Tyler Saladino

Tyler Saladino: 'Truly surreal' playing in KBO during coronavirus pandemic

Tyler Saladino: 'Truly surreal' playing in KBO during coronavirus pandemic

When former White Sox infielder Tyler Saladino signed up to play baseball in South Korea back in January, nothing could have prepared him for this.

While Major League Baseball was holding spring training in Arizona and Florida, Saladino was living on the other side of the globe, under everybody’s radar, just trying to keep his baseball career alive in East Asia.

Out of sight, out of mind. That was Saladino.

Not anymore.

As one of the few Americans playing in the Korea Baseball Organization that began its season this week after a five-week delay due to the coronavirus, Saladino is not just playing baseball. He finds himself doing something far greater than that.

He’s helping to heal our baseball souls.

His too.

“Taking the field (on Opening Day), knowing that everybody back home was watching it, I almost teared up a little bit on the field,” Saladino said in an interview on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “Listening to the Korean national anthem, I was fighting a lot of emotions at that time.”

Saladino, who was drafted by the White Sox in 2010 and played for them from 2015 to 2018, has become our window into a baseball world we can only dream of right now. ESPN is televising KBO games while they’re being played in South Korea, where the pandemic is much more under control.

Last week, South Korean officials reported zero new domestic coronavirus cases for the first time in two months.

“They’re equipped for (the pandemic),” Saladino explained. “Their testing was available immediately. Facilities were put up immediately. There was nothing to worry about for all the front-line workers and medical staff. They were all suited up from head to toe. 'Come and get tested.' They were able to do all those kind of things. That’s the biggest challenge back home.”

On game days, Saladino says that when players arrive at the field, they are all given temperature checks. Games are played in stadiums without fans. Coaches and training staff wear masks. But once the game starts, it’s baseball, or something as close to it as possible.

“The best way to put it, it’s truly surreal,” Saladino said. “Comparative to the first time setting foot on a major league field in Chicago against the Cubs and looking around and having that surreal moment. It’s obviously not the same atmosphere, but given the circumstances, it is the closest thing I’ve ever felt to something that’s truly surreal.”

RELATED: White Sox Talk Podcast: Tyler Saladino on the world watching him play baseball

With ESPN broadcasting the Lions' first game, they handed Saladino a microphone and asked him to deliver a message into the camera to everyone watching in the United States. Knowing the situation back home, he realized the gravity of the moment.

“I wanted to just Stretch Armstrong through the camera and just hug everybody. That’s all I really wanted to do. I didn’t even have words,” Saladino said. “As thankful as I am for this situation, I feel a ton of pressure. I mean, there’s only a few of us (Americans) out here, so we’re representing in a big way.”

Playing shortstop and batting third, Saladino got the first hit of the season for the Samsung Lions, who are based in Daegu, 150 miles southeast of Seoul and 6,000 miles from the United States, where everybody is asking the same question:

When will Major League Baseball begin?

“That’s the hardest question ever,” Saladino said. “I’m not a scientist, I’m not in charge of running the country. The biggest difference is out here it’s one country with a fraction of the amount of people that we have back home. They all have the same approach. If something comes up, everyone goes inside. No one thinks about leaving. They just stay inside, order their food, cook at home. They just shut down and attack it head on.”

Speaking with friends back home, Saladino feels the sense of loss we’re all feeling. There’s a hole in our lives without baseball.

“I wish we could just snap our fingers and everything is back to normal, but unfortunately that’s not the reality.”

So we do what we can to fill the void. For now, that’s watching the game being played in South Korea, where there's a familiar face on the field who understands what we’re going through.

“I just want to represent well. Just to do whatever I can to help people out through baseball. I hope it turns around back home sooner or later and get it going again.”

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Baseball-starved fans will have to become nocturnal to watch Korean games on TV

Baseball-starved fans will have to become nocturnal to watch Korean games on TV

Major League Baseball's 2020 season remains on hold amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but there will soon be live baseball for sports-starved fans to watch on TV.

One problem: They'll have to dramatically alter their sleep schedules to watch it.

ESPN announced Monday that it reached an agreement with the top pro league in South Korea to air live baseball games six days a week as the United States waits for sports to return. But thanks to the time difference, those broadcasts will be starting while most American fans are usually sleeping.

Opening Day is Tuesday, with ESPN's first telecast airing at midnight Central time. Games continue throughout the week, starting at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, at 3 a.m. on Saturday, and at midnight on Sunday.

It's obviously not the majors, but fans clamoring for any kind of baseball finally have something to choose from, and there are a handful of former big leaguers playing in the KBO. That includes a pair of former White Sox: infielder Tyler Saladino and pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne.

ESPN's telecasts will feature commentary by its usual fleet of in-game analysts remotely from their homes.

Set your alarms and brew some coffee, folks. Live baseball is back.

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A couple former White Sox are about to start their seasons in Korea

A couple former White Sox are about to start their seasons in Korea

American fans looking to get their fix while they wait to learn the fate of the Major League Baseball season have to look overseas, specifically to South Korea, where the top pro league is set for Opening Day on May 5.

Fortunately for White Sox fans, there are a couple familiar faces playing in the KBO who they can direct their rooting interests toward — even if South Side fans would rather forget one of them.

Odrisamer Despaigne, just one in the parade of ineffective fifth-starter options the White Sox tried out during the 2019 season, plays for the KT Wiz. And while "Seinfeld" taught us that nobody beats the Wiz, don't blame those who saw Despaigne's brief tenure on the South Side last season for being skeptical. He made three starts in a White Sox uniform, giving up 14 runs in 13.1 innings for a nasty 9.45 ERA.

White Sox fans likely have fonder memories of Tyler Saladino, the utility infielder who spent parts of four seasons on the South Side. He appeared in 246 games with the White Sox before going to the Milwaukee Brewers, and now he's with the Samsung Lions. His .231/.281/.330 slash line is probably not as memorable as his fantastic mustache, and we'll see how that facial hair goes over in Korea.

Following these two and the rest of the KBO might be made easier if the games come to American TV. ESPN reportedly tried to acquire the broadcast rights for free, which unsurprisingly did not immediately produce a deal.

Obviously watching Saladino face off against Despaigne is not what White Sox fans had in mind coming into the most anticipated season of South Side baseball in years. But with Major League Baseball still on hold indefinitely while the world battles the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this is the highest level of pro baseball happening right now.

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