MLB Seoul Series preview: What to watch as the Dodgers and Padres kick off the 2024 MLB season at the Gocheok Sky Dome

Shohei Ohtani and Tyler Glasnow will make their Dodgers debuts at 6:05 a.m. ET Wednesday in South Korea

It’s Opening Day a week before Opening Day.

On Wednesday morning U.S. time, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres will get the 2024 MLB season started with a bang, squaring off for the first of two regular-season contests at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, South Korea. It marks the first time that MLB has played regular-season games in South Korea, a country that has seen baseball skyrocket in popularity over the past few decades.

For these two franchises, the trip across the Pacific comes at a fascinating time. The Dodgers spent the winter spending, dropping oodles of cash to bring in Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Teoscar Hernandez in free agency while also extending trade acquisition Tyler Glasnow to a hefty deal. The Padres, meanwhile, had a tumultuous offseason marked by the death of team owner Peter Seidler. That led to a tightening of the purse strings, which saw San Diego ship Juan Soto to New York for a smattering of arms, though the recent addition of Dylan Cease via trade shows that the Padres are still intent on competing in 2024.

And while these first two games feel particularly important, considering their abnormal place as the only meaningful games on this week's docket, it’s important to remember that the baseball season is a marathon, and these are just the first two steps. The Dodgers going 2-0 this week does not clinch them a playoff spot, nor is an 0-2 trip cause for total panic. Remember, the 2019 Oakland A’s dropped both games in Tokyo to the Seattle Mariners during Ichiro’s farewell before finishing the season with 97 wins and a playoff spot. Don’t panic if Ohtani goes 0-for-4 or Fernando Tatis Jr. gets caught stealing.

Here are four things to look for in the Seoul Series.

[Join or create a Yahoo Fantasy Baseball league for the 2024 MLB season]

Expect an amazing atmosphere

South Korea’s domestic baseball league, the KBO, is considered the third-best baseball league in the world behind MLB and the Japanese NPB. The circuit exploded in popularity in America during the early days of the pandemic, when lower COVID-19 numbers in South Korea meant the KBO was able to resume play months before MLB. Unfortunately, the pandemic-influenced empty stadiums couldn’t replicate one of the most unique features of Korean baseball: the crowd experience.

Compared to the relaxed, humdrum atmosphere of MLB games, KBO games are raucous affairs. There are coordinated fan dances, specific chants for specific players and “cheer masters” who are kind of like souped-up versions of U.S. sport hype squads, except many dress in full uniform and perform atop dugouts during play.

How that flavor of fandom translates to an MLB game will be fascinating to see — fewer than 7,000 fans attended the Padres’ Monday exhibition against the LG Twins — but the participating teams will certainly help matters. The Dodgers remain one of the more popular teams in South Korea thanks to Hyun Jin Ryu and Chan Ho Park, the first Korean big leaguer, while the Padres have Ha-Seong Kim, who has been MLB’s best Korean player the past few seasons. Speaking of which …

[Read more: NL West preview: What’s in store for the Dodgers, D-backs, Padres, Giants and Rockies in 2024?]

Ha-Seong Kim is the homecoming hero

The Padres’ new shortstop — Kim moved there after three seasons at second base — is already second all time in bWAR among Korean position players. He has been a league-average hitter, but the 2023 Gold Glover is so devastatingly good on defense that he has racked up 12.7 bWAR in just 419 games. There were concerns about how Kim’s bat would translate against MLB pitching when he made the leap before the 2021 season, but the 28-year-old’s offense has improved each season, culminating in a 17-homer, 110-OPS+ campaign last year.

In San Diego’s exhibition contest against the LG Twins on Monday, Kim homered twice at the Gocheok Sky Dome, his old stomping grounds with the KBO’s Kiwoom Heroes. And while Kim’s popularity in his homeland certainly trails that of new Giants center fielder Jung-Hoo Lee, Kim has an opportunity to make Korean baseball history against the Dodgers.

The pitching matchups are fascinating

There was speculation that Opening Day in Korea could see two Japanese pitching superstars, Yu Darvish and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, face off. Alas, the Dodgers tabbed long-haired charisma geyser and offseason trade acquisition Tyler Glasnow for their first game of the season, and he’ll toe the slab against Darvish. Glasnow looked dastardly good in spring training and enters the season as a popular NL Cy Young pick, while the 37-year-old Darvish is looking to bounce back from a topsy-turvy 2023.

Game 2 of the Seoul Series will pit Yamamoto against Joe Musgrove, marking the first opportunity for ball fans to catch a regular-season glimpse of LA’s $325 million free-agent signing. The 25-year-old righty had an up-and-down spring but flashed the disgusting raw stuff and untouchable fastball that made him such a hot commodity over the winter. He’ll go up against Musgrove, who is hoping for a much healthier 2024 after starting just 17 games last season.

The time difference is no joke

Both games will start at 7 p.m. local time, but because “local” in this case is Seoul, South Korea, that means the first pitch of the 2024 MLB season will be thrown just after 6 a.m. ET/3 a.m. PT. That creates a somewhat unfortunate situation for Dodgers and Padres fans, who have to either stay up very late or wake up very early to catch a glimpse of Opening Day. Still, it’s worth it for a taste of meaningful ball.

This series is part of a larger MLB initiative to bring live, regular-season MLB games to new destinations and locations around the world. The past decade has seen games in Australia, Tokyo, London and Mexico City, and a planned excursion to Paris was scuttled after MLB failed to find a promoter to help organize the event. Commissioner Rob Manfred has also mentioned that he’d like to eventually bring regular-season games to the Dominican Republic, which hosted two spring training exhibitions between Tampa Bay and Boston this month. So stay tuned for more major-league baseball around the world.