College baseball is already underway

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While Major League Baseball remains suspended indefinitely, baseball is coming in the weeks and months ahead.

Always the first to get started, the college baseball season is already in full swing. UW-Milwaukee played its third series of the season at BYU over the weekend and is scheduled to open its home game schedule on March 30, the day before MLB’s Opening Day. Minor League Baseball won’t be far behind, with Opening Day scheduled for April 8, and the Milwaukee Milkmen’s American Association season is expected to start May 13 with a home series.

However, for the duration of the MLB lockout, the best baseball in the world will likely be played across the Pacific. Long before the US-based majors began canceling spring practice dates and games, work was already underway to prepare for the 2022 season in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) and Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

Many baseball fans got a taste of the KBO in the 2020 season when they became one of the first professional athletes to return from the pandemic. While the rest of the sports world was on hiatus, there were even English-language broadcasts, with ESPN getting up early to cover a season that began with Eric Thames filling time during a rain delay on Opening Day in May and ended with the NC Dinos having a posed giant sword after winning the Korea Series in September.

Options for hardcore fans

It remains to be seen if the KBO will ever draw that much attention in the US again, but they will be given another opportunity as one of the few viewing options for hardcore baseball fans. Their season is scheduled to begin on Saturday, April 2 with a slate at 2:00 p.m. local time, which will have the first spots in the central time zone at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday. During the weekdays, most KBO games start at 6:30 p.m. local time, which is the first pitch at 4:30 a.m. in the Central time zone. While the league’s TV deal with ESPN (and KBO’s English-language coverage) ended after the 2020 season, all 2021 games were streamed for free via the NAVER app or via the links on the daily fixtures page on mykbostats.com.


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Fans who get up early and watch KBO games might see a few familiar names, but probably not many: KBO teams are limited to just three players born outside of Korea. Some of the players expected to play in the KBO in 2022 who have had the most MLB success include former Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, former Marlins and Dodgers pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne, and former Yankees pitcher Ivan Nova. While foreign players are relatively rare, they tend to make an impact: The seven pitchers who pitched the most innings in the KBO in 2021 were all imports.

Wild swings

With the KBO’s 10 teams having to fill their rosters exclusively with Korean players, the organizational depth isn’t what US fans would expect. This can lead to some wild swings in the late innings of games: while MLB teams are increasingly able to field a revolving door of emergency workers, KBO teams don’t have as much talent, and so late comebacks are far more common.

While a potential new playoff structure has been a much-maligned part of MLB negotiations, the KBO has a unique format that appears to be working: Five of the league’s 10 teams make it into the postseason, but the better teams have a huge advantage in the Running the Gauntlet Playoff format in which the winner of a matchup between teams #4 and 5 plays #3, the winner then plays #2, and so on. The format has been very successful in rewarding regular-season success, with the top regular-season team winning the Korea Series in 18 of the last 20 seasons.

Obviously, all of the available options pale in comparison to what fans could expect if MLB games went ahead as scheduled. While the sports world awaits the return of the majors, there’s plenty of baseball out there for those who want it.

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Kyle Lobner

Kyle Lobner covers the Milwaukee Brewers in the Shepherd Express weekly column On Deck Circle. He has written about the Brewers and minor league baseball since 2008.

Read more from Kyle Lobner

March 07, 2022

10:03 a.m

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