week — mostly on ESPN2 — but said in a statement the schedule could change. ESPN will also air highlights of all KBO League games.
“We’re thrilled to become the exclusive English-language home to the KBO League and to showcase its compelling action and high-level of competition,” Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming, said in a statement.
Here’s everything you need to know to get up to speed to enjoy KBO League games this season, even if it means losing some sleep:
Thanks to an 11-hour time difference between the United States and South Korea, the KBO League’s opening day matchup between the NC Dinos and the Samsung Lions will air at 1 a.m. Eastern on ESPN. Calling the game will be longtime ESPN announcers Karl Ravech and Eduardo Perez. Games will also be streamed on the ESPN app, with cable authentication required.
Here’s what the KBO League television schedule looks like (all times Eastern):
The KBO consists of 10 teams, which play a 144-game season, meaning the teams face each other 16 times a year. Unlike MLB teams, the names of KBO clubs are derived from their sponsors, not their locations. Three of the league’s teams (Twins, Bears, Heroes) are based in Seoul, the country’s capital.
Last year, the Doosan Bears won the league’s championship, sweeping the Kiwoom Heroes in the 2019 Korean Series. It was the Bears’ seventh championship.
The 10 KBO clubs, their home stadiums, and locations are:
Outside of the shorter season, KBO games are almost identical to their American counterparts. But there are a few differences.
For starters, all teams use a designated hitter. In the United States, only American League teams have a designate hitter in the lineup, while National League teams force pitchers to bat.
The biggest difference between the two leagues is KBO games end in a tie if the score remains knotted after 12 innings. Even playoff games end in a tie after 15 innings, with the win going to the team with the higher playoff seed.
The KBO also limits the number of foreign players on each team to three.
The KBO is filled with former MLB players and coaches, so it’s not surprising there are several ex-Phillies players getting their spikes dirty playing ball in South Korea. Among those suiting up this season are:
The games could be a preview of what a return to play for Major League Baseball might look like. KBO League games are played in front of empty stadiums, players have their temperatures checked twice a day, and anyone not wearing a baseball uniform is required to wear a face mask and gloves.
Players who show symptoms are immediately quarantined, and the league will close the most recent stadium he last played in. If a player tests positive for COVID-19, rigorous contact tracing will be done to identify others who need to be quarantined for two weeks. Also, spitting is banned.
"I’ve never been to the baseball field and thought to myself, like, ‘OK don’t spit,’ " Dan Straily, an American-born pitcher with the Lotte Giants, told NPR. “It doesn’t make sense. I don’t know why we all do it, it’s just like one of those things that happens.”