HUNTINGTON — Working nearly 7,000 miles from home is harrowing enough without throwing COVID-19 into the mix.
Former Marshall University baseball star Dan Straily said he was nervous to pitch for the Lotte Giants in Busan, South Korea, but events have unfolded in a way that has put him more at ease.
Straily, a 24th-round pick of the Oakland Athletics in the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft, told ESPN’s Jeff Passan earlier this week that he’s impressed with how the Korean Baseball Organization has responded to the new coronavirus pandemic.
“I think the first thing they did was they threw the bottom line out the door and they were like, ‘This is not about the money; this is about keeping people safe,’” he said.
Straily said the South Koreans have done an incredible job making American players and coaches feel secure and comfortable during the delayed season. Tentatively, six exhibition games are scheduled to begin April 21, followed by the regular season. Straily said if anyone on the team becomes sick, a two-week postponement goes into effect. “Anyone” means anyone. Whether it’s a player, front-office person, janitor or bat boy who falls ill, the postponement kicks in.
“We’ve got to make sure no one else got sick,” Straily said.
The Giants took spring training in Australia before returning to Busan, a city of 3.5 million, in mid-March. Straily and fellow Americans Adrian Sampson, Hank Conger and Josh Herzenberg found that the South Koreans took the virus seriously. Everywhere the Americans went they were required to wear masks. Surfaces continually were disinfected. The Giants canceled a practice when a player registered a fever of just less than 100 degrees. The player immediately was tested for coronavirus and was negative. Team officials texted players and coaches that they may resume normal activities, which for Straily meant finding dinner. He said he found a couple of restaurants he particularly likes and is enjoying learning the Korean language.
Straily said the Giants have been very accommodating, supplying him with whatever he asks. Still, he has had to make adjustments. Pitchers often touch their faces, which is strongly discouraged. Even though baseballs are pretreated to make them less slick, they’ve still been touched by umpires and other clubhouse personnel, exposing a risk.
Straily played for Oakland, the Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Cincinnati Reds, Miami Marlins, Baltimore Orioles and once was rostered by the San Diego Padres during an offseason. He has many friends in the big leagues and said he talks with them frequently. He said he appears to have made the right choice signing with Lotte rather than taking a minor league deal in the United States.
Straily has experimented with a new curveball grip he hopes will aid him in a return to the majors at some point.
In the meantime, he’ll pitch for the Lotte Giants and remain a fan of baseball in the U.S.
“My big hope for this whole thing is we’ll get baseball soon.”