Major League Baseball Returns in July—But What Happens in the Stands?

The stands at the Happy Dream Ballpark, Incheon, South Korea, during the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) League’s opening game between SK Wyverns and Hanwha Eagles. May 05, 2020. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images )

Baseball season was supposed to start on March 26. And the three months that have since passed haven’t just felt long because of a lack of games. They've been made infinitely more frustrating because of seemingly endless squabbles between MLB owners and players.

On Tuesday, after weeks of disagreement around both compensation and length of season, progress finally came with an agreement to re-do Spring training starting July 1, and begin a 60-game season on July 24. (The postseason will, as usual, feature 10 teams and be wrapped up by the end of October.)

One crucial, and as yet undecided factor is what health and safety protocols will look like once the 2020 season begins. Given the fact that 40 MLB players and staff—from teams including the Philadelphia Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays—just tested positive for COVID-19, this might prove even trickier than all the recent salary negotiations.

While the long-awaited start date for the season is great news for fans, it’s safe to say that Giants and A’s supporters won’t be getting inside Oracle Park or the Coliseum anytime soon. But take heart. Because for teams overseas, filling the stands has become a sport all of its own—especially in South Korea.

The KBO League’s opening game between the SK Wyverns and the Hanwha Eagles set a reasonably sedate standard. The teams battled it out in front of row upon row of banners picturing mask- and baseball hat-wearing “fans.” Heartwarmingly, a message board of real fans watching at home was also projected on the jumbotron.

The stands at the empty SK Happy Dream Ballpark at the KBO League’s opening game between SK Wyvern and the Hanwha Eagles. May 05, 2020 in Incheon, South Korea.
The stands at the empty SK Happy Dream Ballpark at the KBO League’s opening game between SK Wyvern and the Hanwha Eagles. May 05, 2020 in Incheon, South Korea. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Later in the month, the Hanwha Eagles took a much more fun (though probably less sanitary) approach to filling the stands at their Daejeon Hanbat Baseball Stadium—a large gathering of stuffed animals. Famous toys in attendance included SpongeBob SquarePants, Ted (of Ted and Ted 2), Mickey Mouse, Stitch (of Lilo & Stitch) and Winnie the Pooh and Piglet. Pokémon had a whole crew there, including the likes of Squirtle, Snorlax and several Pikachus.

Sponsored

In addition to putting life-size renditions of BTS in the stands, another KBO team, the NC Dinos, have allowed fans to send in photos of themselves to be subsequently turned into cardboard cut-outs. Alongside fan faces at one game were also images of players from North Carolina Minor League team, the Durham Bulls. (It’s not totally random—on May 4, the Bulls declared on Twitter that they were NC Dinos fans.)

Even Minor League American mascots have been getting in on the act in South Korea.

Taiwan offers a view of what it might look like when fans start to gain access to games again—very limited, socially distanced numbers, brightened up with a hefty dose of fun signs.

The Fubon Guardians and Uni-Lions play in front of 1000 socially distanced fans at Taipei’s Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium on May 08, 2020. The signs in the fifth row offer thanks to first responders.
The Fubon Guardians and Uni-Lions play in front of 1000 socially distanced fans at Taipei’s Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium on May 08, 2020. The signs in the fifth row offer thanks to first responders. (Gene Wang/Getty Images)

At this stage in the year, Bay Area fans will be thrilled just to see teams back on the field. One word of warning to the Giants and A’s when it comes to filling the stands, though: If teams want to keep things wholesome, they should probably avoid picking the audience that one Seoul soccer club went with ...