‘This feels strange’: dugouts open back up for media across KBO

SEOUL-- For players who made their debuts in the top South Korean baseball league within the past two years, the sight of people not in team uniform or gear standing in the dugouts on Tuesday might have seemed a tad strange.

They weren't intruders, but journalists covering games in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) -- although some players or coaches may feel those media types were intruding on their space anyway.

For the first time since the 2019 postseason, dugouts opened back up for media on Tuesday. With clubhouses being off-limits, dugouts had been where journalists gathered to hold pregame scrums, sidled up to players for one-on-one interviews, or, in case no one wanted to talk to them, just shot the breeze with each other.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit prior to the 2020 season, and access to dugouts was closed. For pregame media availabilities, only managers of the home and visiting teams were brought into interview rooms, creating a far more formal setting. Players were only occasionally made available before games. Then after games, only one player from the winning side was ushered into interview rooms. The public never got to hear any insight from the losing team's perspective.

Things stayed that way for the entire 2020 and 2021 seasons. Then on Tuesday, a little over a month into the 2022 season, the KBO and its 10 clubs agreed to bring intruders, er, journalists back into dugouts. Social distancing rules and other coronavirus-related restrictions have been lifted across the nation, including outdoor mask wearing. As long as journalists kept their masks on and maintained a reasonable distance from players, it was back to business as usual.

"This feels a bit strange, for sure," said Kiwoom Heroes' outfielder Lee Jung-hoo at the start of his interview in the first base dugout at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. Lee made his debut in 2017 and has done his share of interviews in the dugout, but his last one had been in 2019.

Lee soon settled into his chat with about a dozen writers in one corner of the dugout. Meanwhile, rookie outfielder Park Chan-hyeok walked past the scrum, looking as though he wasn't sure what to make of the scene.

At Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, Samsung Lions manager Huh Sam-young conducted his pregame presser in the dugout for the first time. He took the reins before the 2020 season and this was his first pregame session on the bench.

Then the Lions' third-year infielder Kim Ji-chan had his first career dugout interview, too.

"For a moment, I thought something bad had happened here," Kim said with a smile. "This is pretty amazing."

Elsewhere in the league, veterans reacquainted themselves with some familiar faces with media credentials around their necks. Rookies, on the other hand, mostly kept their heads down on their way back to the clubhouses after their batting practices and fielding drills were done.

Before the Hanwha Eagles-LG Twins game at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul, the visitors' dugout became too crowded to ensure safe distance between journalists and the one player everyone had come to interview: the Eagles' hot shot rookie Moon Dong-ju.

The hard-throwing right-hander had been added to the active roster for the first time Monday, after recovering from oblique injury. His pregame session took place in the interview room.

Source: Yonhap News Agency