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Korean baseball not the same without fans in the stands

Updated May 9, 2020 - 4:50 pm

The other night I drifted off to sleep while watching the Doosan Bears defeat the LG Twins in a Korean baseball game.

If there’s a sentence I thought I’d never be typing following this year’s Big League Weekends at Las Vegas Ballpark, that would have been the early leader in the clubhouse.

Aviators president Don Logan also was watching the Koreans flipping bats and making most of the routine plays on ESPN. He agreed it was nice to be watching baseball again, but had the same impression I did.

SK Wyverns' cheerleaders cheer for their team during a baseball game between Hanwha Eagles and ...
SK Wyverns' cheerleaders cheer for their team during a baseball game between Hanwha Eagles and SK Wyverns in Incheon, South Korea, Tuesday, May 5, 2020. With umpires fitted with masks and cheerleaders dancing beneath vast rows of empty seats, a new baseball season got underway in South Korea following a weeks-long delay because of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

That without the root, root, rooting for the home team, it just isn’t the same.

If there’s one thing the Korea Baseball Organization is known for besides prolonging the career of Las Vegas resident Eric Thames, it’s the rabid enthusiasm of its fans. Without it, the games seemed more like glorified batting practice.

“The baseball’s all right but with nobody in the stands, it doesn’t work in my mind,” Logan said of fanless baseball in Seoul, Daejeon, Busan, and in baseball cities and towns in general.

This is especially true in Las Vegas, Logan said. Lacking a TV contract, Triple-A baseball without fans just doesn’t add up.

“We’ve got to sell tickets and hot dogs and beer and popcorn and peanuts and T-shirts,” he said. “That’s what sports is. We’ve gotta have people (in the stands).”

A couple of familiar faces made Korean baseball debuts this week. Sierra Vista High’s Nick Kingham, who was 3-1 for the Toronto Blue Jays last season, pitched well but was the loser in the SK Wyverns’ opening day loss to the Hanwha Eagles, while former UNLV standout and five-time MLB All-Star Matt Williams managed the Kia Tigers to a victory over the Kiwoom Heroes.

Thames, whose debut with the Washington Nationals has been postponed by the virus threat, sat in on one of the ESPN telecasts and spoke at length about the virtues of Korean baseball on a conference call. He, too, missed the college football-type atmosphere of the televised games.

“Over there it’s just constant; it’s the same in Taiwan, Venezuela, the Dominican (Republic) — there are always drums, trumpets, there’s always something going on,” said Thames, who spent two seasons with the Las Vegas 51s before becoming a star in Korea with the NC Dinos and returning to the majors with the Milwaukee Brewers.

“After a while you get used to the energy, and it’s like, ‘Oh, this is awesome.’ ”

Around the horn

■ Farther south on the East China Sea, former Bishop Gorman and College of Southern Nevada ace Donn Roach made his Chinese Professional Baseball League debut with the Uni-President Lions.

The right-handed pitcher is one of only 20 players to have achieved the so-called grand slam of baseball by playing in all four of its major leagues — MLB, Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan, the KBO in Korea and the CPBL in Taiwan, where he is 1-3 with a 10.10 ERA.

Apparently, the ball travels pretty well over there.

■ College of Southern Nevada baseball coach Nick Garritano said six of his players have received scholarships to four-year schools despite the 2020 season ending prematurely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Infielder Jack Pineda has committed to Baylor; catcher-infielder Cole Schaefer (Desert Oasis High) to UNLV; pitcher Chase Silseth to Arizona; pitcher Josh Brown (Faith Lutheran) to Houston; pitcher Garrett Clarke to Southern California; and pitcher Tanner Lewis (Palo Verde) to Southern Illinois.

■ Three guys with Las Vegas ties have made it onto MLB.com’s list of most despised players per fan base.

Bryce Harper made it three times, topping the list of boo birds in Atlanta (for swiping his cleats on the Braves’ logo), Miami (pine tar dispute with former Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen) and Washington (for leaving the Nationals to sign with the Phillies).

Kris Bryant is the player Cardinals fans love to hate after the Cubs’ third baseman jokingly called St. Louis boring. Former 51s’ slugger Pete Alonso incurred the wrath of Padres fans (hard to do) by flipping his bat 15 feet in the air upon hitting a game-winning home run after San Diego pitcher Chris Paddack had called him out and struck him out twice the day before.

0:01

American-born pitcher Dan Straily of Korea’s Lotte Giants, when asked what it was like to play ball in empty stadiums: “Occasional weekday games in Oakland come to mind.”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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