The Korea Herald


All eyes on Choo Shin-soo, SSG Landers as KBO's preseason begins on weekend

By Yonhap

Published : March 18, 2021 - 14:09

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Choo Shin-soo of the SSG Landers takes part in a batting practice at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Tuesday. (Yonhap) Choo Shin-soo of the SSG Landers takes part in a batting practice at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Contrary to popular belief, there are players in South Korean baseball other than Choo Shin-soo, and his SSG Landers definitely aren't the only club in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

Despite the presence of nine other clubs and their players, Choo and the Landers have been hogging the spotlight throughout spring training, and for good reason. Now, one of the most hyped-up preseasons in KBO history is scheduled to begin Saturday.

Choo, a 16-year major league veteran who signed with the Landers last month, could make his first KBO appearance at 1 p.m. Saturday, when the Landers visit the defending Korean Series champions NC Dinos in Changwon, 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

It's one of five games slated for that day. Teams are scheduled to play 10 games each through March 30, with a day off set for next Wednesday. Games are all set to start at 1 p.m., but teams can ask the league to push them to 6 p.m. so that players can get acclimated to playing under the lights. Four games were rescheduled from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. earlier this week, and more games could be moved around.

Clubs will each play five sets of two-game series. There will be no extra innings or doubleheaders, and rained-out games will not be made up.

The KBO will also keep spectators out of the preseason, despite circumstances that have allowed other sports to bring fans back during the coronavirus pandemic. The KBO reached that decision on March 9, saying it wants to ensure a safe opening of the regular season on April 3.

Under the current set of social distancing rules, sports teams in the greater Seoul area can accept fans at 10 percent capacity of their venues. Teams everywhere else can have fans at 30 percent capacity.

The KBO, though, will err on the side of caution. This means fans will have to wait until the regular season to see Choo in person.

When he signed with the Landers in February, he instantly became the biggest name in the KBO. He had 218 homers and 782 RBIs in the majors, tops among all Asian hitters in both categories. Choo also happened to be the Landers' very first signing following Shinsegae Group's purchase of the team formerly called the SK Wyverns.

Choo reported to the Landers' camp on March 11 but didn't play in any of their unofficial practice games. The Landers have been trying to ease the 38-year-old into action, mindful of the fact that his first practice with them last Saturday was also his first baseball activity in six months.

If Choo does suit up Saturday, he'll be up against a talented Dinos team trying to win their second straight title. They're going to run it back with most of their championship core intact, including perennial MVP candidate in catcher Yang Eui-ji, slugging outfielders Na Sung-bum and Aaron Altherr, and aces Drew Rucinski and Koo Chang-mo. Wes Parsons replaces Mike Wright as the second foreign pitcher in the rotation.

Other opening weekend series will see: the KT Wiz against the Doosan Bears in Seoul, the Kiwoom Heroes versus the Lotte Giants in Busan, the Kia Tigers against the Samsung Lions in Daegu, and the LG Twins taking on the Hanwha Eagles in Daejeon. (Yonhap)