Paul Sullivan: Baseball is back. But for those longing for MLB’s return, will the KBO cut it?

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CHICAGO — The first televised Korean Baseball Organization game is in the books, giving America its long-awaited baseball fix.

If you slept through it and plan to watch the re-airing Tuesday on ESPN2, I won’t spoil it by revealing the result of the season opener between the Samsung Lions and the NC Dinos.

But, spoiler alert, here are the two highlights: Sung-Bum Na hit a home run for the NC Dinos that perplexed ESPN announcer Karl Ravech because the right fielder didn’t react to it and there were no fans in the stands to either cheer or boo. And a kid threw out the first pitch while inside a plastic bubble, reminding Koreans to socially distance while reminding Americans of the John Travolta made-for-TV movie, not to mention the classic bubble boy episode of “Seinfeld.”

ESPN deserves credit for its decision to air KBO games, whetting the appetites of fans who’ve been placed on a steady diet of MLB reruns since spring training was shut down in mid-March. Instead of a rerun of a sports-free “SportsCenter,” the network plans to air several KBO games instead, with Ravech and Eduardo Perez providing play-by-play and analysis.

Several media outlets, including ESPN and The Athletic, have provided stories about the KBO teams and their players for those who want to bone up while watching. And if you really miss baseball enough to stay up past midnight to watch players few Americans have heard of, I salute you.

Personally, I have as much interest in the KBO as I do in the Canadian Football League, which means next to none. I will watch the CFL if they play in a snowstorm, but otherwise, no thanks. And though Korean baseball may be legit, I’ll wait for teams whose rosters are filled with players I’ve enjoyed watching for years.

Shortly before the KBO opener was about to start, fans of Major League Baseball got a jolt when former player Trevor Plouffe tweeted some allegedly inside information that baseball was about to restart: “Want some good baseball news?? I just heard from multiple sources that on June 10th, Spring Training 2 will start. July 1st will be Opening Day and all teams will be playing at their home ballparks.”

Plouffe followed up with a plug for his podcast. His former Twins teammate, Padres starter Phil Hughes, then sent his own confirmation of the tweet: “Ok, I’ve talked with multiple sources and can confirm a June 10th spring training 2 with a July 1 opening day proposal is expected to be on the table soon. Trevor Plouffe had it first. I had it 2nd. Someone else will have it 3rd.”

As fun as it was to watch Plouffe and Hughes pretending to be baseball insiders Ken Rosenthal and Jeff Passan, their “report” was not confirmed and there’s no start date agreed upon — or even a real plan yet.

Without enough testing available nationally and with several states, including Illinois, still under stay-at-home orders, it’s almost impossible for MLB to say when or how it plans to return. If it does so too early and even one player or employee tests positive for coronavirus, the league will face a barrage of criticism.

But kudos to Plouffe and Hughes for getting everyone’s hopes up while we continue to play the longest waiting game of our lives. They’re kind of like the groundskeepers who come out onto the field during a prolonged rain delay and pull off the tarp just to send the water into the outfield drains. Everyone cheers as though the game is about to begin, only to watch them drag it back over the infield and return to the dugouts.

Everyone is motivated for the return of baseball, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who told a sports-radio station in Louisville, Ky., he recently spoke with Commissioner Rob Manfred.

“I called the commissioner of baseball a couple weeks ago and said, ‘America needs baseball,’ ” McConnell said. “ ‘It’s (a) sign of getting back to normal. Any chance?’ ”

Manfred’s response was unknown but there has been no action over the last couple weeks. Dr. Anthony Fauci also reiterated it’s too soon for sports to make a vaunted comeback, telling the New York Times: “As a health official and a physician and a scientist, I have to say, right now, when you look at the country, we’re not ready for that yet.”

Meanwhile, the NFL is planning to release its 2020 schedule Thursday in a televised event, which will only put more pressure on MLB to come up with a realistic timeline to return.

We already know which opponents the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing, but when we find out when we’ll get to watch Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady vs. Drew Brees (twice) and Tom Brady vs. the Bears, America will once again begin drooling over football, the true national pastime. MLB could be an afterthought by the start of NFL training camp.

As for now, baseball fans must continue to exercise extreme patience and take comfort in the knowledge that Sung-Bum Na and the bubble boy are doing their thing a half a world away.

It’s better than nothing.


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