Complete Guide to KBO Baseball in Korea Ahead of May 5 Opening Day
By Adam Weinrib
Get...ready...for...(peeks out from behind comically large curtain) baseball?
Yes, American baseball fans, you're in luck. Buoyed by their nation's exemplary management of the coronavirus crisis, South Korea has deemed the resumption of KBO action safe enough for empty-stadium baseball. The regular season begins in earnest on May 5, and will likely be broadcast in the U.S., as long as ESPN is able to come to an agreement.
The KBO is the world's third-most-competitive baseball league, behind MLB and Japan's NPB, and has sent multiple players back to the USA over the past few years, from American success stories like Eric Thames and Merrill Kelly to folk heroes like Kim Hyun-soo of the Baltimore Orioles. Now, it's time to get acquainted!
What is KBO Baseball?
KBO was founded in 1982, featuring six franchises, though that has since expanded to 10. If you liked the bizarre corporate interface of the CPBL's Rakuten Monkeys, you'll love the synergy in KBO -- nine of the 10 teams are named after the corporations that own them. The Kia Tigers are the team you'll get behind if you're a Yankees or Red Sox fan; they've captured 11 of the 38 championships awarded.
Other teams include the Doosan Bears, Hanwha Eagles, Kiwoom Heroes, KT Wiz, LG Twins, Lotte Giants, NC Dinos (Eric Thames' squad), Samsung Lions, and SK Wyverns. If there's a team that shares your favorite MLB moniker, that makes the bandwagoning much easier. Otherwise, there are plenty of options, though hipsters who don't see anything that strikes their fancy can rock a cap of the now-defunct Ssangbangwool Raiders.
Notable MLB Players in KBO
There are plenty of familiar names for U.S. audiences currently hoping to rebuild their value in Korea. The Kia Tigers feature Preston Tucker, who you may recall slugged his way to prominence with the 2018 Braves. Dan Straily, formerly the Marlins' top trade deadline piece, is a member of the Lotte Giants. Aaron Altherr has joined the Dinos, hoping to pull off a solid Thames impression, while former Red Sox top prospect Casey Kelly is an LG Twin, fresh off dominating his first Korean season in '19 (2.55 ERA in 180.1 innings).
Several prominent Korean-born players have also returned to the league, following their MLB days. Kim Hyun-soo of the O's is back at his old stomping grounds, and Seunghwan Oh, aka the Final Boss, has returned to the Lions.
Get ready, America. It's really happening. Time to get educated and pick your teams!