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(LEAD) Baseball pitcher tests positive for COVID-19, puts season on the brink

All News 23:07 August 31, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead, dateline; UPDATES with details throughout; ADDS photos)

DAEJEON/SEOUL Aug. 31 (Yonhap) -- A South Korean baseball pitcher tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Monday, becoming the first player in his league to be infected and casting a cloud over the immediate future of the competition.

Shin Jung-rak of the Hanwha Eagles in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) was confirmed to be infected with COVID-19, according to health officials in the Eagles' home city of Daejeon, 160 kilometers south of Seoul.

The officials said Shin first developed fever and headaches last Saturday and underwent his test earlier Monday.

An epidemiological survey will determine the route of his transmission while contact tracing will also be carried out. Two members of Shin's immediate family will also be tested.

In this file photo from May 15, 2020, Shin Jung-rak of the Hanwha Eagles pitches against the Lotte Giants in a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Hanwha Life Eagles Park in Daejeon, 160 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Shin last appeared in a KBO game on June 27. After pitching to a 9.00 ERA in 16 games, Shin was demoted to the Futures League, the KBO's minor league, and hasn't been back up since.

His last Futures League game was July 22, and an Eagles official said Shin has been rehabbing from an elbow injury, away from the rest of the Futures League squad.

KBO Secretary General Ryu Dae-hwan said all Eagles minor leaguers will be tested, and two Eagles players who were recently called up from the Futures League are waiting to have their tests done.

The fate of both the Futures League and KBO seasons will be determined based on the results of the epidemiological survey, which could come as early as Tuesday.

Under the league's safety and health manual, any player or team or league staff that have come in contact with Shin will be quarantined for 14 days. The rest of the team will be allowed to continue on with the season.

Should there be an outbreak of COVID-19 cases, the KBO will meet with team executives to discuss the next step, with options including pressing pause on the season or shortening the schedule from 144 games to as few as 126.

The Eagles' last game was against the Lotte Giants at Sajik Stadium in Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul. Their next game is Tuesday in the capital city against the Doosan Bears.

This file photo from Aug. 25, 2020, shows a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game between KT Wiz and the NC Dinos being played at an empty KT Wiz Stadium in Suwon, 45 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

The regular season began on May 5, rather than the originally scheduled March 28, because of the coronavirus pandemic. To prevent spread of the virus, teams opened the season without fans in the stands.

Stadium gates opened back up on July 26, with the spread of the virus stabilized for weeks leading up to that point. Teams were only allowed to take in 10 percent of the capacity crowd at their respective ballparks. Starting in the week of Aug. 10, the cap increased to 25 percent.

Later that same week, the government decided to apply tighter social distancing rules in Seoul and its surrounding regions in response to a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases. The measure was soon applied to the rest of the country, forcing all KBO teams to shut their stadiums once again.

With or without any positive test from players or club staff, the KBO season has been on the brink for weeks. The country is currently under Level 2 of the three-tier social distancing scheme, and should it be raised to Level 3, all professional sports must stop. The government is exploring that possibility, though it is regarded as the last resort, given its adverse impact on the economy.

A Korea Baseball Organization regular season game between the Kia Tigers and the KT Wiz is being played at an empty Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul, on Aug. 30, 2020. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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