Live practice games a ‘beam of light’ for baseball-starved Korean fans


SEOUL (Reuters) – For student Kim Jin-won, watching his favourite baseball team’s practice games live on YouTube is a rare slice of happiness while stuck at home during South Korea’s social distancing campaign aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

The global sporting calendar has been virtually wiped out due to the spread of the virus, and the Korea Baseball Organization has postponed the start of the season from March 28 to April 20.

It has also banned all 10 teams from holding pre-season games against each other due to concerns about the epidemic, so for baseball fans like Kim the live broadcasts of intra-team games are something to savour.

“It’s like a beam of light that enlivens my dull daily life,” the 21-year-old said as he watched his LG Twins’ practice game on Thursday from his home in Seoul.

The Twins play the practice games about twice a week and airs them live through their YouTube channel.

“The weather is nice outside and I’m itching to go watch the games at the stadium, but I believe Korea is the only country right now that can allow at least practice games and broadcast them online,” added Kim.

A Korea University junior majoring in global sports studies, Kim said he has been refraining from meeting friends and outdoor activities because of the virus, which has infected more than 10,000 people in South Korea and killed 174.

He has to take classes online since the start of the school semester has been postponed.

South Korea, Asia’s biggest coronavirus hot spot outside China, has largely managed to bring the rate of new infections under control after a big early spike.

But with outbreaks in small clusters and imported cases continuing to emerge there seems little chance Korean baseball fans will be able to cheer their teams at stadiums anytime soon.

LG Twins, who boast one of the largest fan bases in South Korea, enlisted a professional newscaster and the team’s general manger to front the broadcasts of the practice games and give real-time feedback to fans on its YouTube channel.

Outfielder Lee Hyung-jong’s low ball to the centre-left field for a double during an intra-team game on Thursday set the channel abuzz.

“He’s the killer of April. Too bad this isn’t a real game,” one fan said.

General manager Cha Myung-seok chimed in: “Indeed, he must be sad that the season has not yet begun as he is in the best condition right now.”

The game drew up to 7,500 viewers, with players and coaches wearing caps with the words “COVID-19 OUT” handwritten beside the team’s logo.

“It is regrettable that world sport leagues were put on hold but I hope we can provide a little bit of comfort for fans and the people through our broadcast,” Cha, a former colour commentator and Twins pitcher, told Reuters.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Soohyun Mah; Editing by Peter Rutherford