SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The new baseball season began in South Korea on Tuesday 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.
Instead, it was easy to hear players cheering and shouting from the dugouts. And it was a relief to fans watching from home in a country that is now attempting to slowly return to pre-COVID-19 normalcy amid a waning caseload.
The country’s professional soccer leagues will kick off Friday, also without spectators in the stadiums.
As one of the world’s first major professional sports competitions to return to action amid the pandemic, the Korea Baseball Organization 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.
“I feel great,” Cho Ki-hyun, a 65-year-old SK Wyverns fan who shared a mattress with three other fans outside the walls of the team’s stadium in Incheon, watching the game against the Daejeon-based Hanwha Eagles with a tablet computer, said. “I am delighted just to hear the sounds of a baseball game from outside.”
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The teams tried to create a festive atmosphere in the empty stadiums.