Dan Kurtz woke up last Tuesday morning to a message he never dreamed of getting. Your site crashed.
He opened Twitter on his smartphone and saw that nearly a dozen other people had reported the same issue. While Kurtz slept in Washington state, the Korea Baseball Organization began its season, regaling an entire planet that craved real, live sports in a time without Major League Baseball. Kurtz’s website, MyKBO.net, was suddenly more popular than ever. Kurtz himself — a 40-year-old, stay-at-home father of three who identifies as a fan and nothing else — had instantly become a highly sought-after authority on the subject. A day later, he still hadn’t come to grips with it all.
“This,” Kurtz said, “is blowing my mind.”
Kurtz was born in Seoul, the metropolitan capital of South Korea, but was adopted by a Mennonite family in rural Pennsylvania when he was 4 months old. He grew up idolizing Mike Schmidt and watching the Philadelphia Phillies‘ nearby Double-A affiliate in Reading. But he gained an affection for Korea’s professional baseball league while living in his native country at the turn of the century. His fandom manifested into a homemade website for English-speaking KBO fans, a tremendously niche group until only recently. It began as a message board, grew to include live stats and never attracted more than 100 visitors at one time until late at night on May 4 in the Western Hemisphere.
The KBO resumed then, serving as both a beacon of hope for baseball-loving fans in the United States and a necessary distraction for all its insomniacs. ESPN had the rights. A national audience was tuning in as the Samsung Lions hosted the NC Dinos at 12:55 a.m. ET. And 25,000 people visited the stats portion of Kurtz’s site, representing a 2,700% increase from opening day in 2019. Kurtz pays for a minimal amount of bandwidth, enough for a website that can handle roughly 50 visitors at one time but definitely not one that draws close to 1,000. The stats site, mykbostats.com, immediately crashed. Upon resurfacing, it moved lethargically. A couple days later, it remained slow for stretches.
The vast majority of the new visitors hailed from the U.S. The second-biggest draw came from a group of people in India heavily invested in daily fantasy sports, many of whom were sliding into Kurtz’s direct messages for any morsel of insight into the KBO. In the KBO’s first week, Kurtz conducted roughly 20 interviews and was a guest on more than five podcasts, from NPR to FanGraphs. At 4:30 a.m. PT last Wednesday, he appeared on ESPN’s broadcast via FaceTime on his son’s iPad — an assignment that made him so nervous he couldn’t sleep.
“I didn’t ever expect the site to go down, I didn’t ever expect to get so many interview requests and actually ever appear on ESPN,” Kurtz said from his home near Tacoma, Washington. “Whenever I made this 20 years ago, it was never in my wildest dreams that I would appear on a broadcast that would put KBO games on ESPN, the world’s sports leader, and talk about baseball. I still really can’t wrap my mind around it.”
Kurtz majored in communications at a small college near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The KBO began to pique his interest when he traveled to South Korea with an adoptee tour group at 19. A year later, he returned for a study-abroad semester and began to learn Korean. A friend invited him to Jamsil Baseball Stadium to watch the Doosan Bears one afternoon. He drank enough soju to blur the details, but the atmosphere and the energy and the charm stuck with him. He returned to the U.S. intent on following the KBO from afar, despite the language barrier and the time difference. The website began in 2003 as a way to help others with a similar ambition.
Kurtz also met his wife while studying overseas. She became a military health care worker, prompting the family to move from Pennsylvania to Washington to South Korea to San Antonio and back to Washington over the past decade. In that time, the KBO site grew to include information on how to stream games, news, blog posts, a podcast, a YouTube channel and a Facebook group. Kurtz aggregated from Korean newspapers on a daily basis and tried his hand at breaking news on KBO players, then backed off when raising three young kids became too time-consuming. He settled into the life of a full-time parent and an intermittent fan. After his third child, the website contributions became increasingly more sporadic. It evolved into a laid-back hobby.
“I’m merely a fan,” said Kurtz, who now has nearly 19,000 Twitter followers. “I am not in the baseball industry, I’m not a scout, I don’t have an affiliation with the league or anything. I’m just a regular fan, for 20 years, who happens to have a website. And by luck, with everything hitting just correctly and there being very little information on the KBO in English, I’m at the forefront right now. It’s been overwhelming, to say the least, in a good way. But also processing it all has been insane.”
The KBO is a 10-team league that plays a balanced, 144-game schedule concurrent with that of MLB. Ties are allowed, the designated hitter is universal and, because of the shorter distances, travel is done mostly by bus. It’s an inferior league — Kurtz considers it Triple-A level on good days, Double-A level on bad days — but it has its advantages.
The KBO was quicker to adopt strict pace-of-play regulations and recently got a handle on the way its baseballs carried, a task that has proved elusive for MLB. Bat flips are considered a celebrated part of the culture, not a distasteful act worthy of contrition. The atmosphere — absent in a time of social distancing — is appreciably more electric.
“It’s not major league caliber, but the music, the cheering — that’s what drew me into the KBO, the atmosphere, the environment,” Kurtz said. “Guys on the field will flip their bats; they like to show their flair. But at the same time, they take the sport seriously, too.”
Kurtz now faces a dilemma. The site continues to run slowly because the number of visitors remains high. He needs to increase the bandwidth, but is uneasy about making the financial commitment without knowing if this sudden spark in interest will last. MLB is on the cusp of solidifying plans to potentially begin its regular season at the start of July. If those plans come to fruition, interest in the KBO will quickly diminish. Kurtz, who doesn’t make a profit off the site, said his operating costs average about $50 a month. To make the site run more smoothly, those monthly commitments, excluding labor, could reach $300.
For now, Kurtz is too busy to make a decision. After an hourlong phone interview with ESPN on Wednesday afternoon, he had two radio appearances lined up in Toronto and another in Pittsburgh. He later spoke to an HBO producer to help educate the network, went on a national podcast and was scheduled to appear on MBC Sports+, considered the ESPN equivalent in South Korea.
It’s all written out on a white sheet of paper attached to his refrigerator, in plain sight so his kids — ages 3, 5 and 9 — know when to be quiet.
“This is all new territory for me,” Kurtz said. “I’ve just been getting hit left and right.”