Baseball returns Saturday as KBO celebrates 40th birthday
Korea’s 10 professional baseball teams will start their grueling 144-game journey to the playoffs on Saturday as the KBO kicks off its 40th season.
Forty years marks yet another coming of age for the KBO as the league enters its fifth decade.
After surviving its early infancy in the 1980s as Korea developed around it, the KBO enjoyed some healthy development throughout its teenage years in the 1990s and into the early 2000s.
The IMF crisis and the economic crunch that followed hit the KBO hard in its late 20s, but throughout the last decade that league has started to flourish once again.
The Covid-19 pandemic hit that prosperity hard, isolating teams from their fans and clubs from ticket sales, as well as interrupting the season in some way for two years in a row.
But the KBO is ready to bounce back. From this weekend, fans will be digging out their jerseys, dusting off their thundersticks and rushing back into stadiums.
The reigning champion KT Wiz will start their year with a repeat of the very last game of the 2021 regular season, taking on the Samsung Lions at home in Suwon, Gyeonggi on Saturday.
Last year, the Wiz and Lions tied for first place at the top of the KBO after 144 games, forcing the two teams to play a tiebreaker game for the second time in the league’s history.
KT won that game 1-0, advancing straight to the Korean Series where they went to beat the Doosan Bears to take the first title in the club’s short history.
The Bears will also start their season at home, as they take on the Hanwha Eagles at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in southern Seoul. The Eagles will be hoping for a better start this season after finishing 2021 in last place.
The Bears’ Jamsil bunkmates, the LG Twins, will start their year on the road down in Gwangju, where they take on the Kia Tigers. The Twins may well be hoping for a repeat of the KBO’s very first game 40 years ago, when they beat the Samsung Lions 11-7 with an extra innings grand slam.
Having finished last season in ninth place, the Tigers will be hoping the return of prodigal son Yang Hyeon-jong can help turn things around this year.
The SSG Landers, who have also seen their own prodigal son return this season, start the year down in Changwon, South Gyeongsang, where they take on the NC Dinos, who slipped from reigning champion to seventh place last season.
Finally, the Lotte Giants leave Busan and head north, where they take on the Kiwoom Heroes at Gocheon Sky Dome in western Seoul.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]