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:

What time does the first KBO League game air?

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):

  • Tuesday, May 5: NC Dinos vs. Samsung Lions, 1 a.m., ESPN (Karl Ravech, Eduardo Perez)
  • Wednesday, May 6: Doosan Bears vs. LG Twins, 5:30 a.m., ESPN2 (Karl Ravech, Eduardo Perez)
  • Thursday, May 7: NC Dinos vs. Samsung Lions, 5:30 a.m., ESPN2 (Karl Ravech, Eduardo Perez)
  • Friday, May 8: KIA Tigers vs. Samsung Lions: 5:30 a.m., ESPN2 (Jon Sciambi, Kyle Peterson)
  • Saturday, May 9: LG Twins vs. NC Dinos, 4 a.m., ESPN2 (Jon Sciambi, Jessica Mendoza)
  • Sunday, May 10: LG Twins vs. NC Dinos, 1 a.m., ESPN2 (Jon Sciambi, Jessica Mendoza)

How many teams are in the KBO League?

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:

  • NC Dinos: Changwon NC Park, Changwon
  • Kiwoom Heroes: Gocheok Sky Dome, Seoul
  • Hanwa Eagles: Daejeon Hanbat Baseball Stadium, Daejeon
  • SK Wyverns: Munhak Baseball Stadium, Incheon
  • Doosan Bears: Jamsil Baseball Stadium, Seoul
  • Kia Tigers: Gunsan Wallmyeong Baseball Stadium, Gwangju
  • KT Wiz: Suwon Baseball Stadium, Suwon
  • Lotte Giants: Sajik Baseball Stadium, Busan
  • LG Twins: Jamsil Baseball Stadium, Seoul
  • Samsung Lions: Daegu Samsung Lions Park, Daegu

Unusual rules?

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.

Former Phillies players in the league

David Buchanan, who last pitched for the Phillies in 2016, is among a handful of former players now suiting up in South Korea.
David Buchanan, who last pitched for the Phillies in 2016, is among a handful of former players now suiting up in South Korea.

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:

  • Aaron Altherr, outfielder, NC Dinos: Altherr played a handful of games for the Mets last season after being designated for assignment by the Phillies last May.
  • David Buchanan, pitcher, Samsung Lions: Buchanan last pitched for the Phillies in 2016, and spent three years with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in the Nippon Professional Baseball league.
  • Ben Lively, pitcher, Samsung Lions: Lively landed in Philadelphia in 2014 in the trade that sent Marlon Byrd to Cincinnati. He made 20 starts for the Phillies from 2017 to 2018.
  • Hyun-Soo Kim, outfielder, LG Twins: A native of South Korea, Kim started his career with the Doosan Bears before signing a deal with the Baltimore Orioles in 2015. He was traded to Philadelphia in 2017 and played 40 games with the Phillies, but returned to the KBO the following season.
  • Ricardo Pinto, pitcher, SK Wyverns: Pinto spent most of his six years with the Phillies in the minor league, but made 25 appearances with the big league squad after he was called up during the 2017 season.

How is the KBO League being impacted by the coronavirus pandemic?

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.”

Thanks to a sophisticated testing and tracing system, South Korea has weathered the coronavirus pandemic better than many countries, even without putting strict lockdowns in place. As of Monday afternoon, the country had just 10,800 positive cases and 252 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.