By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, March 7 (Yonhap) -- Four games this weekend will kick off 16 days of preseason baseball action, officials said Thursday.
The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) announced that eight out of nine teams will take the field this Saturday to open the preseason. The two-time defending champs Samsung Lions will host the LG Twins in Daegu. The runner-ups SK Wyverns will travel to Busan to face the Lotte Giants.
The Kia Tigers host the Hanwha Eagles in Gwangju. The NC Dinos, the ninth club for the KBO, bring the Nexen Heroes to Changwon. The Doosan Bears will be idle on the first days of the preseason.
The preseason will go on until March 24, and teams will each play 12 games, the KBO said.
The league has only scheduled two games at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul, home of the Twins and the Bears, for it is currently undergoing renovation. Daejeon Stadium, home of the Eagles, is also replacing their artificial grass with natural grass, and only six games will be played there during the preseason.
The KBO, which started out in 1982, held its first preseason in 1983. Since then, the team that finished first in the preseason went on to win the KBO championship six times, mostly recently the Wyverns in 2007.
Preseason games are held six days a week, from Tuesday to Sunday, and are all free of charge. All games start at 1 p.m. Games canceled by rain or inclement weather conditions will not be made up, and there will be no extra innings.
In the 2012 preseason, KBO teams averaged a record 7,470 fans per game, an increase of 46 percent from 2011. Fans kept coming to the games during the regular season, too, helping the KBO establish a new single-season record with more than 7.1 million fans.
A slew of offseason trades, free agent signings, and the addition of the Dinos to the league have added new dynamics to this preseason.
Three teams have changed their managers during the offseason. The Eagles, which finished dead last in two of the past three years, named Kim Euong-yong their new manager. Kim has won 10 Korean Series championships, more than any other KBO manager, but he last managed a team in 2004.
The Eagles are without No. 1 starter Ryu Hyun-jin, who signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in December, and a former Dodger pitcher Park Chan-ho, who retired in November.
The Lotte Giants, after getting knocked out of the second round of the playoffs, replaced manager Yang Seung-ho with Kim Si-jin.
Kim had been fired as the manager of the Heroes in September, toward the end of the season. Bench coach Kim Sung-kap served as the team's interim manager to close out the season, and then the Heroes promoted third base coach Yeom Kyung-yup to the new manager in October.
Among key free agent acquisitions, Kim Joo-chan, former leadoff man for the Giants, has joined the Tigers.
The Giants lost another veteran this offseason, as designed hitter Hong Sung-heon returned to his former team, the Bears.
Jong Hyun-wook, an integral part of the Lions' bullpen for a dozen seasons, signed a four-year deal with the Twins.
KBO teams are permitted two foreign players apiece, while the expansion Dinos are allowed to carry three foreigners. The Lions, going for their third straight title, replaced both of their foreign pitchers, Mitch Talbot and Brian Gordon, from last year, with pitchers Rick van den Hurk and Aneury Rodriguez.
The Wyverns also parted ways with their two foreign pitchers from a year ago, replacing Dave Bush and Mario Santiago with Chris Seddon and Jo Jo Reyes.
The Heroes have retained their two starters, Brandon Knight and Andy van Hekken, who combined for 27 wins in 2012.
The Dinos used their three roster spots for foreigners on pitchers: Adam Wilk, Charlie Shirek and Eric Hacker.