Pandemic enables locals to see Virginia native pitch live

By Blake Schnitker
Click on photo for captioned slideshow

Since the second week of March, sports fans around the world have been completely deprived of their favorite form of entertainment. Many of us will never forget where we were when the news came down that the NCAA basketball tournament had been canceled and the NBA season placed on hold.

News headlines had been focused exclusively on the COVID-19 outbreak over the weeks and months leading up to mid-March, however suddenly, the impact of the virus went from globally omnipresent, to locally life-altering, seemingly putting a temporary stop to the constant motion of the earth all by itself in the matter of a few hours. Life as we knew it, wouldn’t be and hasn’t been, the same. Since that day, when the impact of the Coronavirus came barging in unannounced to every American life, we’ve all been holding on … distancing ourselves from other human interaction … waiting patiently for the next set of instructions.

All the while, for sports nuts like myself, realizing that in the grand scheme of things, sports entertainment holds minuscule importance during a global pandemic, we continue to wander through life, having not a clue how to spend our free time in a world void of live professional sports.

Desperate and hungry, the sports world received a small glimmer of hope recently in the form of the Korean Baseball Organization, or KBO, which reinstated league play just a few weeks ago. Upon the league’s announcement, ESPN announced that it would immediately start carrying live coverage of KBO games, which typically air on television between 3 and 5 a.m. in the United States due to the time difference.

Regardless of my lack of familiarity with the KBO, being able to watch at least some form of live baseball has provided the utmost joy for this starving fan. Having heard the news that ESPN would be carrying live KBO games, I immediately dove head-first into the baseball league. And one of the first names I came across when researching the Korean league was that of Eric Jokisch, starting pitcher for the Kiwoom Heroes, based out of the South Korean capital of Seoul.

Any baseball nut from Central Illinois, particularly from the Cass, Morgan, Scott and Greene county area should be familiar with the name Eric Jokisch, who as a 2007 graduate of Virginia High School, remains one of the top baseball talents that West-Central Illinois has ever produced.

At 6 feet 2 inches, 204 pounds, Jokisch shined as one of the best starting pitchers in the entire KBO last season, bolstering an earned run average of 3.13, good for ninth-best in the entire KBO for the 2019 season. Perhaps even more impressive were Jokisch’s 1.13 WHIP (walks and hits over innings pitched), which was the third-best mark among KBO pitchers, and finally, his .241 BAA (batting average against), the fourth-lowest in the KBO. Taking those three figures into consideration, Jokisch finished among the top ten in arguably the three most respected pitching stats in the entire league, and in the top five for two of those three categories.

Perhaps his most impressive stretch of pitching during his time in the KBO took place over four consecutive starts from June 4 to June 21, 2019. The left-handed hurler allowed just one earned run over 28 innings, giving him a 0.32 ERA over that stretch. During that same four-game stretch, Jokisch surrendered only four walks, compared to 27 strikeouts while allowing just 20 hits – giving the Kiwoom ace a 0.857 WHIP, and a Strikeout-to-Walk ratio of 6.75.

While he’s currently experiencing somewhat of a resurgence in his career in the Korean league, Jokisch’s journey to Seoul, South Korea was not always the smoothest.

Jokisch graduated from high school as one of the top pitching prospects in all of Illinois. Jokisch was drafted in the 39th round of the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft by the Cleveland Indians. However, Jokisch decided to pursue his collegiate baseball career at Northwestern University rather than in the majors.

At Northwestern, Jokisch found immediate success in his freshman year, being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, as well as being named Second Team All-Big Ten as well as a Louisville Slugger Freshman All American, finishing his first season with a 4.17 ERA over 73 and a third-inning pitched, including four complete games.

Jokisch continued his career as a Northwestern Wildcat for two more seasons, serving as a top starting pitcher for the Big Ten team over three seasons. Following three seasons in Evanston, Jokisch was again selected in the MLB Draft, this time by the Chicago Cubs in the 11th round of the 2010 draft.

Looking at where he ranked among last year’s starting pitchers, it is no surprise that Jokisch is being paid like one of the league’s best, earning an impressive $700,000 salary for the current 2020 season, a slight increase from his 2019 salary of $550,000.

While the KBO season is just getting underway, Jokisch has been even more impressive so far in 2020. As of May 19, he has made three starts for the Kiwoom Heroes with 17 innings pitched. Over those 17 innings and three starts, Jokisch carries one of the league’s best ERAs (Earned Run Average) at 0.53. He maintains a 0.706 WHIP after three starts.

Taking all of this into consideration, it is safe to say that one of the most dominant pitching stars across the entire Korean Baseball Organization hails from west-central Illinois.

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