Former Cubs pitcher Dan Straily, now in KBO, details games without fans

Former Cubs pitcher Dan Straily, now in KBO, details games without fans

Cubs fans may remember Dan Straily. The right-hander pitched for the club in 2014, making seven appearances (one start) before getting dealt to the Houston Astros the ensuing offseason in the Dexter Fowler trade.

Straily now pitches for the Lotte Giants in the KBO, South Korea's highest level of pro ball. The league kicked its season off earlier this month without fans in attendance, a model MLB will likely follow for most (if not all) of its potential 2020 season.

Jon Frankel, a correspondent for HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," recently interviewed current and former KBO players about the league's return during the coronavirus pandemic. In an excerpt made available via press release, Frankel asked Straily if he misses playing in front of a crowd.

MORE: Why one medical expert remains skeptical of MLB's COVID-19 precautions

"Of course. Like, even if you're on the road, and people are just telling you how much you suck — you thrive off it," Straily said. "You feed off that energy.”

Crowd noise obviously plays a big part in an athlete's adrenaline. Not having that factor will be an adjustment for MLB in 2020, and Straily took things a step further regarding the circumstances players face without fans in attendance.

“My shortstop dove for a ball. And he missed it by, like, an inch," he said. "Like, it was an incredible effort. When he hit the ground, I heard the air leave his lungs. And we've talked about that in the dugout. Because I've never once in my life heard that.”

Not having crowds to drown out on-field noise could make for a unique viewing experience for fans at home. UFC returned on May 9, and many punches and kicks were audible on ESPN's TV broadcast.

MLB teams could play proxy crowd noise in games, but nevertheless, fans may pickup noises on their TVs previously unavailable from home.

The full episode will air Tuesday at 9 p.m. CT on HBO.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.

How lessons from the KBO and Javy Báez can fix MLB's aging fan base problem

How lessons from the KBO and Javy Báez can fix MLB's aging fan base problem

The cheer master’s whistle echoed through the ballpark, and dinosaur mascots wearing giant face masks danced on top of the dugout.

With fans absent due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sunday’s scene didn’t quite do the Korean Baseball Organization experience justice. But it was still the league that taught Ryan Sadowski how to let loose on the field.

"I found that as a player I didn't allow myself to enjoy my success the way I should have because it's the game of baseball,” Sadowski told ESPN in 2016. “You're not supposed to show that you enjoy your success. I think it's something I learned here (in Korea), that I would take to younger kids in the States."

Major League Baseball is well aware that its status in the United States will continue to slip if it can’t figure out how to reach a younger audience. This summer presents an opportunity. If the players and owners can agree to a deal that makes the league’s early July target date a reality, for weeks it will be the only major sport on television.

Sports fans are clamoring for action after a months-long drought. What better time to draw in new fans? In that regard, the KBO could have something to teach MLB.

Sadowski is in a unique position to compare the KBO and MLB. He played in both leagues before becoming a KBO scout. Sadowski’s support for on-the-field expression is one Cubs shortstop Javier Báez would likely get behind.

Báez had a message similar to Sadowski's on MLB’s YouTube channel recently. In a show taped during Spring Training, Báez chatted with Puerto Rican recording artist Residente while running the Grammy Award-winner through baseball drills.

“In my personal opinion, I would like to teach young people growing up to enjoy [the game],” Báez said in Spanish. “And if they fail, fail having fun. And keep doing what is right. Let the kids play.”

Báez has been criticized for his playing style, most famously in 2018 when he bat-flipped after a popup. Afterward, former Pirates manager Clint Hurdle questioned Báez's “respect for the game.”

But Báez's huck wouldn’t have been out of place in Sunday’s KBO game between the NC Dinos and Hanwhu Eagles. The broadcast didn’t feature the kind of ostentatious bat flips that have become so popular on social media. But still, in consecutive innings, players on both teams tossed their bats several feet up the baseline to punctuate base hits. No uproar ensued.

The rate at which KBO bat flips have spread through Twitter speaks to a hunger for showboating among young baseball fans. Why not embrace it?   

