Postponement of Asian Games puts nat’l baseball team in awkward position

SEOUL-- The recent postponement of the 2022 Asian Games threw a wrench into the grand plans for the South Korean national baseball team, putting officials and coaching staff in somewhat of an awkward position.

The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) announced Friday the 19th Asian Games, scheduled to run from Sept. 10-25 in Hangzhou, China, would be postponed indefinitely. New dates for the continental event have not been determined.

The Korea Baseball Softball Association (KBSA), which governs amateur baseball, and the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), which oversees the professional game, have been working together on assembling the Asian Games squad. In February, the KBSA named Ryu Joong-il, who led the KBO club Samsung Lions to four consecutive Korean Series titles and managed South Korea to the 2014 Asian Games gold medal, as the skipper for Hangzhou. And the KBO had long decided it would only select players who are 24 years old or younger (born in 1998 or later), or players who have no more than three years of professional playing experience.

There is no formal age limit in the Asian Games baseball tournament, but the KBO wanted to give younger players a taste of international competition with an eye toward nurturing youthful talent for the long run. The KBO has also said it would leave three spots open for overage players as "wild cards."

The two governing bodies will meet in the coming days to decide whether to adjust their age cap. If the under-24 rule stays for 2023, assuming the Asian Games will be held then, some players who would have been locks for the 2022 Asiad would no longer be eligible unless the KBSA and KBO extend the age limit. That includes two key players born in 1998: Kiwoom Heroes outfielder Lee Jung-hoo, the reigning KBO batting champion, and LG Twins closer Go Woo-suk. The national team would want to avoid wasting wild cards on these players.

"If the Asian Games are moved to 2023, then I think it would make sense to lift the age limit to 25," one KBO official said. "We have plenty of time to discuss things."

Time isn't on the KBO side when it comes to preparing for another major international event next year, the World Baseball Classic (WBC).

The national team coaching staff for the WBC has not been set. Ryu's term was supposed to expire after the end of the Asian Games in September this year, and it wouldn't have covered the WBC.

Following the postponement, the question now is: Will Ryu manage both the WBC and the Asian Games next year?

The makeup of the rosters for the WBC and the Asian Games will be vastly different, since there won't be any age cap for the former. For the WBC, the KBO is expected to select the best players available, including South Koreans plying their trade in Major League Baseball (MLB) and even U.S-born players of Korean descent, regardless of their age. And many of those players either won't be selected or won't be eligible for the Asian Games.

Since the WBC is a professional-only tournament operated by MLB, the KBO will have a more direct say on putting together the coaching staff for the event. It appears unlikely that the KBO will bring in a new manager just for the WBC, only to have him give way to Ryu for the Asian Games.

If he does stay on, Ryu would face the challenge of managing two iterations of the national team with very little in common.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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