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KBO baseball games to air on ESPN; alumnus Merrill Kelly recalls bat flips

Jose Miguel Fernandez of Doosan Bears bats during the preseason game between LG Twins and Doosan Bears at Jamsil Baseball Stadium on April 21, 2020 in Seoul, South Korea. The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) open a preseason games Tuesday, with its 10 clubs scheduled to play four games each through April 27. The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) announced Tuesday that the 2020 regular season, postponed from its March 28 start date due to the coronavirus outbreak, will begin May 5. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

If you’re missing sports that have been put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, there’s some good news for you.

ESPN will begin airing six regular-season games per week from South Korea’s KBO baseball league, which gets underway Monday evening.

The first game featuring the NC Dinos taking on the Samsung Lions will air at 10 p.m. in Arizona on Monday. Games will air regularly Tuesday through Friday at 2:30 a.m. Arizona time, Saturday at 1 a.m. and Saturday at 10 p.m. Most will be 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.

Diamondbacks pitcher Merrill Kelly, who pitched in the KBO from 2015 to 2018 for the SK Wyverns before signing with Arizona, joined Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo on Monday and said the league is more or less similar as Major League Baseball at its core.

“At the end of the day, it’s still baseball. Baseball is baseball,” Kelly said. “Once you cross those white lines, relatively, it’s pretty much the same. Pitchers have still got to throw strikes and hitters still try to hit bombs.

“But you’re going to see a couple different little things I think, more than just like the big aspect of the game. You’ll see stuff like the pitching coach making the pitching changes and standing on the mound while his reliever gets his warmup pitches in. You’ll see stuff like pitchers throwing on the side of the field while the game’s going on.”

In 2016, the KBO had a league-wide .290 batting average and 5.17 average ERA.

“When I was over there, it was by far primarily an offensive league. That was what they were going for. It was swing hard in case you hit it and try to hit it as far as you can.

“I know they’ve changed up the balls the last couple years since I’ve left and from what I’ve understood, it’s making a big difference over there. Apparently the offensive numbers have kind of taken a swing on the downward side and the pitching has kind of gone up.”

Another difference between the KBO and MLB: Bat flips.

“I’ve seen some bat flips that literally tumble all the way past third base,” Kelly said. “And it was probably a routine pop-up, to be honest with you.

“I actually saw [a bat flip] happen while I wasn’t pitching and I got a little frustrated with it. I went over to my pitcher after that inning, I think, and tried to tell him like, ‘Hey man, you’ve got to hit that guy.’ But once it was described to me, it kind of just was what it was.”

The ESPN agreement with Eclat Media Group to air games includes the postseason and the Korea Series best-of-seven championship. The schedule and where ESPN airs them is subject to change pending the status of other leagues whose schedules have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

ESPN announcers will provide commentary in English from their home studios. Karl Ravech and Eduardo Perez will do three games this week, including the opener. Jon Sciambi, Jessica Mendoza and Kyle Peterson will also call games.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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