THE CHEAP SEATS WITH STEVE CAMERON: At this point, any baseball will be good enough to hook us
OK, I lied to myself.
Here’s the premise I was selling: I’ll stay up ’til 2:30 in the morning watching a Korean ballgame — only because it could offer a look at what our own beloved major league baseball might be if it returns this summer.
You know, what would the atmosphere be like with no fans?
Who might actually wear masks on the field as protection against COVID-19?
Of course, my rationale was nonsense.
I wanted to see some baseball, pure and simple.
And by the third inning of the matchup between the LG Twins and the NC Dinos, I was totally invested.
Despite some annoying dalliances by ESPN as play was going on, I’ll be watching a lot of Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) games — though I’ll probably opt for re-runs at more reasonable hours of the night.
Look, it’s baseball at a pretty darn reasonable level.
And that’s enough for me to get hooked, pure and simple.
IF YOU haven’t taken the plunge and watched a KBO game yet, give it a shot.
Korean baseball is the only sport available in the world right now — beyond mixed martial arts, which isn’t for everybody.
You’ll discover that, yes, it’s a little weird seeing cheerleaders and mascots on top of the dugout, dancing and entertaining absolutely no one.
You’ll do a double-take when you check out the fake fans (they’re cardboard cut-outs) “seated” behind home plate to give the appearance of some actual life in the ballpark.
Quick note: At the Dinos’ Changwon NC Stadium, you can pay to have your face on one of the cardboard fans — which are routinely on camera since most angles are shot from center field.
Meanwhile, you’ll probably struggle to get familiar with unknown players at first, particularly since Westerners generally don’t handle Korean names very well without regular exposure.
But I promise…
If you love baseball, you’ll start to forget about peripheral things and begin to care whether LG Twins closer Ko Woo-Seok might wrap up a wild 10-8 victory over the Dinos.
Ko gave up a run and the Dinos — who had once led 6-0 after pinging seven hits off American ace Casey Kelly in the first inning — got the tying run on base in the ninth, but a couple of harmless outs wrapped it up.
It was a stirring comeback for the Twins, who are expected to contend for the KBO title behind Kelly and fellow Yank Tyler Wilson at the top of the rotation.
EACH OF the 10 league clubs have three foreign players, and the offensive star of the game I watched wasn’t an American.
Mexican slugger Roberto Ramos, a 250-pound former Colorado minor leaguer who mashed 30 homers at Triple-A Albuquerque last year, hit two home runs to spark the Twins’ rally — and neither was a cheapie.
In fact, there were four homers in the game, which is notable because the KBO deadened baseballs in 2019 after a few years of wild long-ball explosions.
Jessica Mendoza, who did a super job as the analyst on ESPN’s broadcast with Jon Sciambi handling play-by-play, pointed out that Korean players treasure contact at the plate and are awfully hard to strike out.
She noted accurately that a lot of Korean hitters will shift their weight but keep their hands back, which is a rare trait in MLB.
ESPN apparently believes we won’t be passionate enough about every at-bat, so they plan to introduce a parade of guests (like Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer) on the broadcast.
Unfortunately, I thought the extra voices — especially White Sox TV broadcaster Jason Benetti — were more distracting than informative. I wanted more info on the action during an eighth-inning rally.
The TV crew, by the way, isn’t in Korea.
Sciambi was watching and speaking from New York, while Mendoza was beamed in from Bend, Ore.
When they were discussing the KBO and how the season might unfold, or focusing on the Twins-Dinos thriller itself, it felt like honest-to-goodness baseball that I could love.
I won’t lie to myself again.
I’m a baseball fan, and when the pandemic is finally brought under control, maybe I’ll go see some Korean games in person.
I’m just worried that if MLB returns, they’ll stop televising games from Seoul and Changwon.
Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press on Wednesdays and Fridays. “Moments, Memories and Madness,” his reminiscences from several decades as a sports journalist, runs each Sunday.
Steve also writes Zags Tracker, a commentary on Gonzaga basketball, once per month during the offseason.