By TOM HAUDRICOURT Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MILWAUKEE — Had Josh Lindblom stayed in the Korean Baseball Organization instead of signing with the Milwaukee Brewers over the winter, he’d be getting ready to play baseball games.

Real baseball games.

With South Korea having success in “flattening the curve” after the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard at the start of the year, the KBO has reopened training camps for its 10 teams. It plans to begin a shortened exhibition season April 21, followed by the regular season in early May.

The KBO originally was slated to open March 28, two days after the scheduled start of the Major League Baseball season, which remains on indefinite hold because of the pandemic. KBO officials still hope to complete the full 144-game season and have enough leeway in the schedule to do so if play indeed begins in the next month.

“The KBO has those built-in off days on Mondays, so they can make up some games then,” said Lindblom, who pitched for five seasons in South Korea before signing a three-year deal with the Brewers in mid-December.

“They also had (planned) a 2½-week break for the Olympics, and now with the Olympics canceled, they could play games then.”

Lindblom, 32, remains in touch with American pitchers still playing in the KBO, including Tyler Wilson and Casey Kelly with the LG Twins, Jake Brigham with the Kiwoom Heroes and Nick Kingham of the SK Wyverns. While he tries to stay as ready as possible back home in Lafayette, Indiana, those buddies have ramped up their throwing in intrasquad games.

“They expect to start playing soon,” Lindblom said. “Some guys came back to the U.S. when they postponed spring camp over there. When they went back and tried to go back to the field, they were told they had to self-quarantine for two weeks.

“They got tested, then put in their apartments for two weeks. Then, they could come back to the field.”

It was that kind of response to the pandemic that has allowed South Korea to move forward. Beyond the virus getting to that country before it struck the States, how did South Korea get so far ahead in attempting to play baseball again?

It has been the willingness of South Koreans to surrender civil liberties and freedoms that are the foundation of life as a citizen of the United States, according to a story in The New York Times. Planning also played a huge role after South Korea learned valuable lessons from the spread of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in 2015, the first year Lindblom played in the KBO.

Korean officials traced the origin of MERS to a single businessman who traveled to the Middle East and returned, not realizing he had contracted the virus.

“They traced him to the exact train, the exact car and the exact time he was in it when he came back to Korea,” Lindblom recalled. “As it turned out, my wife and I were on the train that left prior to him leaving that station. We got emails stating: If you were on this train at this time, you need to be checked.”

That experience prompted the South Korean government to move quickly with an expansive, well-organized testing program when COVID-19 showed up. At last report, more than 440,000 of the country’s population of about 50 million had been tested, a per-capita rate far higher than in the U.S.

Those who tested positive were put in immediate isolation with government monitoring and contact tracing to identify everyone who had been in touch with those infected. That program included collecting date from mobile phones, credit cards and other means. It was a total loss of privacy for those citizens, but there were no known public protests or objections to those tactics. Citizens were informed there would be massive loss of life otherwise.

“In Korea, they are very proactive with just about anything,” said Lindblom, who played the past two seasons with Doosan. “It’s a way of life; it really is. Take masks for example. The reason people there wear masks, most of the time, is not because they don’t want other people to make them sick. They do it because they don’t want to risk getting other people sick. They think of others first.

“They are proactive, whereas a lot of the precautions we’re taking now are reactive. We’re wearing masks here to try to avoid getting sick. I’m not a cultural analyst by any means. All of those things are in response to the coronavirus. But, beyond that, there’s an Eastern mindset and world view, in general, as opposed to the Western world view.

“In the West, we are more focused on the individual. Our wants, our desires, our needs, and the choices that we make are made mostly with ‘us’ in mind. In the East, what you have is decisions are made based on the betterment of the group. That is instilled in that culture from the time they are born.”

No matter what happens with baseball this year, and other sports for that matter, Lindblom does expect life in the U.S. to change on the back side of the pandemic. He doesn’t expect citizens to surrender civil liberties as they did in South Korea to prevent future outbreaks, but does expect social interaction to look different.

“I think there are going to be massive adjustments that people have to make,” he said. “The trickle-down effect is going to be felt for years. Nothing is ever going to be ‘normal’ again. But I do think we can come together and create a new normal, for baseball and society, for caring for one another..”