Shortly after 1 a.m. ET on Tuesday morning, the KBO League in Korea became one of the first professional sports leagues across the globe to return to action following the coronavirus pandemic.
Nationals infielder Eric Thames, who spent three years starring for the KBO's NC Dinos, was one of those who tuned in to watch. After watching the game -- one that had no fans in attendance -- Thames is more confident than ever about Major League Baseball's return.
"I am very, very optimistic," Thames told local reporters on a Zoom call on Wednesday.
No major sporting event has occurred in the United States in nearly two months. The NBA suspended its season on March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. Within the next 24 hours, the MLB, NHL and NCAA all followed suit. By that weekend, almost everything else was put to a halt.
Major League Baseball's Opening Day was supposed to be March 26, nearly six weeks ago. With each passing day, the league has come up with a bunch of different ideas with the hope to salvage as much of the season as possible, though a full 162-game slate is practically impossible at this point.
Thames is confident that the league will return in 2020, whether that means teams are forced to play in select cities or, if enough progress is made nationwide, every club playing in its home ballpark.
"We all know it's going to happen eventually. At first, we were terrified that the whole year would be canceled," Thames said. "For us, to see [the KBO] on TV, making it work with no fans. As long as we play and start letting fans in D.C. watch Nationals games, whether it's in Florida or D.C. or Arizona... As long as we play, that's all that matters."
While some places in the country have been impacted by the pandemic a lot more than others, some states have started to relax their social distancing measures and slowly begun to reopen.
"I'm checking the news every morning and just seeing more and more stuff opening up gradually," Thames said. "That's optimistic for me, once you start getting more people outside."
The Nationals infielder is currently quarantined in Las Vegas. He's abiding by all social distancing measures and has not worked out with, nor hung out with, any other players who happen to be in the area. He mentioned that the closest he's gotten to human communication with another MLB player was when he ran into former Nationals star Bryce Harper in the grocery store.
Throughout quarantine, Thames stated that the Nationals' training staff has been in constant communication with himself and the other players, making sure they are following an at-home workout plan and staying in shape as much as possible.
Thames has been unable to take any normal batting practice or soft-toss, but he continues to hit off a tee in order to stay fresh. When the time comes for baseball to return, he'll be ready to go.
"All of us are ready. All the players," Thames said. "America needs to see baseball. We need to entertain. People are at home watching these movies, they've seen the same movie for like months. We need to get back to work and start showing some homers."
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