There just might be baseball played somewhere in this world as soon as the end of April, giving David Kim an opportunity to return to his perch in the stands.
Kim is a Twins scout who works the Pacific Rim but, for the past several weeks, has been at his home in Goyang City, about 10 miles outside Seoul, South Korea.
The Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) season was to celebrate Opening Day on Saturday, but, because of the coronavirus outbreak, the start of the season has been delayed at least three weeks. South Korea has attracted worldwide interest for how it has handled the pandemic, as its aggressive testing and buy-in from the public have kept the number of cases from spiraling.
The rest of the world is working to flatten the curve, hoping that social distancing and limiting large gatherings will help spread out confirmed cases over a period of time instead of spiking at once and inundating medical centers. South Korea has not had trouble with the curve.
“What they implemented early on was very efficient,” said Kim, a former KBO player who has scouted for the Twins since 2000. “At the end of the day, it is irresponsible citizens who spread the virus. If you are responsible, the virus can be contained.”
Bird dogs idled
Kim normally works the KBO and Japanese Leagues, providing reports on players who might end up in Major League Baseball. But while leagues in both countries have been shut down for the time being, the Twins pulled all of their scouts off the road a few weeks ago and MLB has shut down scouting worldwide.
Owners and players have recently come to agreement on how to proceed once teams are allowed to resume operations, but there are reports that the draft will be pushed into July and the international signing period, which normally starts on July 2, will be rescheduled as well.
So Kim is at home with his wife, Sun-Hwa, and son, Jayden, while his daughter, Kelli, is in college in Australia. He spends his days on his computer.
“Definitely a lot more quality time at home,” Kim said. “Being a scout, this is the busiest time of the year. It’s a forced blessing in disguise. They tell us to be with our families as much as possible but, being the baseball people we are, more than often we prefer to be out working.”
System in place
Restaurants in South Korea are open, although the Kims eat at home and have groceries delivered. People who do venture out wear masks. He’s noticed more vehicular traffic, likely because some citizens prefer to avoid packed mass transit. Grocery stores are well-stocked.
Authorities are concerned about nightclubs getting full or young adults crowding gaming centers. But most of the public is behind the effort to keep the virus from spreading.
“People are still walking their dogs, going out and getting their exercise,” Kim said. “The workers, the companies have not told them to stay at home. They still commute to work.”
South Korea’s response to coronavirus comes from lessons learned in dealing with the SARS virus outbreak in 2003 and MERS in 2015. When the novel coronavirus began to spread, the country had inventories of testing kits and provided tests for free. Authorities set up drive through testing stations. And citizens willing got tested.
“What they have done is that we get a daily message of any corona patients found in our area,” Kim said. “They give you information on where they have been the last three days, what park they were at, what restaurant they were in. If you think you were at the same restaurant, it’s up to you to call in and say, ‘Hey, listen, I was there as well on this day,’ and I need to stay home and see how I feel and if I get sick I need to call in.’ ”
Glimmer of hope
South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, has heard from other countries about its approach.
“People don’t really know how bad something is until they are hit in the face with it,” Kim said.
KBO teams have been working out and will be allowed to play practice games against each other, but there’s a chance some early games will be played in empty stadiums as an additional precaution. U.S.-based players were recently summoned to report to their teams. They had their temperature checked as soon as they deplaned and are currently under a 14-day quarantine.
Schools have been closed for several weeks but are set to open in early April.
It’s not clear if Kim will be allowed to scout games when they begin. He must wait for MLB approval.
“The international guys are all under the same umbrella we are,” Twins scouting director Sean Johnson said. “No one is supposed to do anything with any player until further notice.”
Nevertheless, the return of games will be another step toward normalcy in South Korea and could further show their approach to dealing with the virus was effective.