“It’s not that it is not the correct way of doing it,” Báez told Residente of his playing style. “It’s just not the way many coaches teach it.”

In the United States, the NBA is the poster child for attracting millennial fans. In 2017-18, young adults led the league’s growth in ratings, according to Forbes. TV viewership among 18- to 34-year-olds was up 14 percent.

The NBA does an especially good job marketing its stars. Admittedly, the game lends itself to that strategy in a way that baseball does not. LeBron James can take over any game down the stretch, but Mike Trout isn’t going to get an at-bat every time the winning run is in scoring position.

But there are other ways NBA stars capture the fascination of young fans. Kids across the country grew up shrugging like Michael Jordan or pumping their arms and pounding their chests like LeBron James.  They take deep dives into YouTube, watching the most devastating dunks of all time – the more embarrassing for the defender, the better. None of that disrespects the game. The NBA and KBO have that in common.

MLB doesn’t have to adopt the KBO’s use of specific chants for each batter and embrace bat flipping for everything from home runs to ground outs – even though, by all accounts, those elements create a delightfully raucous atmosphere.

MLB doesn’t have to abolish baseball’s unwritten rules in one day. But an amendment is in order.

What if demonstrative zeal was instead embraced as a sign of respect for the game? After all, it might be MLB’s best hope of connecting to the next generation.

Chicago Cubs connections to the KBO, South Korea's baseball league

Chicago Cubs connections to the KBO, South Korea's baseball league

Korean baseball is coming through in the clutch. As we all sit here dying for live sports, stuck watching sims, the KBO League announced a partnership with ESPN to air some of their games in the U.S.

But before you pooh-pooh it, there are some Cubs connections to the KBO to bring things closer to home.

To start, we’ve got a bit of an infamous name: Mel Rojas Jr., the son of former Cubs closer Mel Rojas.

If you don’t remember, Rojas Sr. signed with the Cubs before the 1997 season, coming off of two solid years in Montreal where he racked up 66 saves. But his time in Chicago was nothing short of a disaster. He never really had a chance to show his stuff early, as the Cubs lost 14 straight games to start the season. Rojas finally got his first save opportunity in the *19th* game of the season, and, of course, he blew it.

Things are going better for Rojas Jr. in the KBO though. According to myKBO Stats, since 2017, he’s hitting .310 with 85 homers and 274 RBI. If you want to follow him, he plays for the KT Wiz.

RELATED: Chicago's guide to the KBO

Next up is another guy with a horrible Cubs career: Dan Straily.

Straily initially came to the North Side as part of the trade for Addison Russell that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland. In 2013, Straily pitched 152.1 innings with a 3.96 ERA. Something in the Lake Michigan water didn’t jive with Straily, and his ERA ballooned to 11.85. He only pitched 13.2 innings in Chicago before moving on to Houston.

But according to myKBO Stats, Straily has gotten off to a good start in Korea. He’s pitched in one game for the Lotte Giants, going 5.2 IP and surrendering two earned runs.

Former Cubs first baseman Hee-Seop Choi has returned to his homeland as a hitting coach for the Kia Tigers. While he wasn’t known for his hitting in Chicago, only slashing .210/.337/.401 in two seasons, time will tell if he can help the Tigers. As of Tuesday morning, the Tigers have only played one game this season.

Admittedly, this next one is a stretch, but he’s got a local angle, too: Eric Jokisch.

From Virginia, Illinois, about 45 minutes northwest of Springfield, Jokisch stayed in-state to play baseball at Northwestern. The Cubs drafted Jokisch in 2010, and he signed with the team. He only pitched 14.1 innings in his MLB career, but did throw a no-hitter with the Tennessee Smokies back in 2013.

Jokisch has found success with the Kiwoom Heroes. According to myKBO Stats, he started 30 games last season, had a 3.13 ERA with a 1.13 and posted 141 Ks to go with only 39 walks. Oh, and he pitched another shutout, too.

So if you’re looking for a little extra intrigue while tuning into Korean baseball, maybe give one of these teams a try.

RELATED: Will 2020 be Jon Lester's final season with the Cubs?

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.