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South Korea season openers score with MLB-craving Americans

SEOUL (Reuters) - As Mo Chang-min of South Korean baseball club NC Dinos tossed the bat after knocking the ball over the fence for the season’s first back-to-back home-runs on Tuesday, elated American fans watching the game on ESPN flocked to social media.

FILE PHOTO: Baseball - KBO Regular season - SK Wyverns v Hanwha Eagles - Munhak Baseball Stadium, Incheon, South Korea - May 5, 2020 General view of the dummies replacing the audience before the match, despite most sports being cancelled around the world the local league starts behind closed doors due to the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

“Guys got swag in this league,” one viewer wrote on Twitter, while another said, “The bat flip is awesome. MLB needs this!”

With Major League Baseball (MLB) on hold amid the global coronavirus pandemic, ESPN reached a deal to broadcast games of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO), which kicked off its season on Tuesday after a five-week delay.

More than 6,300 people liked a video of Mo’s homer posted on an official ESPN account, in which an eagerly commentator said: “That was a bat flip, there was our first bat flip. Back-to-back jacks!”

Some U.S. fans of LG Twins, which defeated Doosan Bears 8-2 in a popular annual “Children’s Day Derby,” posted pictures of slugger Kim Hyun-soo who engineered the victory with a two-run on the Bears’ page.

NC Dinos, whose mascot is dinosaur and owned by local online game giant NC Soft, was a smash hit especially among North Carolinians. Abbreviated as NC, the state of a 10.5 million population has no MLB team based there and is rich in fossils of dinosaurs.

“Lifelong North Carolina Dinos fan,” one resident wrote on Twitter, and another said: “Living in North Carolina and dinosaurs are awesome, of course I’m rooting for the NC Dinos in the KBO to win the title!”

The Durham Bulls, a minor league baseball team based in the state, declared on its official Twitter site, “Your attention please: We have decided which KBO team we will be supporting. This is now an NC Dinos fan account.”

Local media sport writers have seen an explosive rise in international interest. Yoo Jee-ho, the sole English-language sport reporter for South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, said he has gotten more than 1,000 Twitter followers over the past couple of days.

“I never thought I’d see the day I’d log on Twitter and see so many KBO GIFs, reactions, observations, intrigue, questions, and for the most part genuine interest. It’s been awesome,” said Dan Kurtz, who runs a website on Korean baseball.

Still there are sceptics who miss the MLB. Dylan Hernández, a sport columnist with the Los Angeles Times, wrote that the KBO is a “second-rate league that can serve as lullabies for adults.”

ESPN plans to bring former KBO stars who have returned to the MLB on the broadcast, including Merrill Kelly and Josh Lindblom, after carrying an interview on Tuesday with Eric Thames, Washington Nationals slugger who played for the Dinos from 2014-16.

South Korea’s football association K-League has also said it will live stream the season opener on Friday between Hyundai Motors FC and Suwon Samsung Bluewings on YouTube and Twitter, hoping to attract international fans.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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