South Korean Baseball

Because there are no live American sports to be broadcast — and people can only watch that Michael Jordan documentary so many times — ESPN has decided to start broadcasting games from the Korea Baseball Organization, the South Korean major leagues.  ESPN is hoping that American sports fans who know nothing about the Korean league or teams will nevertheless tune in to provide that taste of live sports they have been craving.

download__2_I don’t know beans about the KBO, but I enjoy reading about sports teams in other countries and, especially, the team names.  My favorite foreign sports name is the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, a Japanese team that doesn’t contemplate battling hams, but instead is managed by the Nippon Ham company — which is the cause of the curious name.  The Korean league apparently has a strong corporate element, too, with team names that include Samsung and Hyundai.

If you’re inclined to watch a game and are trying to decide who to root for, here’s a list of the teams in the league:  Doosan Bears, NC Dinos, Samsung Lions, Lotte Giants, LG Twins, Kiwoom Heroes, KIA Tigers, SK Wyverns, Hanwha Eagles, KT Wiz, and Hyundai Unicorns.  I like the rugged confidence of the Kiwoom team self-describing its players as “heroes,” and I also was intrigued by the Wyverns, the Unicorns, and Wiz, who obviously don’t care that they have the same name as an old Broadway musical and movie starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.  But if I’m going to watch a game I’m going to be pulling for the NC Dinos, just because their mascot is a formidable, long-necked dinosaur who looks like a cross between Godzilla and a bodybuilder.

Will American sports fans tune in the KBO — where games, apparently, will be played in empty stadiums with banners stretched across the seating area that depict fans wearing masks?  I’m guessing yes.  Baseball is baseball, and South Korea has produced a number of players who have made it to the American major leagues, so the talent level is undoubtedly pretty good.  And the players might be trying even harder than usual if they know that American fans, and American scouts, will be watching.

Go Dinos!

 

Thinking Baseball Thoughts

The other day I got a welcome ping from my cellphone.  My ESPN app — after providing countless NBA-related “alerts” and “news” that I didn’t really care about — reported on the score of a Cleveland Indians spring training game.  The Tribe lost, but I didn’t care about that, not really.  I was just happy to see that spring training had begun and progressed to the point that games were being played.

1883887If spring training has begun, spring itself can’t be far behind.

Baseball is changing.  I ran across a story about how Major League Baseball has entered into an agreement with the independent Atlantic League that will allow MLB to use the league to try out modified rules and equipment changes.  Under the deal, the Atlantic League will implement new rules at the request of MLB and then provide data and feedback on how the rules changes work out so MLB can decide whether to adopt the changes at the big-league level.  And get this:  the rules changes that supposedly are being considered include moving back the mound and having Trackman — in effect, a robot umpire — call balls and strikes.

As the article points out, the Atlantic League has been an innovator in baseball, including initiatives to speed up the game and to force umpires to call the high strike — i.e., strikes that are within the strike zone but above the belt.  Now they can use Trackman to ensure that the true strike zone gets called.  And because the Atlantic League is full of veteran pitchers, many of whom have MLB experience, it is thought that they will be better able to adjust to proposed changes in the location of the pitcher’s mound.

To be sure, baseball has changed over the years — it’s hard to imagine bigger changes than the introduction of the designated hitter in the American League and adding layers of wild card and divisional playoffs leading up to the World Series, for example — but it’s still all about nine players on a field and a guy with a ball throwing to a guy with a bat.  For spectators, though, the use of a robot ump would really change the experience.  How in the world do you effectively heckle a robot ump?

Take Me Out To The Ballgame

The Tribe is playing the Red Sox in a day game today, so Russell and I decided to head down to Boston and catch a game at Fenway — the iconic ballpark where all of the greats have played. It’s pretty cool to be here, and if you’re a baseball fan who knows the history of the game, it doesn’t get any better than a game at Fenway or Wrigley Field.

Go Tribe!

In The Cheap Seats

We’re in Section 553 for today’s Tribe game. That’s in the top half of the upper deck. The game is a sellout and these were the best seats I could get.

