SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The new baseball season began in South Korea on May 5 with the crack of the bat and the sound of the ball smacking into the catcher’s mitt echoing around empty stadiums.
After a weeks-long delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, umpires wore protective masks and cheerleaders danced beneath rows of unoccupied seats as professional baseball got back on the field.
There were many faces in the stands in at least one stadium, but they were pictures instead of real people because fans aren’t allowed into the venues — at least for now.
As one of the world’s first major professional sports competitions to return to action amid the pandemic, the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) has employed various preventive measures aimed at creating safe playing environments.
Players and coaches will go through fever screenings before entering stadiums, while umpires and first- and third-base coaches must wear masks during games. Players are prohibited from signing autographs or high-fiving teammates with bare hands.
Also, chewing tobacco was banned to prevent spitting, while masks and latex gloves will be required at training facilities.
Fans will be barred from games until the KBO is convinced the risk of infection has been minimized. If any member of a team tests positive for the coronavirus at any point of the season, the league will be shut down for at least three weeks.
It was a similar scene late last month at a Taiwan ballpark where about 150 placards were placed upright on the seats for a game between Chinatrust Brothers and Fubon Guardians.
Taiwan’sChinese Professional Baseball League is barring spectators over concerns of spreading the coronavirus in a crowded space. But Taiwan has relatively few cases of COVID-19, so the league decided it was safe to let in players, coaches, cheerleaders, costumed mascots, face mask-wearing batboys and the media.
League officials delayed the season twice from its originally scheduled opening day on March 14, and only started competition after close consultation with the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
They’re ready to allow all 240 regular games in empty parks through the season’s end in mid-November, if needed.
To keep fans watching on their phones, PCs and TVs, the league is encouraging teams to give their stadiums a realistic, lively feel.
That’s where the placards and cheerleaders come in. Online game commentary is being broadcast in English as well as Chinese this year in case fans overseas want to watch a live season.
“Because there is so much room up there in the stands, it leaves space for creativity and each team can be creative as it wishes,” league commissioner Wu Chih-yang said.
Teams are still making some money from broadcast games, he added. The league charges a subscription fee for online viewers.