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Washington Nationals’ Eric Thames guide to the KBO, NC Dinos, and who to watch out for

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Looking for a team to follow in the KBO? We might just have one for you thanks to Washington Nationals’ first baseman, Eric Thames...

Photo from the NC Dinos Twitter page

Baseball is back! Well, it’s not Major League Baseball, but it’s still baseball and by the look of it, plenty are taking it any way it’s coming as coronavirus restrictions continue in America.

The Korean Baseball Organization, often just referred to as KBO, began its season behind closed doors in the early hours of Tuesday morning Eastern Time in the US.

ESPN, frantically searching for any and all sports content, will even be airing live KBO games. That began as the NC Dinos traveled to the Samsung Lions and the visitors pulled out a win thanks to six strong scoreless innings from former big leaguer, Drew Rucinski.

If you’re a Washington Nationals fan looking for a team to follow, you’re in luck!

As has been well documented since his return to MLB, Eric Thames, the Nats’ new first baseman, was a cult hero during his three-year stint in the KBO for those same Dinos.

During his time in the KBO, Thames slashed an unreal .349/.451/.721 while hitting 124 home runs, driving in 382 runs, and stealing 64 bases. The pinnacle of his time in Korea was when he won the league’s MVP award in 2015 after putting up a 40/40 season with a ludicrous 1.288 OPS.

The Dinos also have a dinosaur mascot who might just be as big as Thames, which is saying something. I mean, look at those broad shoulders and tree trunk arms, good lord...

In a recent interview with Mike Oz of Yahoo Sports, Thames talked about his first-hand experience in Korea and how the game differs from the American variety of baseball.

“It’s a different style of play,” Thames explained. “Lot of off-speed, a lot of bunts, steals, plays, so it’s a lot more exciting. But it depends on the team too. Some teams have, like, some prolific sluggers.”

While the slugger will enjoy watching baseball again, there’s one part about the Korean baseball experience that will be missed, at least to start with...

“It’s kind of sad actually, the best part about it was the fans,” Thames said.

“The cheers, the chants, the music playing throughout the game. And at least in the preseason games, it was just silence.

“You know, you hear like the team cheering each other on, but there’s no fans. You know, that’s the one thing that stinks about this whole thing is that the fans make the game fun — the energy.

“Either way, it’s going to be baseball, it’s all that matters.”

Yes, Eric, it is baseball and we’re so happy!

And if you’re a fan of the “let the kids play” movement, then you’ll enjoy the flair on display from the KBO players with looping bat flips far more common than they are stateside.

“You go on MLB, they’ll always show a bat flip from Korea, Japan, Taiwan,” Thames explained. “It’s just like a part of their culture that there is no offense to it.

“It’s just like a lot of their swings they finish in that slot, they just kind of like throw the bat right here. So it’s not like the bat is going in the dugouts or in the stands, but it’s like a little flip, and yeah.

“Here, it’s just, no. You do that — if you do that you might get a ball in the ribs the next AB.”

So, now you’ve got an introduction to the style of play and the culture in the KBO, what players should you be looking out for if you’re tuning into ESPN for a game?

“Park Min-Woo. He’s a second baseman,” Thames said, an obvious choice as a former Dinos teammate. “He hits like .340 every year. Great contact hitter, he rakes. He’s really good.

“I would say Park Byung-Ho, He was with the [Minnesota] Twins. He came out here for a few years. So he’s back, still hitting home runs and clobbering the ball.

“Romak, Jamie Romak. He hits like 40, 50 home runs every year. He’s got light-tower power.

“I’d just say there’s a lot of guys that you watch and you’re like, ‘oh man, this guy would be really good in the big leagues. This guy would be good in the big leagues. This guy, this guy.’ It’s pretty cool.”

For the Dinos, they also have former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder, Aaron Altherr, who could be a name to watch out for this season after he flashed potential in the big leagues.

Oh, and while he’s not a player, the Kia Tigers are managed by former National League Manager of the Year with the Nats, Matt Williams. So that’s what he’s up to these days...

Nats fans, your new team, the NC Dinos, are live on ESPN this Thursday at 5:30am Eastern Time. Grab a coffee in your pajamas and watch some baseball because we all miss it so much...