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Korea Baseball Organization opening gives North American sports leagues a blueprint for return

Korea Baseball Organization opening gives North American sports leagues a blueprint for return

While sports remain on hold for the foreseeable future in the United States, there was promising news announced last week halfway across the world. 

The Korean Baseball Organization will begin its season on May 5. With exhibition games underway, the 10-team league plans on playing its full 144-game schedule through Nov. 2. The postseason will begin on Nov. 4 and any games after Nov. 15 will be played at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul as a neutral venue. ESPN is even in talks to show the broadcasts. The KBO’s original Opening Day was scheduled for March 28, but the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic caused authorities there to suspend play just as they did here in North America.

Each roster in the KBO is allowed three foreign players and there are a handful of Americans in the league, including a number of former Baltimore Orioles: Mike Wright, Dan Straily, and Tyler Wilson. 

After an impressive collegiate career at Virginia, Wilson was selected by the Orioles in the 10th round of the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft. He made his Major League debut on May 20, 2015 and appeared in 42 games over the next three seasons for the Orioles before being designated for assignment in Sept. 2017 and ultimately becoming a free agent. Foreign teams had shown interest in Wilson in previous offseasons, but because he was under contract nothing ever materialized. 

“I had always been interested [in playing overseas],” Wilson told NBC Sports Washington. 

He knew it would be “an amazing cultural experience” and also wanted the job security he was not guaranteed in the MLB. 

“I wanted the freedom to go to a place where I knew I was wanted and I knew I’d be able to pitch every five days,” Wilson said. 

In December 2017, the Lynchburg, Va. native signed with the LG Twins, one of three franchises located in Seoul. After a 23-11 record and 2.99 ERA over two seasons, Wilson decided to head back to Korea for 2020.

Teams in the KBO conduct spring training all over the world. The KIA Tigers, another KBO team, spent this February in Florida. Wilson departed for Sydney, Australia on Jan. 30. After three weeks of training there, the LG Twins headed to Okinawa, Japan for what was supposed to be another three weeks. 

But two weeks into training, with the pandemic worsening in Asia, the Japanese government shut the border for anyone traveling from Korea. The team decided to head back to Seoul, but the three foreign players, Wilson, former Major League pitcher Casey Kelly, and Roberto Ramos, expressed concern in a meeting with the general manager and decided to return home. 

Back in Charlottesville, Va. for just 10 days, Wilson received a call to come back to Korea with the situation beginning to stabilize. On the second day back in Seoul, Wilson was tested for the virus as mandated by the KBO. He tested negative but still was required to serve a 14-day quarantine. 

“I was in my apartment for 14 days… training,” Wilson said laughingly using air quotes around training. 

He cleared all furniture out his family room. Wilson then had the team bring dumbbells and kettlebells to his apartment. As for preparing his arm? The right-handed pitcher spent two weeks firing pitches into a mattress pushed up against a wall.  

Wilson has been back with his teammates for over three weeks now. The KBO has installed a daily protocol for entering the team’s facility. 

“There is only one door you can enter through,” Wilson said. “Everyone that enters the facility has to get their temperature taken.” 

The KBO will begin the season with no spectators with the hope of gradually increasing attendance as the season continues. 

“It’ll be weird,” said Wilson about playing with no fans in the stands. “The thing that makes the KBO great is the fans. They go bonkers for it over here. They are cheering from pitch one to the final out is made. It’s amazing. I love it”

The KBO has additional rules in place to keep everyone safe. There will be no pregame media scrums in the dugouts. Each manager will be available to the media in a press conference setting before each game. Managers, team officials, and reporters present must all wear masks. After the game, one player or manager from the winning team will be available in the dugout. That interview will only occur once the team has cleared the dugout. Lastly, one of the most common visuals at a baseball game is prohibited: spitting.

There will absolutely be an adjustment period for the players in the KBO. 

“Players really feed off the fans,” Wilson said. “Personally, I don’t think I’ll struggle too much with it. I think it'll be a really good measuring stick of how guys can mentally focus.” 

While the stands in the KBO might initially be reminiscent of a cold, April weekday game in A-ball, it will still be a meaningful professional baseball game. And a sign of hope for the eventual return of sports in the United States and Canada.

