By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, July 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korean professional baseball managers said Friday they were looking forward to having fans back at games in the coming days, adding that supporters will enliven games with their mere presence during the coronavirus pandemic.
The government announced earlier in the day that the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) clubs would be allowed to open stadium gates starting Sunday, with 10 percent of the seats to be made available in the early going to ensure safe distancing and prevent COVD-19 infections.
This is a welcoming piece of news for the league, whose teams have been struggling financially without any gate revenue the whole season. The start of the season was pushed back from March 28 to May 5 because of the virus outbreak, and after a couple of setbacks due to spikes in COVID-19 cases, teams will finally be able to start playing before fans.
Kiwoom Heroes' skipper Son Hyuk, whose team will host the Lotte Giants at Gocheok Sky Dome for three games starting Friday, said he's going to be "a little bit more nervous" managing in front of fans.
"I think they'll bring a lot of energy to the stadium, and the morale of the team will also improve," Son said in his pregame media availability Friday. "But at the same time, we all have to stay safe so that we can finish the season. Once fans start coming in, I'll remind our team once again that we must continue to be careful."
Son's counterpart for the Giants, Her Mun-hoe, said he was grateful that it's become safe enough for fans to start attending KBO games.
"It wasn't just myself; our players and front office staff have all been waiting for this day," Her said. "I am thankful that we've been able to come this far into the season without problems, and that fans will now be there for us."
Son touched upon feeling nervous before fans. And after four months of playing intrasquad scrimmages, preseason games and regular season games in empty parks, having the crowd could be a jarring experience for fans and managers alike.
Both Son and Her have been coaches in the league, but this will be the first time they'll be managing in front of fans.
Unlike Son, Her said he doesn't think he will have butterflies in his stomach.
"I'll stick to my own pregame routine, and I don't think anything will really change," he added. "But obviously, I'll want to win the first game we play before our fans."
Her said his veteran-laden team should also handle the transition just fine and added, "I think they're going to enjoy having fans back behind them and thrive in that environment."