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Former Phillies Aaron Altherr, Ricardo Pinto have huge games as KBO season rolls along

Former Phillies Aaron Altherr, Ricardo Pinto have huge games as KBO season rolls along

Two former Phillies stood out in KBO action Wednesday, and the sweetness of Aaron Altherr's swing is already making the rounds after his first home run in Korea.

That home run came against Altherr's former teammate, Ben Lively.

Altherr's size, athleticism, raw power and smoothness always teased the Phillies and their fans. He looked like a potential star in the making, or at least a regular outfielder. 

Beyond looking the part, Altherr had a strong season in 2017, hitting .272/.340/.516 with 19 homers and 65 RBI in 412 plate appearances. That season made the Phils believe they could have a 25-to-30-homer outfielder on their hands who was just entering his prime.

The following season was nightmarish for the 6-5 righty. He opened 2018 as the Phillies' starting rightfielder but began 4 for 44 and things never really turned around. He was hitting .171 through 248 plate appearances when the Phillies sent him down to Triple A in July. From there, he wasn't able to regain a meaningful role for a big-league club. 

Altherr signed with the KBO's NC Dinos in November for a reported $800,000 salary with a $200,000 signing bonus. Good money and a good opportunity against lesser competition. Some in the baseball world regard the level of competition in Korea as being similar to the lower levels of the minor leagues here.

Altherr, who has batted second and started in center field in each of his team's games, was given the silent treatment after that long home run. It came against Lively, who allowed four runs over six innings to lose his KBO debut.

Former Phillies reliever Ricardo Pinto, who had a 7.89 ERA in 25 appearances with the 2017 Phils, had a more impressive season debut. He had a no-hitter through five innings for those pesky SK Wyverns and ultimately picked up the win with 6⅔ innings of one-run ball.

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Handful of ex-Phillies set to begin their seasons tomorrow in Korea

Handful of ex-Phillies set to begin their seasons tomorrow in Korea

Clamoring for baseball? Korea’s top professional baseball league, the KBO, begins its regular season tomorrow at 2 p.m., which is 1 a.m. Tuesday our time. 

ESPN will televise six KBO games per week starting tonight when the NC Dinos take on the Samsung Lions. A total of four ex-Phillies play for the five teams with televised games this week. 

Aaron Altherr is on the roster of the NC Dinos, though he is not currently listed anywhere on their outfield depth chart. His salary is $800,000, according to the team’s website. 

Ben Lively and David Buchanan are on the pitching staff of the Samsung Lions. Lively is set to earn $500,000 and Buchanan $600,000. 

And former Phils outfielder Hyun-Soo Kim plays for the LG Twins. He has been extremely productive since returning to Korea, hitting .362 with a 1.013 OPS, 20 homers and 101 RBI in 2018, then .304 last season. Kim is set to earn about $1.2 million.

How popular is Kim in Korea? There is a theme song and music video dedicated to him.

More details here on the KBO's re-opening, including changes to its format for 2020.

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Former Phillie Ben Lively shares his quarantine experience in South Korea

Former Phillie Ben Lively shares his quarantine experience in South Korea

This wasn't how Ben Lively envisioned his first full year in South Korea.

The former Phillie is now living in Daegu, where the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea began and quickly spread. After 14 days by himself looking at the same four walls, Lively is finally able to practice again today. 

"I'm just ready to get out of my apartment. It's been 14 days straight," Lively told NBC10's John Clark. "So far it's been ... now I know what to do when I'm bored by myself in an apartment for two weeks.

"We had spring training in Okinawa, Japan, then we actually got sent back to America for like a week and a half. We came back and the next day they followed the Korean law saying that all foreign travelers have to be quarantined 14 days just to go outside. 

"If you got caught outside, there was a chance you could be deported. Wouldn't be good."

Tuesday was Lively's last day under quarantine. He was given a COVID-19 test the second day he was back in South Korea (March 26) and was re-tested this week. He says all of his teammates foreign to Korea tested negative.

Lively's Korean teammates have not been tested, per his knowledge. "I think the only time they test a person that has been here is when they have symptoms," he said.

South Korea has seemingly done a better job of containing coronavirus than any country in the world. As of April 8, the country has seen 10,384 reported cases and 200 total deaths. The number of new cases per day has ranged between 47 and 152 since March 12, according to Worldometer.

Opening day for the Korea Baseball Organization was supposed to be March 28, two days after MLB's opening day. Instead, the KBO is just opening practices back up to its foreign players and hopes to open its season by early May.

"The facilities we have at our field, there's going to be no pedestrians or fans, and they clean it every day," Lively said. "You don't necessarily have to wear a mask there, it's just going to be our team, small group of people. When you're going around though you've definitely got to wear a mask."

On Tuesday, an ESPN report outlined an ambitious potential plan by MLB to play regular-season games in empty stadiums in Arizona by late-May or early-June. The commissioner's office released a statement later in the day saying that numerous options are under consideration.

In South Korea, teams still plan to travel as of now.

"We don't have anything like that here. We're gonna travel, go city to city," Lively said. "It's definitely slowing down here, there's barely any new cases here now. They have it on pretty good lockdown over here. We still have no idea what the plan is after the games, whether we go back to the hotel or keep traveling back and forth."

Lively is eager to compete and carve out his role. He spent three seasons in the majors, pitching 112⅓ of his 120 innings with the Phillies. He made 15 starts for the 2017 Phils and went 4-7 with a 4.26 ERA.

The Phillies acquired him on New Year's Eve 2015 from the Reds for Marlon Byrd. In Lively's first year in the Phillies' system, he went 18-5 with a 2.69 ERA, splitting time between Double A and Triple A. He was let go by the Phillies late in the 2018 season and went to the Royals and Diamondbacks before his release in Arizona last August.

In Korea, Lively is teammates with former Phillie David Buchanan, who pitched here in 2014 and 2015. Buchanan lives a building over from Lively.

"Buchanan had a plan for his wife and kid to come over here the first week we started," Lively said. "I can see how tough it is on him. ... I tell everyone it still feels like a movie, can't really grasp what's going on still."

The rest of the baseball world is watching Korea to see how the KBO fares in its attempt to bring baseball back by May.

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