Top rung baseball to begin in Japan


Japanese Baseball League June 2020 Image: NPB

The delayed 2020 season of Nippon Professional Baseball will be launched on June 19, as Japan opens up portions of the country after coronavirus cases register a decline. Teams will begin workout sessions on June 2.

Nippon Professional Baseball is the highest level of baseball in Japan. Outside Japan, it is often just referred to as ‘Japanese baseball’.

Japan’s professional baseball season will begin on June 19 and it will be a closed door event, informed Nippon Professional Baseball Commissioner Atsushi Saito recently, after the season was put on hold for close to three months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Following recent changes announced by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in emergency shutdown rules in Tokyo and the northern island of Hokkaido, league officials and team owners decided to announce a June 19 launch date, with games beginning sans fans.

The 2020 Nippon Professional Baseball season had been slated to begin on March 20 before the outbreak of the fatal respiratory disease globally applied the brakes on major sports events across Japan. The games will be the first pro sports events to be held in Japan since the Government declared a state of emergency in April.

“If possible, we hope to lift the spirits of everyone suffering from a feeling of hopelessness, and pave the way for other sports to be held,” Saito said at a press meet with representatives of the 12 teams.

The game launch announcement comes in the wake of the state of emergency being gradually lifted in the last remaining areas of the country, including the Tokyo metropolitan area and Hokkaido in the north, as coronavirus cases subside.

The Commissioner informed that the teams will only play 120 of the original 143 games on the regular-season calendar as a result of the delay, with the Japan Series scheduled to start on November 21. Saito said no decision has been reached on whether to hold the Climax Series playoffs.

The Japan Series, also the Nippon Series, is the annual championship series in Nippon Professional Baseball, the top baseball league in Japan. It is a best-of-seven series between the winning clubs of the league’s two circuits, the Central League and the Pacific League, and is played in October or November.

The Climax Series is the annual playoff system employed by Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). Both leagues play a 143-game regular season, after which the top three teams in each league compete against one another in a two-stage playoff.

This year’s All-Star game and interleague matches already stands canceled.

The clubs in Japan’s Central and Pacific leagues have resumed workouts as they gear themselves up for the start of the season. Saito said the schedule of all matches will be adjusted to limit the distance and frequency teams have to travel.

Though Major League Baseball is still on hold, pro baseball has already returned to Taiwan and South Korea. Earlier this month, the Chinese Professional Baseball also began admitting a limited number of fans to its games, while the Korea Baseball Organization opened its 2020 season behind closed doors.

The Nippon Professional Baseball is using instructions from the Taiwanese and South Korean pro leagues as a template for creating guidelines on how to stage games safely in Japan amid the pandemic.

While spectators are not allowed to attend the games for the time being, Saito hinted that fans may be allowed to attend in the future if coronavirus cases subside further.

“Our discussion concentrated on opening the league even without spectators. It’s conceivable to let spectators come if the circumstances improve, but we haven’t discussed any details as yet.”

The announcement of the date was welcomed by managers and players, who vowed to utilize the time to its best until the season begins.

“Now that we have a concrete date, we will prepare thoroughly with a new sense of determination,” Hiroshima Carp Manager Shinji Sasaoka said with an air of confidence.

Professional baseball team Seibu Lions infielder Sosuke Genda said, “I noticed how much fans are looking forward to the pro baseball season. I promise I will play as hard as I can so they will enjoy watching the games.”

Should Japan reel under another wave of coronavirus infections, Saito said Nippon Professional Baseball’s Executive Board would consider extra countermeasures – using guidance from experts and doctors, and in sync with national and local Governments.

Nippon Professional Baseball Hanshin Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami was the first professional baseball player in Japan to test positive for the novel coronavirus on March 26. The Central League club confirmed the following day that two other players had also been infected.

Following a Government directive to postpone or cancel all large events in late February, which resulted in the suspension of Japan’s pro sports leagues, Nippon Professional Baseball twice set opening day goals for the 2020 season only to shelve them later.

The governing body eventually ruled out starting the season until June at the earliest, however, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a nationwide state of emergency in April and later extended the measures in order to rein in coronavirus cases.

Saito announced on May 11 that the All-Star game (annual baseball series), originally slated for July, would be canceled for the first time since its initial staging in 1951, saying it would be difficult to select players on time given the delay.

“I hope we can provide some guidance for sports other than professional baseball. It is important to operate cautiously according to our guidelines,” Saito commented.

“It is with great joy that we have been able to decide on opening the season. But we believe it is from now that we must make thorough preparations without fail, and it remains crucial our efforts move forward cautiously while protecting our players, other people involved and their families,” Saito noted.

The season will launch with no fans in the stands, just as in the case of Korean and Taiwan pro baseball leagues.

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