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As South Korea's top baseball league readies to play, its message may resonate with MLB: 'Put on the mask'

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 4/6/2020 Gabe Lacques, USA TODAY

a person wearing a costume: A security guard wears a mask while working a gate at Oracle Park. © Jeff Chiu, AP A security guard wears a mask while working a gate at Oracle Park. The logo for the NC Dinos, a team in South Korea’s KBO League, mimics so many other franchises worldwide: A dinosaur holding a bat and appearing somehow ferocious and cuddly.

That image got a recent alteration on the Dinos’ social media channels, featuring a look that soon may be quite familiar for athletes and fans.

The dinosaur is now wearing a protective mask.

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The KBO, too, has added a masked figure to its league logo, urging fans to “put on the mask,” while the Samsung Lions on Monday sent online birthday greetings to pitcher Won Tae-in – with a picture of the birthday boy clad in a mask while applying soap to his hands.

Sound a little, uh, heavy-handed? Well, consider that South Korea’s highest level of baseball is hopeful to begin its season on April 20 – while every major North American sports league is likely shuttered into the summer, at least, due to cases of COVID-19 that are still ticking upward.

And when Major League Baseball, or the NBA or WNBA, NHL or college and pro football do come back, it’s fair to wonder what protective measures might be in place.

Masked sluggers? Gloved coaches? Isolated Gatorade showers?

For now, there are more important issues at hand for the leagues, such as the extent to which their seasons will exist. An MLB official said the league has not yet established a position on protective wear as it studies myriad issues. The official spoke to USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because the discussions are confidential.

That leaves plenty of room to wonder, and players are already pondering how a mid-pandemic re-start might affect their work conditions.

“What about the guys who like to chew tobacco during the game?” Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly asked in a regular appearance on Boston’s WEEI. “I know plenty of guys who are chewing tobacco. How are you going to spit? You're going to have to keep going up and down, you're going to be touching your mouth. It kind of defeats the purpose.

“I think if that was a thing where they said, 'We're going to let you play but there are going to be no fans and surgical masks,’ I still think some people would say no because they want to do tobacco. They wouldn't even take full pay. They would be like, 'Nah, I'm good.'”

Players in South Korea have already accepted that bargain.

The country of 51 million moved early and aggressively to contain the virus, resulting in far fewer cases (10,284) and fatalities (186) as of Monday than the USA (338,000 cases, nearly 10,000 deaths), even though the outbreak was identified in both countries on the same day. Now, KBO clubs are playing intrasquad games, tentatively lurching toward an April 20 start.

The pool of players includes former major leaguers like Aaron Altherr, late of the Philadelphia Phillies, and ex-Detroit Tigers infielder Dixon Machado, who wore a mask in a recent intrasquad game.

They went to the KBO for playing time and now may be playing – and getting paid – far sooner than their MLB counterparts.

“They want to get back. They have to get back. They can’t do this,” President Donald Trump said Saturday after a conference call with sports commissioners. “We want to get back very soon.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: As South Korea's top baseball league readies to play, its message may resonate with MLB: 'Put on the mask'

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