While sports continue to ride out the pandemic, the nation of South Korea has begun its return to the ball fields with some tight restrictions intended to keep players and team members safe. Starting on Tuesday, April 21, the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) announced that teams would be taking part in spring training in empty stadiums, with fans being allowed to stream the games online. As an additional preventative measure, the stadium installed thermal detectors to gauge the overall body temperature of players and coaches entering the facilities.
South Korea has long since passed its peak with the virus, announcing less than 10 new cases per day over the past week as a nation. The nation’s peak came back on March 1, when over 1,000 cases were diagnosed in a single day, but the steps that their government has taken to instill proper medical treatment and social distancing has allowed the nation to fend off the virus better than most, including the United States.
While New York City continues to grow as the global epicenter of the virus, the stir-crazy American population has grown tired of watching sports highlights, lowlights and bloopers that they have already seen several times throughout their lives. With the MLB in jeopardy of not being able to play a full season, their compromise could come in a similar model to what South Korea has done with its league.
This would be significantly more challenging from a logistical standpoint though, as the small nation of South Korea only hosts 10 teams within its league, as opposed to the 30 teams under management in the United States and portions of Canada. That is not even considering the travel accommodations and risks players would be asked to assume responsibility over throughout the course of a season. While it is reasonable to justify that professional athletes, with their bodies in peak condition, wouldn’t be affected by the virus to the extremes seen in the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, the risk is still too much to bear for franchises until a clear path can be presented.
A combination of the South Korean methods and the ideas proposed by the UFC and WWE about private islands for tournaments could prompt the MLB to scope out a portion of the country to host a closed to fans MLB tournament. While it would be impossible for the league to conduct its regular 162-game season in this type of scenario, a bracket-style approach could make the tournament more interesting for fans and potentially for the players involved.
Feasibility wise, the league would be quite limited on locations they could set up shop for their alternative approach to the season. Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco/Oakland would be the most viable locations, given they each have two stadiums and are on the western portion of the country, which has been less affected by the virus.
Either way, I speak for every fan when I say that we miss baseball and this light at the end of the tunnel keeps us holding out hope for some semblance of America’s favorite pastime returning this summer and fall.