Back in New York and living what most would consider a normal life, Josh Herzenberg never really stopped being occupied with baseball. That became apparent one day last year after a long lunch in Manhattan with an old scouting friend, Philip Stringer, and Stringer's co-worker with the Kansas City Royals.
“When we left the restaurant, my buddy Phil turned to me and said, ‘Hey, it's pretty obvious you miss the game,' ” Herzenberg said.
That was enough of a nudge for someone who probably didn't need convincing. Within months, Herzenberg, a 30-year-old product of White Plains High School, found himself on a flight halfway around the world, coaching and analyzing baseball — and now doing so during a worldwide pandemic.
Herzenberg serves a dual role as a pitching coordinator and quality control coach with the Lotte Giants, one of 10 teams in Korea's KBO League. After opening on May 5, the KBO immediately became the highest-level baseball league in action during the COVID-19 pandemic. ESPN began broadcasting the games to fans hungry for live sports.
Although the republic has seen the number of new cases drop to double and even single digits every day for over a month, games are still being played without fans. That is expected to become the new normal if baseball gets played again in the U.S. in 2020.
“You can hear the crack of the bat, the echo in the stadium. You can even hear the fielders talk during the games,” Herzenberg said. “You're expecting to hear the roar of the crowd where there's a ball in the gap and you just don't hear that.”
Herzenberg was given a taste of Korean life under more normal circumstances after being hired by the Giants around Halloween. He spent nearly three weeks with the team in November, then rejoined Lotte for spring training in Australia on Jan. 25.
In his role as pitching coordinator, Herzenberg flew to Seoul three weeks later to work with Lotte's minor-league-level teams. He wore a mask and heard some coronavirus buzz, but so much changed following a major outbreak centered around a church community in Daegu the following week.
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