Will 2017 Be a Tough Year in South Korea’s KBO?
The South Korean team has already been eliminated from the World Baseball Classic. They went 1-2 in the first round, beating Taiwan and losing to Israel and the Netherlands, both teams the South Korean squad was expected to best.
South Korean fans put a lot more stock in WBC performance than MLB fans do, and the KBO isn’t as developed as MLB or Japan’s NPB. KBO attendance boomed when the South Korean team lost the final in 2009;and KBO attendance tanked after the team was knocked out in the first round (even though they went 2-1) in 2013.
KBO teams spent big this off-season, blowing away the old salary records, largely out of the belief that the national team would do well in the WBC this year and attendance would spike again in 2017. This was an entirely reasonable assumption, because the KBO is getting better as a league every year.
As I like to say, anything can happen in a short series, but the KBO fan base isn’t quite developed enough to understand this or care. KBO average attendance is between 12,000 and 13,000 a game, which is half that even of Japan’s NPB. There is huge room for growth, but it still takes the national team making national news in a positive way to spur the casual fans to go to the ballpark more regularly.
Israel went 3-0 in the first round, a big surprise, although the Israeli team appears to be loaded with American players of some Jewish ancestry, including most notably Jason Marquis and of personal interest,one of my favorite minor league stars, Blake Gailen, who unfortunately hasn’t hit a lick in the first three games.
It’s no surprise to see that the Netherlands team made it to the second round, but it is surprising they lost to the Israeli team. The team is loaded with players from Curicao at a time when the small Caribbean island has become a hot bed of professional baseball talent, including Andrelton Simmons, Jurickson Profar, Xander Bogaerts, Wladimir Balentien, Jonathan Schoop and Didi Gregorias. That’s a line-up that will take the Dutch team as far as its pitching will hold up and then some.