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Why being lame ducks only helps Mike Rizzo and Davey Martinez in contract talks

Why being lame ducks only helps Mike Rizzo and Davey Martinez in contract talks

The Nationals’ biggest free agent of the past decade isn’t Bryce Harper nor Anthony Rendon. It’s President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, who is in the midst of preparing for the 2020 season without any certainty about his future beyond it.

Even after the Nationals won their first World Series title in franchise history last October, principal owner Mark Lerner and his father Ted have yet to ink an extension for their longtime GM.

The same goes for manager Davey Martinez, who is only signed through this season with a team option for 2021. Martinez is credited with keeping the clubhouse on track despite a 19-31 start to the season before pulling all the right strings, particularly with his pitching staff, throughout the playoffs.

Both Rizzo and Martinez have reached the pinnacle of their respective positions, leading their club to a championship. Yet they find themselves in the unenviable positions of not knowing whether they’ll remain employed in D.C. after this year. However, there is one advantage to the position they’re in.

RELATED: WITH BASEBALL RETURNING, NATIONALS' GM AND MANAGER CONTRACTS REMAIN A PRESSING ISSUE

Former New York Mets GM and current MLB Network Radio analyst Steve Phillips joined NBC Sports Washington’s Nationals Talk podcast Tuesday and touched on Rizzo and Martinez’s situation. Phillips understands their position after he went into the final year of his contract with the Mets in 2000 without a deal before helping his team to its first NL pennant in 14 years.

“It’s not the worst spot to be in to wait,” Phillips said. “If you go to the playoffs again this year, all it does is add to your value. And if you don’t, you’re still the World Series champion from the year before and can play on that.”

This is a situation Rizzo and the Nationals have been in before. Rizzo entered the 2018 season without a deal before agreeing to a reported two-year, $8 million extension in April. Though the Nationals had yet to advance past the NLDS at that point, they were still one of the winningest teams of the previous five years—a feat with Rizzo’s fingerprints all over it.

After winning a World Series, Rizzo’s salary expectations will likely be much higher. The highest paid executives in the sport are Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein (about $10 million a year), Los Angeles Dodgers president Andrew Friedman ($7 million) and New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman ($5 million).

Washington has a messy history with managers as well. The club tried to hire now-Colorado Rockies skipper Bud Black in 2015 but offered only a one-year, $1.6 million deal that left Black “deeply offended.” The Nationals instead signed Dusty Baker to a two-year deal worth $4 million with incentives. Martinez will have only made $2.8 million in his three years with the Nationals by the end of 2020.

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW ON THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST

“I think both guys will still be there [beyond 2020],” Phillips said. “I don’t think Rizzo wants to leave. I don’t think that Dave Martinez wants to leave. And I think they’ll find a way to get a deal done to keep both guys in D.C.”

The deadline is approaching for the Nationals to work out a deal with Rizzo, and even if they exercise their club option on Martinez for 2021, his turn will come next year. Washington may be saving money in the short-term by keeping Rizzo and Martinez on their current contracts, but the World Series champion GM and skipper only have leverage to gain by waiting at the negotiating table.

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Max Scherzer purchases new waterfront mansion in Jupiter for $9.8M, per report

Max Scherzer purchases new waterfront mansion in Jupiter for $9.8M, per report

Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer has purchased a waterfront mansion in Jupiter, Fla., according to real estate site The Real Deal. The 7,778-square foot property sold for $9.8 million, per the report. It was previously owned by real estate investor Justin Daniels and wife Robin Daniels.

The mansion, built in 2018, has five bedrooms, seven-and-a-half bathrooms, a four-car garage, and over 120 feet of water frontage.

Judging off pictures of the property posted to Twitter by Action Network's Darren Rovell, Scherzer has found quite the getaway.

The inside features a chef's kitchen with dual wall ovens, while the outside has a resort-style pool and 70-foot boat slip. More photos can be seen here.

RELATED ARTICLE: MAX SCHERZER AMONG MLB PLAYERS WHO HELD SECRET FLORIDA PRACTICES, PER REPORT

In 2015, Scherzer signed a seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nationals that runs through the 2021 season. The three-time Cy Young winner turns 36 on July 26, just days after the expected start of the season.

According to The Athletic, Scherzer was part of a group of more than 30 MLB players practicing in Palm Beach in June. It seems baseball wasn't the only business he was taking care of Florida.

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