KBO League Korean Baseball Game Halted After Fire Breaks Out Near Stadium, Black Smoke Reaches Ballpark

The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) became one of the first professional leagues in the world to resume in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, but one of the opening games of the season was disrupted by a fire.

Thick black smoke forced home plate umpire Jeon Il-Soo to suspend the game between the Kia Tigers and the Kiwoon Heroes during the bottom of the fourth innings with the Heroes 4-0 ahead with one out.

According to The Korea Herald, the fire broke out in the proximity of the Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, South Korea's sixth-largest city and home of the Kia Tigers. Once the smoke reached the ballpark, making it too difficult for the umpires and players to see, officials proceeded to halt the game for just under 20 minutes until smoke cleared.

After the resumption, the Heroes scored another four runs, cruising to a comfortable 11-2 win over the Tigers in a major opening day upset.

The Tigers are considered the New York Yankees of the KBO, by virtue of regularly drawing the biggest television audiences and being the league's most successful club with 11 Korean Series titles, the most recent of which came in 2017.

The Heroes, meanwhile, have never won the title but finished runners-up to the Doosan Bears last season.

The Bears also got off to a disappointing start to the campaign, losing 8-2 against the LG Twins.

The KBO got underway six weeks later than usual due to the coronavirus pandemic and hopes to complete its full 144-game schedule. Games are held behind closed doors, while umpires have to wear masks and players have their temperatures taken before they enter the stadium.

The country's response to the COVID-19 outbreak has been widely praised across the world for its efficiency.

As of Tuesday morning, 10,804 cases have been recorded in the country with 254 deaths and 9,283 recoveries, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the outbreak using combined data sources.

Globally, almost 252,000 people have died since the outbreak of coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, a city located in China's central Hubei province, late last year. There have been over 3.6 million confirmed cases with over 1.1 million recoveries.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, lists the countries with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases.

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A graph showing the countries with the most known cases of COVID-19. Statista

The start of the KBO season is good news for baseball-starved fans in the U.S. as ESPN has reached an agreement to broadcast six KBO games per week.

The broadcaster will use the feed from South Korea with ESPN commentators Karl Ravech, Jessica Mendoza, Eduardo Perez, Jon Sciambi and Kyle Peterson calling the games from their home studios.

MLB executives are expected to closely monitor proceedings in the KBO as the latter's success or failure over the coming weeks could prove crucial for MLB's hopes to return later this year.

Opening Day was scheduled for March 26 but the league was forced to postpone the season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the last few weeks, however, rumors baseball could make a return as early next month have intensified.

According to CBS Sports, one of the proposed plans would involve playing all regular-season games across hubs in Florida, Texas and Arizona—earlier this month ESPN had reported the latter could host all 30 franchises playing games at Chase Field, the home of Arizona Diamondbacks, in Phoenix and at other ballparks in the Phoenix area.

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[File photo]. A general view of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) League opening game between SK Wyverns and Hanwha Eagles at the empty SK Happy Dream Ballpark on May 5 in Incheon, South Korea. The 2020 KBO season started after being delayed from the original March 28 Opening Day due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. South Korea is transiting this week to a quarantine scheme that allows citizens to return to their daily routines under eased guidelines and the total number of infections in the nation tallies at 10,804. Chung Sung-Jun/Getty