(ATR) Never before has there been so much media attention for the opening of the Korean Baseball League.
The regular season in South Korea began in five stadiums on Tuesday, a national holiday for Children's Day, with no fans in the stands.
South Korea is the second country on the professional world circuit to begin its season in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Taiwan opened on April 12 behind closed doors.
According to reports, Taiwan will soon allow a maximum of 250 people in the stands at each park.
"It's good news," the president of the World Baseball and Softball Confederation Riccardo Fraccari told Around the Rings about the start of the championships in both Asian countries.
"At least the pandemic is leaving a certain space for baseball that is reacting positively," he said.
"Now we will be waiting on the situation of other baseball nations," added Fraccari in a clear allusion to the professional leagues of the United States, Japan and Mexico, among others.
"At least you see a light at the end of the tunnel," he told ATR.
Journalists from nearly 20 international media outlets covered the games of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) including ESPN, which broadcast one of the games live to audiences in the United States.
ESPN has reached an agreement to televise six KBO games per week this season and will also show playoff games in the fall, giving the 38-year-old league more exposure than ever before in its history.
Scenarios that normally have never caught the attention of the North American sports television network these days are covered by the company due to the paralysis caused by the coronavirus.
South Korea has begun re-emerging from the global pandemic. To date, it has recorded 10,804 infections with 9,283 people recovered and 254 deaths.
But there have been no locally transmitted cases reported in the past two days.
"The government has loosened its patterns of social distancing and the beginning of baseball, the most popular sport in the country, is considered a clear sign that life is returning to normal, albeit very slowly," wrote the Yonhapnews agency.
When the teams start allowing fans to enter their parks, it will only be done gradually, with clubs first starting to sell 20 percent of the seats, and then it all depends on the situation with the virus.
Between innings, the cheerleaders performed on stage with pop music or club anthems as the mascots enlivened the atmosphere. Video on the scoreboards featured the thousands of fans who would traditionally be in the parks.
South Korea is one of the four teams that have already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics alongside Japan, Mexico and Israel. Two more spots remain open.
There are still two Olympic qualifying tournaments to be held: the Americas tournament, which was originally going to be held in March in Arizona, and the Final Qualification tournament in Taiwan, which has been postponed twice already.
"The Pre-Olympics date is pending ... We want to speak to the professionals again," said Fraccari.
"We have time, until the end of June 2021 the IOC has given us," he explained.
Fraccari revealed that he is awaiting a new proposal from the United States Federation, although he specified that he maintains frequent video conferences with the Pan American Baseball Confederation.
Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, will kick off its baseball season on June 14 with no indication yet whether it will be played behind closed doors.
The Mexican Baseball League (LMB) will reduce its game schedule from 102 to a maximum of 66, at best, if it is possible to start the season in mid-July.
Japan has refrained from confirming a possible start in May given that nation has suffered a rebound of the pandemic under the state of emergency.
According to some reports, Major League Baseball in the US could start Spring Training again on June 10 and that the season has a tentative opening date of July 1, with each club playing in its own stadium.
But so far, no confirmation from MLB.
Written by Miguel Hernandez
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