While Major League Baseball hopes to have a season at some point later this year, one pro baseball league will be starting a new season tomorrow. The 10 teams in the Korea Baseball Organization open a 144-game season that will run through Nov. 2.
The KBO started with six teams in 1982. The Doosan Bears are the defending league champions and they’ve won the league in three of the last five years.
The league was set to open its season on March 28, but just like with MLB, the KBO ended spring training early due to the coronavirus pandemic. But now they are ready to play ball, and a few former Orioles will be playing in that league.
Former O’s right-hander Tyler Wilson is ready to start his third season for the LG Twins. He went 14-7 with a 2.92 ERA in 185 innings last year and has gone 23-11 with a 2.99 ERA in two seasons in South Korea.
I interviewed Wilson last night and you can see the entire video interview at the end of this blog. He was half a world away, but we overcame the 13-hour time difference - Seoul is 13 hours ahead of U.S. East Coast time - to discuss how baseball is about to re-start in Korea, plus a few other topics.
Wilson was with his team in spring training, which started in Australia and then had moved to Japan. As they were ready to return to Seoul with the opener approaching, spring training was cancelled and Wilson was sent back to the United States. For two weeks, he returned to Charlottesville, Va., where he had played at the University of Virginia. Wilson and his wife, Chelsea, recently bought a new home there and are the parents of 20-month-old twin boys. Wilson hopes his family will be able to join him in Seoul later in the season.
But after a short time home to see his family, he returned to Korea.
“In those two weeks when I was home, things got worse in the states and better in Korea,” Wilson said. “I flew back to Seoul and have been here about six weeks. I was tested, tested negative, but still had to serve a two-week quarantine in my apartment. For two weeks, I could not go anywhere. You had to download an app on your phone that granted them permission to track your location. If your location was not where you were supposed to be, they had the right to come and get you, detain you, deport you and fine you.”
Not wanting to risk any of that, Wilson spent every moment of those two weeks in his apartment. He got some weights from the team to train and threw baseballs into a mattress to try and keep his arm loose.
“Physically my goal was just trying to not lose a ton of ground. You really can’t refine anything in a 12-by-12 room. I was trying to keep my body in a foundational place to pick up where I left off,” he said.
When his quarantine period ended, he took part in a throwing program for about eight days. Then Wilson threw 3 1/3 innings and five innings in two exhibition games. Now opening day is tomorrow.
I asked Wilson what it was like going to the ballpark for those games. They were played without fans and the KBO will start the year with games with no fans. Players are advised to still wear masks when not playing, even though the country has been opened up to restaurants, malls and public transportation, Wilson said. Umpires wear masks during games and anyone that not is a player in the dugout wears a mask and uses gloves.
“Every day at the stadium, they take every player’s temperature and you are isolated from any media - any outside people are not really allowed in the player’s area like they usually are,” Wilson said. “In my first game, it was just eerie. There were sounds you are not used to hearing. I could hear my spikes in the dirt, the batter digging in and moving around. Could hear the broadcaster in the booth. It took a little adjustment.”
Wilson believes that the KBO could help show the way for MLB to come back later this summer.
“I hope so,” he said. “I hope the way these last couple of months have unfolded will eventually serve as a template for what we can hope to see from MLB. Everybody, including over here, we want MLB back. We need pro sports back. It’s a unifying thing for all of us.”
Other former O’s pitchers that will be in the KBO in 2020 are Mike Wright with the NC Dinos, Dan Straily with the Lotte Giants, Odrisamer Despaigne with the KT Wiz and Aaron Brooks with the Kia Tigers.
The designated hitter is universal in the Korean league, where there are ties after teams play 12 innings and five teams make the playoffs. Each team can have a maximum of three foreign-born players.
Wilson has thrown well in his two seasons in the KBO. He went 8-10 with a 5.02 ERA over parts of the 2015-2017 with the Orioles. He beat some odds to make the majors after being drafted in round 10 out of Virginia.
It was really fun to catch up with him for this interview, which took place Sunday night for me and Monday morning for him. In case you forgot, this chat will remind you how thoughtful and articulate Wilson is to talk with. He really helped explain what it’s been like for the return of baseball in the KBO. He also discussed his outstanding pitching for the LG Twins and whether he’d want to return to MLB someday.
Here is a picture his wife Chelsea put on Twitter of their family last summer.