White Sox

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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White Sox 2005 Rewind: Controversies or not, dominant pitching won the ALCS

White Sox 2005 Rewind: Controversies or not, dominant pitching won the ALCS

“Realistically, I don't know if they could be pitching much better than they have.”

By the end of Game 4 of the ALCS, Joe Buck had a different way to summarize things.

“The dominance continues.”

Realistic or not, the White Sox starting rotation was just plain unhittable in the penultimate series of the 2005 season.

First it was Jose Contreras, setting the tone in a losing effort in Game 1 and coming two outs away from a complete game. Mark Buehrle followed with what he called — to that point, before the no-hitter and the perfect game — one of the best games of his career. Game 3 saw Jon Garland take the baton and stifle the Los Angeles Angels. And then it was Freddy Garcia, dealing as the White Sox cruised to a Game 4 win.

And so while the Fox broadcast spent an awful lot of time on supposed controversies, missed calls by the umpires and breaks for the White Sox, let’s face it: Those Angels weren’t hitting that pitching staff.

After the way Game 2 wrapped up, with A.J. Pierzynski swinging, missing and running to first base in a baffling display that for some reason worked, controversy was a storyline. And boy, did it get milked in Game 4.

Now, this isn’t to say that there weren’t missed calls or that the White Sox didn’t experience a couple breaks in this contest. There were. And they did.

After the Angels chopped the White Sox lead to 3-1 on an RBI hit in the second inning, they still had two men on with only one out. But instead of a rally, Steve Finley hit into an inning-ending double play. His bat, replay clearly showed, hit Pierzynski’s glove on the swing, meaning by rule he should have gone to first on catcher’s interference and loaded the bases. Instead, he turned around to argue while running out the ground ball, hence the double play.

He should have learned from Pierzynski and just busted it down to first base, leaving the details to be sorted out later. No call came, and Finley was out, the Angels’ rally stopped.

The White Sox lead back to three runs in the fifth inning, Scott Podsednik — who had a remarkable game, on base four times with two stolen bases and two runs scored — was seemingly picked off at first base. But the call was safe, and he scored later in the inning to extend a tight three-run game to a four-run game.

But did it really matter? Would any of it made a difference?

Garcia was on point, just like his three rotation-mates before him. He allowed just two runs on only six hits, walking one. He did that 2005 White Sox thing where he pitched fast, pitched to his defense and pitched the Angels into a whole bunch of outs.

You can point to the breaks all you want, attempt to stir up controversy. But the White Sox pitchers were so good that nothing was stopping them as they marched to a pennant.

The only thing that could, as we saw in Game 1 of the series, was an equally strong pitching performance on the other side. That’s exactly what Paul Byrd turned in against Contreras in that first game, and a White Sox lineup that slugged against the Red Sox in the ALDS was stymied. A sick Jarrod Washburn did his best in Game 2, with some help from a terrific crop of relievers, only for Pierzynski to flip the series on its head. In Games 3 and 4 in Anaheim, the Angels couldn’t match Garland and Garcia. An awakened group of White Sox bats hung a crooked number on John Lackey in Game 3 and had the same rude greeting for Ervin Santana — a future member of the South Side rotation, however briefly — in Game 4.

The old sports cliche goes that defense wins championships. In baseball, pitching wins championships. It did in 2005. And no amount of supposed controversy was going to change that.

Keep reliving the White Sox march to the 2005 World Series with #SoxRewind, which features Game 5 of the ALCS, airing at 7 p.m. Saturday on NBC Sports Chicago.


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SportsTalk Live Podcast: MLB season teetering on the brink

USA Today

SportsTalk Live Podcast: MLB season teetering on the brink

Chuck Garfien, Charlie Roumeliotis and Mark Carman join Kap on a Friday edition of SportsTalk Live. 

The stalemate continues between MLB owners and players. Will the two sides come to their sense? How close are we to the drop dead date to get a season started on time?

The NHL has a plan. The Blackhawks are a part of it. Do they have enough championship experience to go on a deep playoff run?

Later, Ken Rosenthal joins Kap to talk about the differences between baseball’s owners and players as they discuss how to start the season.

Meanwhile, the NBA is targeting a late July return. Would the Bulls be better off if they were not a part of the league’s restart plans? 

0:00 - The MLB season is teetering on the brink. When will it be too late to start a season? And are the owners and players risking the death of the league if they can’t come to an agreement?
6:30 - The NHL has a restart plan and the Blackhawks will be a part of it. So can they go on a run?
9:00 - Ken Rosenthal join Kap to talk about the stalemate between the MLB owners and players. 
19:00 - The NBA is looking to restart its season. Would the Bulls be better off not taking part?

Listen here or below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast


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