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Murph: Like a bolt from the heavens, baseball is back


© Andrew West/The USA | 2020 May 5


It came like a bolt from the heavens.

Woke up Monday morning, headed downstairs for another “Living Room Session” with Paulie Mac, Bonnie-Jill, Copes and Markus the Waterboy.

Made the coffee. Boiled the eggs. Sat down at the “broadcast studio” which doubles as the Murphy family dinner table and there it was. The answer to my — and yours — Quarantine Prayers:

ESPN’s announcement that it would commence broadcasting live baseball from Korea. Nightly.

Could it be true? South Korea was not only starting a 144-game season, but ESPN would broadcast the games? Live ball?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve enjoyed our “Vintage Game Rewatch” parties. Going back with a critic’s eye and reviewing a Mike Krukow 1987 NLCS shutout, an Alex Smith/Vernon Davis playoff party vs. the Saints, a ‘We Believe’ noise-fest as Stephen Jackson and the crew drove a stake through the 1-seed Mavericks — that’s all been awesome. And we will continue to do that. You learn things, you refresh your memory, you bond over great moments.

But at a certain point, you need a ballgame where you don’t know the outcome. At a certain point, you need a full-count pitch with a couple of runners on, not knowing what’s going to happen. At a certain point, you need life in your life.

Enter the KBO.

Or, the Korean baseball league, 10 franchises strong.

I am immediately IN.

We even solved the problem of which team to root for, straightway. During our Monday hit with Mike Krukow, we asked him about the KBO and he said: “Well, my guy Matt Williams just took a job managing over there. So, whatever team he’s managing, that’s my team.”

It hit us right in our Humm Baby guts. Of course! Matty Williams, with the soft hands at third base at Candlestick Park. Matty Williams, with the huge home run in Game 4 of the 1989 NLCS at the ‘Stick against the Cubs. Matty Williams, making a run at Roger Maris in the summer of 1994 — 43 home runs before the fateful strike pulled the plug.

Matty Williams, our guy in Korea.

Turns out Williams took the job with the KIA Tigers. So, the KIA Tigers is the official squad of the ‘Murph and Mac’ show. Go KIA Tigers!

Of course, we had to engage in a crash course in learning our new squad. Thanks to the outstanding web site myKBO.net, and some key Twitter follows (@DanielKimW and @myKBO), we pulled up a chair.

Turns out we may have saddled the wrong horse. While other teams have appealing qualities — the Doosan Bears are the defending champs and have won three of the last five Korean World Series; the Kiwoom Heroes are the scrappy, underfunded A’s-like underdogs who have assembled a tough squad; the SK Wyverns are a Tampa Bay Rays-like under-the-radar excellent club — turns out our beloved KIA Tigers are seen as a rotting carcass of a franchise, still drafting off championships won in the 1980s with no hope of another one anytime soon.

Perfect. It’ll make it that much sweeter when our guy Matty turns the tables on the cynics and the haters on talk radio and social media. We never stopped believin’, Matty!

Immediately, though, we had trouble in paradise. The Tigers’ #1 starter, 32-year-old lefty Hyun-jong Yang, pulling in a hefty $2.1 million this year, couldn’t make it past three innings in the opener, coughing up four runs en route to a humiliating 11-2 opening loss to the Heroes. I’d say it stung worse that it came in front of the home crowd in Gwangju . . . but there are no fans allowed at COVID-19 baseball games in Korea.

It got no better in Game 2. Joon-Young Lee and Sang-Hyun Jeon proved to be gas cans out of the bullpen and screwed up a tie ballgame in the 8th. I was worried Williams might flip the spread in the clubhouse.

Being a KIA Tigers fan is not for the weak-minded. We told our good pal (Marky) Mark Cannizzaro of the NY Post about adopting the Tigers, and he joined in. I warned him about the 0-2 start, and like a good New Yorker, he brushed it off: “I’m not concerned about an 0-2 blip. Are you? Long season. Let’s go Tigers.”

As if inspired by Cannizzaro’s assuredness, the news came early Thursday morning:

With a five-run, 8th-inning explosion — including a bomb from MLB export Preston Tucker  — Matty W became only the third US-born manager to win a game in the KBO. Tigers 8, Heroes 5. As the Korean Joe Angel might say: “ . . .  put it in the WIN column!”

See what I mean? It’s baseball season, sports fans. We have ballgames. We have bullpen concerns. We have a hometown kid managing the squad.

So what if the games are on at 3 AM? What’s a DVR for, anyway? Breakfast with the KBO is my idea of a good time. Plus, they rebroadcast the games at noon. You have no excuse to miss.

And look who’s the Friday Game of the Day — first pitch, 2:30 AM. Rebroadcast at noon. Our KIA Tigers at the winless Samsung Lions. Go get some, Matty W. A nation of KIA Tigers fans — or at least me, at 5 in the morning, boiling eggs — stands with you.

 

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