Heart And Seoul?

Baseball’s back in Korea; indeed, yesterday morning was gaegwanil, or 개관일, to be still more accurate.  I’m told that roughly translates to opening day.  Judging by the pitch-black skies I’m currently looking out upon as I did yesterday morning, “day” is a relative term.

For the Dodgers, and especially their $700 million dollar man Shohei Ohtani, it’s been an especially tumultuous couple of days.  While Ohtani has been productive in his first National League games, helping them win the opener 5-2 and leading a spirited comeback that has made Game 2 competitive after his new $325 million teammate Yoshinobu Yamamato allowed the San Diego Padres a five-spot in the one inning he barely got through, that’s nothing compared to the news that broke stateside when the sun came up.  Perthe Orange County Register:

Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter and close friend has been fired by the Dodgers following allegations of illegal gambling and theft from the Japanese baseball star.

Interpreter Ippei Mizuhara was let go from the team on Wednesday following reports from the Los Angeles Times and ESPN about his alleged ties to an illegal bookmaker.  

In the course of responding to recent media inquiries, we discovered that Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft and we are turning the matter over to the authorities,” law firm Berk Brettler LLP said in a statement on Wednesday.

Mizuhara, a Diamond Bar High graduate who still lives in Diamond Bar, has worked with Ohtani for years and has been a constant presence with him in major league clubhouses.

“The Dodgers are aware of media reports and are gathering information,” the team said in a statement. “The team can confirm that interpreter Ippei Mizuhara has been terminated. The team has no further comment at this time.”

This is the way it’s gonna be when you throw more than a billion dollars at global talent and become the team everyone needs to beat and otherwise detests.  We didn’t even mention the pedestrian performance of Dodger starter Tyler Glasnow, who allowed two runs in five innings with four strikeouts and on the short end of a 2-1 score before a late Dodgers rally helped them pick up the win. Glasnow’s only costing $136.5 million, a mere pittance compared to his teammates, but he does have an ERA that’s less than 10 per cent of Yamamoto’s.

But all this tsurris is nothing compared to the last time baseball was airing on ESPN on a regular basis in pre-dawn spring hours.  That was in May, 2020.  Under far more dire circumstances, actual live professional baseball made a much needed return to our lives.  As USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale recounted yesterday:

When Karl Ravech and Eduardo Perez step(ped) into the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, South Korea on Wednesday [6 a.m. ET, ESPN] for the first time to broadcast the 2024 season-opener between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, the sheer and raw emotions of their 2020 experience could completely overwhelm them. 

“I’m sure walking into the stadium, seeing some of the same faces, the cheerleaders at the ballpark,” Ravech tells USA TODAY Sports, “it’s going to hit us. I think there will be an emotional reaction coming here and remembering just what transpired. 

Ravech and Perez were the ones who brought baseball back into our homes beginning May 5, 2020, after being without Major League games in the month April for the first time since 1883. Televising games from the Korean Baseball League was the brainstorm of Phil Orlins, ESPN vice president of production, and MLB producer Andy Jacobson. 

Sure, no one ever heard of the teams from the KBO. No one knew any of the Korean players.  

They weren’t in anyone’s fantasy leagues. 

But hey, the mound was still 60 feet and 6 inches from home plate. The bases were 90 feet apart. And, no matter that it was being played halfway across the world, it was still baseball. 

“It was an amazing time with no live sports out there,” Orlins said. “So, it literally was like, ‘Let’s figure out a way to bring live sports to a place, ESPN, that is built around live sports.’ And from there, it really became a question of how do we make this reasonably entertaining and how do we approach it from like a talk radio or podcast aspect to it.

When those games began, I had pretty much run the gamut of available podcasts and Strat-O-Matic recreations of past seasons that were being “broadcast” on MLB.com and elsewhere.  And my life was beginning to unravel.  For a variety of reasons, I was sleeping alone on a lumpy couch in a often freezing living room.  Like many in quarantine, the days and nights blurred together and sleep patterns were disrupted to the point of distraction.  And I could only tolerate so many Andrew Cuomo victory laps, let alone the counter of deaths and infections that accompanied his press conferences.

Perez and Ravech had somewhat more supportive home environments than I did, but have similar memories of the catharses sports fans were able to receive thanks to their effots:

It was 100% therapeutic to do those games,’’ Perez says. “We had a purpose in getting up. As hard as COVID was for the entire country, I was blessed to do this, bringing baseball into households. 

“Korea kept me sane, it kept me going.’’ 

Ravech is clinging onto the first home life equipment kit ESPN ever used for the remote telecasts. It remains in his office: HLE kit, 0001. 

“I don’t want to ever give it back,” Ravech says. “I’m hanging onto it. Maybe one day, it’ll be in someone’s museum.”

With any luck, we’ll soon forget the accusations and meh performances of the Dodgers once they return to the United States.  We’re not likely to forget baseball in Korea, especially our first tastes of it.  We’ve all come a long way since, or so at least I’d like to believe.



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