(ATTN: ADDS details in paras 3, 10-14)
By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, April 21 (Yonhap) -- Baseball will be back in South Korea on May 5.
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, which is also the Children's Day holiday. The decision was reached at the league's meeting with its board of governors, made up of presidents from the league's 10 clubs.
In preparation for the regular season, teams will play exhibition games starting Tuesday. They were initially set to four games each through next Monday, but the KBO decided during its Tuesday meeting to add three more games per club.
The league's announcement came just after noon, two hours before the first games of the preseason were set to begin.
Due to lingering concerns over the coronavirus amid a recent decline in new daily cases, all exhibition games and early regular season games will be played without fans.
On March 10, with COVID-19 cases rising nationwide, the KBO wiped out its March 14-24 preseason schedule and postponed Opening Day indefinitely. Teams were limited to playing intrasquad scrimmages at their home parks, with no fans permitted.
Since March 10, the KBO has met with team officials and public health experts every week to discuss the new start date and preventive safety measures. They also explored shortening the 144-game season by as many as 36 games.
But since the calendar flipped to April, the number of new cases per day has gradually fallen, and even dropped to a single digit for the first time in two months last Sunday.
The KBO received a further boost from the government Sunday, as Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, in announcing eased guidelines for social distancing, said outdoor sports games could go ahead with proper safety measures in place, such as not allowing fans to attend.
The KBO's goal is to salvage a full, 144-game season, but it will discuss adjusting the length of the season if it's disrupted by any COVID-19 cases among players. Between the original Opening Day of March 28 and the new start date of May 5, teams will have missed 32 days worth of games, not counting Mondays, the designated off day during a normal season.
If the regular season goes without interruption, it will end on Nov. 2, with the postseason to start two days later. If the Korean Series goes the full seven games, the champion will be crowned on Nov. 28.
The KBO earlier decided that all postseason games held after Nov. 15 will be played at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, the country's only domed baseball stadium, as the neutral venue.
The annual All-Star Game has been canceled. And the first round of the postseason will be reduced from a best-of-five to a best-of-three series.
In case of rainouts during the regular season, doubleheaders or Monday games will be in play. But the KBO said there won't be any doubleheaders during the summer months of July and August. Also, teams will not go into extra innings in doubleheaders or Mondays. For twin bills, teams will be allowed to add one player to their active rosters.
While teams have been playing intrasquad games for weeks and the preseason began Tuesday, the regular season is on a whole new level. In these times of social distancing and self-isolation, the beginning of baseball games that count offers a hopeful sign that things are returning to normal and the light is finally visible at the end of the tunnel.
Despite a decrease in attendance and unsavory off-field incidents that angered fans last year, baseball remains a hugely popular sport in South Korea. With volleyball and basketball having long scrapped their postseasons and football not having yet settled on a new kickoff date, baseball will take center stage in early May and enjoy the full attention of sports fans who have been thirsty for live action.
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