Although we’re far above the field, I like the bird’s eye view. We won’t be able to call balls and strikes or heckle the opposing players from up here, but it’s also fun to watch the defensive adjustments and see what’s happening in the bullpens, too. Plus, you get a good view of downtown Cleveland.

Messing With The Summer Game

Spring training is underway, so it’s time for the hand-wringers in the executive suites of Major League Baseball to float their latest harebrained ideas to add “excitement” to America’s Pastime.  Every year, it seems, the baseball kingpins make little changes to speed the game up — like this year’s change limiting the number of visits to the mound — and also consider other, much more disruptive, potential changes to jazz things up.

The latest colossally bad idea that MLB executives apparently are discussing is intended to make the ninth inning more exciting, by allowing the team that is losing at that point to decide which of its batters get sent to the plate that inning.  The argument for this change is that baseball is the only sport where, with the game on the line, the best players might not be on the field.  If you’re three runs behind and your 7-8-9 hitters are coming to the plate, the proponents of the rule change argue, you might as well write the game off.  Why not let the trailing team choose to have their 3-4-5 hitters come up, so they’ve got a chance of winning?

It’s a stupid idea, because it changes the game even more fundamentally than the designated hitter rule.  Why should the team that is behind get “helped” by being given an advantage?  What if a perfect game is being pitched?  What about the idea that baseball is a team game, where every player needs to contribute and strategy and managerial moves can make a difference?  For that matter, why should the ninth inning be viewed as more important than every other inning?  Why shouldn’t every inning count equally?

If MLB execs are looking for other stupid ways add more twists and turns to the game, how about these?  Allow each team to strike one player out of the opposing team’s lineup.  Only have the best five players on each team bat.  Make any runs scored with two outs in an inning count double.  Or let a midget bat, or give a free suit to any player who hits a home run that hits a bull sign in the outfield.  (Wait a minute — I think those last two have already been tried.)

Why can’t baseball just accept the game the way it has been played for more than a century — the same game that our Moms and Dads, and Grandmothers and Grandfathers, watched and enjoyed?

Dealing With This Year’s Disappointment

This morning, Cleveland Indians fans are dealing with that familiar gut-punch feeling of deep disappointment.  Last night the Tribe got bounced from the playoffs by the New York Yankees, and the magical 2017 season, which saw the Indians set an American League record of 22 straight wins and win more than 100 games for only the third time in the team’s history, is abruptly over.

cleveland-indians-world-series-game-7-lossThe loss means that, when next year rolls around and the Tribe tries again, it will be a full 70 years — 70 years! — since Cleveland last won a World Series.  It’s now the longest such streak in Major League Baseball.

The fact that the Tribe lost to the Yankees, the perennial winners who have taken home more than a dozen World Series titles since the Cleveland last hoisted a World Series championship banner, makes the loss doubly painful.  The fact that the Indians lost after leading the series 2-0, notching an improbable comeback win in game two, and putting the Yankees on the brink of elimination, before collapsing in an uncharacteristic haze of errors and offensive futility — well, that just shoves the pain into the brutal, off-the-charts category that long-time Cleveland fans know all too well.

Watching the game wind down to its ugly conclusion last night, I saw the pictures of overtly prayerful Tribe fans hoping against hope that this year the result might be different — and I knew exactly how they felt.  But when it comes to the Cleveland Indians, the fates simply are not kind, and no amount of heartfelt beseeching of the baseball gods is going to change that.

So last night after the game ended we tossed and turned and slept poorly, fretting about this latest disappointment.  It’s kind of embarrassing to react so strongly to a sporting event, when our rational sides know that it is after all just a game that pales in comparison to the really important things in life — but that’s what sports fans do. We give our hearts to a team, willing to endure the angst of losses and thinking that when our team does win we’ll recoup that investment a hundredfold.  We just can’t help feeling deeply affected by these kinds of painful losses — and with the star-crossed Indians, the celebration of ultimate triumph still hasn’t come and seems as unlikely as ever.

Time will give us some perspective, and Tribe fans will always have that wonderful winning streak to remember, just like Rick and Ilsa will always have Paris.  But for now we’ve just watched another potential championship climb into a plane with the New York Yankees and fly away.  Boy, it really stings!