The Texas Rangers were supposed to open the 2020 campaign in Seattle more than a month ago. Obviously, extenuating circumstances prevented the MLB season from getting underway.
In the interim while fans wait to see their favorite teams playing live on their television screens, ESPN announced on Monday it will begin airing six regular-season games a week from South Korea’s KBO baseball league.
The league, which will initially start playing games without fans, gets started on Tuesday after delaying their season in March.
If live baseball in any form isn’t enough to draw in local baseball fans, maybe a few familiar faces in the KBO will. Four former Rangers players are either playing or coaching on three of the 10 teams across the South Korean league.
Texas Rangers pitcher Adrian Sampson heads for the dugout at Globe Life Park on Wednesday, May 22, 2019, in Arlington. (Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)Lotte Giants
Position: RHP Age: 28
Sampson, who debuted with Seattle in 2016, appeared in 40 games over the past two seasons with the Rangers. The Rangers granted Sampson his unconditional release in the offseason and he signed with the Giants in November.
SportsDay’s Evan Grant recently caught up with Sampson about his experience in South Korea during such an uncertain time in sports.
“It’s like the twilight zone,” Sampson said from his high-rise apartment in Busan, home of the Lotte Giants, last month. “I just don’t feel like I know what’s going on at any moment. But I know I can get on the field and play baseball, and I’m so focused on that I can take my mind off everything else. We can get lost in everything that is going on. I think everybody is probably a little lost right now.” Read more here.
Position: Hitting coach Age: 61
Franco collected 725 of his 2,586 career hits over five seasons with the Rangers from 1989-93. Franco was a three-time All-Star and won the 1991 American League batting title. He was also named All-Star Game MVP in 1990.
At 49, Franco was the oldest active player in the majors when he played his last game for the Atlanta Braves in 2007, and has played professionally in five different decades, starting in the minors in 1978 at age 19.
Position: OF Age: 30
Hoying, who appeared in 74 games from 2016-17 with the Rangers chose the KBO path over a minor-league deal with the Los Angeles Angels prior to the 2018 season. Hoying hit .220 with a .550 OPS during his time with the Rangers.
Position: RHP Age: 29
Bonilla — whose likely most notable act in the Rangers’ organization was being part of the return for Michael Young in a 2012 deal with the Philadelphia Phillies — went 3-0 with a 3.05 ERA in five games (three starts) with Texas in 2014. He was hurt during spring training ahead of the 2015 season and required Tommy John surgery.
Bonilla would pitch in 10 games for the Cincinnati Reds in 2017 as his only other MLB action.
During the past two weeks of preseason games, KBO umpires wore masks and gloves, and some coaches and team staff wore masks in the dugouts.
The KBO’s decision to restart came with a catch, as fans will only be able to see early regular season games on TV. League organizers are planning to gradually open the games to fans once they’re assured the threats of COVID-19 are largely reduced.
KBO teams will play a full 144-game schedule, but if a player or coach is infected with COVID-19, the league will be shut down for three weeks minimum.
The first game featuring the NC Dinos taking on the Samsung Lions will air at 12 a.m. Tuesday. Games will air regularly Tuesday through Friday at 4:30 a.m., Saturday at 3 a.m., and Sunday at 12 a.m. with most games airing on ESPN2.
The defending Korea Series champion Doosan Bears will be on Wednesday against the LG Twins while the 11-time league champion KIA Tigers take on the Lions on Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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