The Japanese baseball season is underway, albeit in a format reduced from 143 games to 120.
With games played in Tokyo, Saitama just to the north of the capital, Osaka, and Fukuoka the league is expected to run until early November providing no recurrence of the COVID-19 pandemic hits Japan or those involved in the league.
Speaking to the Associated Press, the manager of the Yokohama Baystars, based just to the south of Tokyo, Alex Ramirez said “I’m very happy, very excited about today’s game. Just to think about all the time we’ve had to wait, and stuff like that. It’s just the best feeling.”
Another Baystar speaking to AP, BayStars captain Kenta Ishida, made sure to thank those in Japan on the front line of the fight against coronavirus. “Thanks to the medical professionals still on the front line, and many others who are supporting us,” he said, before adding “Today, professional baseball can start the season because of them.”
To date, from a population of 125 million, 17,740 people have been infected by the coronavirus, with 935 deaths.
As is the norm in Japan, most eyes were focused on the game at Tokyo Dome between the Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants; Japan’s two most popular teams.
Whilst the Giants came out on top on the night 3-2, in doing so posting their 6,000th franchise victory since they were established in 1934, the team could only celebrate in a silent stadium.
Games in Japan will initially follow a similar format to those played in the CPBL – Taiwan’s flagship baseball league – in that no fans will be permitted entry, at least for now.
Sources in Japan tell the The Taiwan Times that fans may be allowed in as early as July, but that no concrete decision has yet been made by baseball authorities in Tokyo.
Also in similar form to the CPBL, the first league in the world to play pro-ball in 2020, Japanese stadiums are looking to messages from the fans to help counter the unusual experience of players playing a game in an empty stadium.
Over 5,000 fan messages with faces drawn on them were displayed at the Baystars opening day day loss to Hiroshima.