Play ball, South Korea steps up to the plate as MLB idles


(Reuters) – Major League Baseball may not yet be ready to play ball but ESPN said on Monday it would provide Americans with their baseball fix after reaching a deal to broadcast Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) games.

With MLB shutting down Spring Training due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, America’s national pastime has been put on hold as league officials mull over numerous scenarios to get back onto the field as stay-at-home restrictions begin to ease across the United States.

Until then, the KBO will fill the gap with ESPN broadcasting six games per week, starting with Tuesday’s season opener between the NC Dinos and Samsung Lions.

The deal includes the postseason and the Korea Series best-of-seven championship.

All games will be played in empty stadiums without fans.

“The KBO League is one of the greatest baseball leagues with world-class players and many exciting initiatives,” said KBO commissioner Chung Un-chan in a statement.

“During this unprecedented and difficult time, I hope the KBO League can bring consolation to the communities and provide guidelines to the world of sports.

“I am pleased that the KBO League can be introduced globally and hope this can be an opportunity for the development of our league and the sport.”

South Korea is set to further relax social distancing rules on Wednesday, allowing a phased re-opening of businesses, as the nation has largely managed to bring the coronavirus outbreak under control.

Widespread testing, intensive contact tracing and tracking apps have enabled South Korea to limit the spread of the virus rather than rely on the lengthy lockdowns seen elsewhere.

Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Pritha Sarkar