Desperate for Sports and Not Sleeping Anyway? Check Out Korean Baseball.

Jared Hoying: Ex-Ranger, current Hanwha Eagle
Jared Hoying: Ex-Ranger, current Hanwha Eagle

There may be no crying in baseball, but a lot of us are getting close to tears without it. May isn't the same without the building, or fading, hope of a nascent season, and there is growing uncertainty about whether the summer, or fall, will be anything close to normal for Rangers fans.

COVID-19 is monstrous, for the devastating toll it's wrought on America's collective health and economy and for the way it's ruined the small pleasures that help all of us get through the week. While baseball played in American and Canadian parks might be a long way off, South Korea recently began offering baseball fans a small favor to help us get through.

As of last week, the Korean Baseball Organization is back in stadiums across South Korea, playing games that count that you can watch live on the ESPN family of networks, should you find yourself up in the middle of night. If you're one of the blessed few maintaining a semi-normal sleep schedule, KBO replays are also featuring heavily in ESPN's daytime rotation, too.

Here are some basics to help you muddle through:

The league format — The KBO features 10 teams playing a balanced 144-game schedule. Every team in the league plays every other team in the league 16 times. Despite starting the season about a month late, the KBO plans to get its full schedule in, largely by playing on Mondays, a day that isn't typically on Korean teams' schedules.

The team that finishes on top of the KBO's standings gets a bye into the Korean Series, the KBO's World Series equivalent. The teams finishing second through fifth play in a ladder format tournament to secure the series' second spot. The fourth-place team starts a best-of-three series against the fifth-place team with a 1-0 lead. The winner of that series plays in a traditional best-of-five series with the third-place team, then the winner of that series takes on the second-place team in a best-of-five series.

Thanks to the playoff format, the regular season is hugely important. In 2019, the Doosan Bears won the league's No. 1 playoff seed and swept the Kiwoom Heroes, the KBO's No. 3 regular season finisher, in the Korean Series.

The ex-Rangers — Two erstwhile Rangers are on KBO rosters. Jared Hoying, who saw limited action in the outfield for the Rangers in 2016 and 2017, is in his third season with the Hanwha Eagles. After slashing .220/.262/.288 for the Rangers in 118 at bats, Hoying has put up a .296/.355/.519 with the Eagles.

Adrian Sampson pitched in three MLB seasons for the Mariners and, most recently, the Rangers in 2018 and 2019. Last year, Sampson started 15 games for the Rangers, racking up a 5.89 ERA in 125.1 innings.

The quality of play — The Observer has watched two games thus far, and we'd say the quality of play in the KBO is similar to Double-A baseball in the United States. The talent level is probably a little lower, but the fundamentals are probably a little better. Korean managers are more likely to bunt or play the infield in during early innings, and the league's outfielders play significantly deeper that their MLB counterparts. The designated hitter-rule applies league-wide in the KBO.

The bat flips — If you've heard anything about the KBO, it's likely that its batters really, really like to pimp home runs. They do, and it's incredible.

The COVID-19 experience — The KBO offers a preview of what Major League Baseball might look like when it comes back. Games are being played in empty stadiums. Umpires and any non-team personnel in the stands wear masks. Spitting is prohibited, and high-fives are discouraged.

Players get temperature scans before getting on the team bus and dress at the hotel before heading to the park when they're on the road. Precautions are numerous, even in a country that's kept its coronavirus death toll to fewer than 300.

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