I became a fan of the New York Yankees because my dad grew up following them and they were once the parent club of my hometown team, the Birmingham Barons.
I started cheering for the Chicago Cubs because I loved their logo and thought Ernie Banks hung the moon.
And today, I’m all in with a Korea Baseball Organization team based in Seoul because, well, now is the time for heroes.
Specifically, now is the time for the Kiwoom Heroes.
Fans starved for live action sports finally got a taste early Tuesday morning when ESPN began broadcasting KBO League baseball. The network recently struck a deal to televise six live games per week.
With other sports still sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic, KBO is back in action with safety precautions that include no fans in the stands, umpires wearing masks, and as much social distancing as possible among the players.
“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,” Un-Chan Chung, Commissioner of the Korea Baseball Organization, said in a statement. “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.”
The circuit – founded in 1982 – features 10 clubs. Aside from the Heroes, there are the Doosan Bears, Hanwha Eagles, KIA Tigers, KT Wiz, LG Twins, Lotte Giants, NC Dinos, Samsung Lions and SK Wyverns.
Truthfully, I never gave the KBO a passing thought until I learned that – for the foreseeable future – it would be the only game in town. Apart from Major League Baseball and minor leagues across the country, the lone international league I paid any attention to was Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan.
And really, baseball had started to slip down my personal sports hierarchy the last couple of years anyway; I mostly ignored big league games last year and college ball has never particularly interested me.
But around January that ol’ tingle returned. I decided I was going to fall back in love with the game, and couldn’t wait for opening day.
Turns out I had to wait – and still am when it comes to the big leagues.
But the KBO is filling the void, while also introducing me to an alternative league. It’s pro baseball, and a different kind than I’m used to.
When it came down to choosing my side I picked the Heroes over the Wyverns and Dinos. Dragons and dinosaurs are two of my favorite things, but the world can always use a few Heroes and I figure it can use at least one more Heroes fan.
It’ll take a while to familiarize myself with the players, but first baseman and DH Byung-ho Park (who played 62 games with the Minnesota Twins back in 2016) got my attention with a three-hit, 2 RBI performance in an 11-2, season-opening victory over KIA. He also blasted a home run in the rout.
Six pitchers combined for the win, which is a stat a little too much like midweek college baseball for my taste but something I can learn to live with.
This morning former Cubs pitcher Eric Jokisch went five innings for the Heroes in a 3-2 win over the Tigers.
And what have I learned about the league?
The most interesting thing is that unlike American baseball, games can end in ties.
If, for example, the Heroes and Bears are deadlocked at 6-6 after 12 innings, that’s the final score. (In the postseason, games last no longer than 15 innings).
Also, the designated hitter rule is always in play, so you’ll never get to see a pitcher take three awkward cuts before sitting down.
Of course if Major League Baseball gets up and running and salvages at least some of the 2020 season, many of the KBO’s new American fans will quickly forget about their summer romance. It would be silly to think otherwise.
But for someone like me who didn’t know how much he’d miss baseball until it was gone, the KBO – and Kiwoom Heroes – will always hold a special place in my heart.
And I want to publicly thank them for stepping up to the plate.