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Baseball managers eye big prize in new season delayed by coronavirus

All News 16:57 May 03, 2020

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, May 3 (Yonhap) -- Their new season has been pushed back by more than a month, but the focus for managers in the South Korean baseball league hasn't wavered in that time.

The 2020 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) regular season will begin on Tuesday, delayed from the original March 28 start by the coronavirus outbreak. The 10 teams have recently completed a truncated, six-game preseason, and they played only teams within their regions at that.

Players of the Kiwoom Heroes practice at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on May 3, 2020. (Yonhap)

It's been a spring unlike any other in the league that turned 38 this year, and the regular season, with the usual 144 games squeezed into a much tighter window, is expected to bring more unprecedented challenges.

Kim Tae-hyoung, manager of the defending champions Doosan Bears, sounded undaunted by the prospect. During the media day -- taped Saturday via videoconferencing and aired Sunday due to coronavirus concerns -- Kim said the goal remains the same.

"Once again, we'll try to win the championship this year," Kim said. "(Our new pitcher) Raul Alcantara should do his job as our No. 1 starter. Our bullpen did an excellent job last year, and I hope they'll do even better this year."

The Bears have nine prospective free agents. It could be a double-edged sword: They could either be extra motivated to post strong numbers and set themselves up for a big payday, or they could crumble under that pressure.

Kim said he hasn't thought much about those future free agents but he isn't particularly concerned about that.

"As long as people leave them alone, I think they'll be just fine," he said. "I am sure they will feel some pressure, but I don't think it will affect their work ethic."

This photo provided by the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) on May 2, 2020, shows managers and captains from 10 KBO clubs participating in a virtual media day via videoconferencing from their home stadiums. The media day was televised on cable and streamed on web portals on May 3. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The Bears' co-tenants at Seoul's Jamsil Stadiumm, the LG Twins, will look to end a title drought that reached 25 years in 2019. Some pundits feel this may be the Twins' year, but manager Ryu Joong-il fell short of making any bold prediction, saying the goal is to "reach the Korean Series."

"When we made the postseason last year, I saw some promise in this group of guys," Ryu said. "I've told my team that we have to play well this year in order to win a title soon. I don't know if we'll be able to go all the way this year, though."

For some, the goal is more realistic. The KT Wiz, who came into the league in 2015, posted their first .500 season last year under manager Lee Kang-chul. Lee said he wanted to give his fans their first taste of playoff baseball this year.

NC Dinos' skipper Lee Dong-wook guided the team to the wild card game last year in his managerial debut. He said at the media day that his goal was to "climb to a higher place than we've been so far," but his captain, Yang Eui-ji, was decidedly more specific.

"Our goal is to win the championship," Yang said. "If we do that, we'll hand out free tickets for our home opener for the 2021 season."

Matt Williams, the former National League Manager of the Year who has taken over the Kia Tigers, didn't discuss any specific goal for a club that finished in seventh last year.

"We have a lot of young players who are excited about this season," he added.

Lotte Giants' manager Her Mun-hoe is tasked with keeping the underachieving team out of the cellar in 2020. They were the only club last year that failed to win 50 games out of 144.

Her said he'll try to get his players do their best one game at a time, and then in a nod to the delayed start to the season that will push the playoffs to late November, Her said, "If we can put in consistent effort, I think we'll be able to play ball until winter."

Public health workers sanitize seats at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on May 1, 2020, four days prior to the start of the 2020 Korea Baseball Organization season. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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