The following is a timeline of events connecting the coronavirus pandemic with Japanese pro baseball. Numbers given in brackets after each day’s date are the number of cases reported in Japan through those dates. Asterisks with Tokyo’s new daily infection totals are highs.
May 22 (?) – Tokyo 3. After meeting with the J-League for the eighth time and receiving further advice from public health experts, NPB commissioner Atsushi Saito said his body could announce its Opening Day and basic season schedule as early as next Monday.
May 20 (?) – Tokyo 5. The High School Baseball Federation has decided to cancel the iconic summer national championship at historic Koshien Stadium. This marks the first time both the spring invitational and the summer national have been canceled in the same year.
I am not arguing that the pandemic is a good thing, but there are probably some children who love baseball despite a system that loves to break their bodies. For those kids, the pandemic may mean escaping a trip to Japan’s baseball omelet factory.
May 19 (16,242) – Tokyo 5. The second day out of three that five or fewer newer confirmed cases were reported in Tokyo. NPB teams are ramping up to full squad workouts.
May 15 (16,106) – Tokyo 9. The Japan High School Baseball Federation revealed it will decide on May 20 whether or not to cancel this summer’s national championships.
May 14 (16,120) – Tokyo 30. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rescinds the state of emergency through much of Japan but not in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.
May 13 -Tokyo 10. Following an owners’ meeting on Tuesday, it was learned that NPB is now preparing for three potential Opening Days.
The sumo world suffers its first death to COVID-19, when 28-year-old apprentice wrestler Shobushi fails to recover from his infection. On My 4, the Japan Sumo Association canceled the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament, slated to start on May 24 in Tokyo after holding March’s Spring tourney behind closed doors.
May 11 – Tokyo 15. NPB officially cancels its summer all-star series and its minor league all-star game, with commissioner Atsushi Saito saying that according to health experts the current environment is too uncertain to talk about when the season will start.
Tokyo’s new infection total is under 50 for the fifth-straight day, and the government is talking about ending the state of emergency in different parts of Japan before May 31.
May 7 – (15,463) Tokyo 23. Some schools reopened in Japan on Thursday as did some businesses that had voluntarily closed, although Japan is still not testing people unless they have the proper symptoms and need hospitalization.
The government, whose emergency budget includes funding for an IT program to counter negative social media messages related to the coronavirus, has refused researchers’ requests to test corpses for the coronavirus according to Jiji Press.
May 6 – (15,354) Tokyo 38. KBO began its season on Tuesday, while MLB is floating ideas of going back to spring training in June and opening its season in July, while the season in Japan may not happen at all. The reason for this is clear.
Japan’s strategy so far has been to:
- deny the size of the problem by not testing anyone without the most serious symptoms.
- lower the number of positive tests by encouraging social distancing and mask use, while requesting people stay home.
- reduce access to the country
- wait for a vaccine and for the whole thing to blow over.
This is not significantly different from how the United States is handling it, with 2 significant differences:
- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may have slow-walked the government’s response in order to preserve the chance of holding the Olympics here this year, but he has not been lying about its seriousness.
- Japan lacks a MAGA crowd arguing for re-opening the economy without proper precautions, perhaps because Japan views itself as homogeneous. When most of the people affected in America by COVID-19 are people of color, it is no big deal for supporters of white privilege to push for the right for those people to die for the sake of the economy.
Because of this nexus between Japan’s governmental inaction and a white-privilege lobby pushing for policies that will lead to more and more deaths, it wouldn’t surprise me if 2020 is the first year since 1945 with no professional baseball in Japan.
May 4 – (15,078) Tokyo 87. The government announces that the national state of emergency will be extended to May 31. In response, Nippon Professional Baseball will hold an emergency owners meeting on May 12, when this summer’s all-star series will likely be canceled.
The 12 teams, who had been eying a start to the season in June are now talking about late June or early July.
Upon hearing the official word of the state of emergency, the Japan Sumo Association said it will cancel its Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo. The 15-day event’s start was pushed back two weeks to May 24, but now becomes the first in nine years to be canceled since the March 2011 tourney was called off in the wake of a match-fixing scandal.
May 3 – (15,078) Tokyo 91.
May 2 – () Tokyo 159.
April 27 – (13,614) Tokyo 32.
Tokyo’s new infection count is the lowest since 17 on March 24
April 26 – () Tokyo 72. The Lotte Marines announce players can resume independent practice at their home park, Zozo Marine Stadium, and minor league facility, Lotte Urawa Stadium from Monday, April 27. Players will train in 20 groups of up to four each, with players able to use facilities every other day for up to two hours, with limits on how many players can be in different areas of the facilities at any one time. The facilities were closed to players on April 15.
The 72 announced new infections in Tokyo are the fewest since March 30.
April 25 – (13,231) Tokyo 103. The Japan Sumo Association announces wrestlers and one sumo elder, stablemaster Takadagawa, have been hospitalized after testing positive.
April 24 – () Tokyo 161. The five-team Western League changes the venues of 16 games scheduled between May 31 and Aug. 9, switching them from remote locations to the clubs’ main parks.
Sports Nippon reports that the earliest start date for the NPB season is June 19.
April 23 – (12,286) Tokyo 134. NPB commissioner Atsushi Saito declares that official games played behind closed doors is now an inevitability after resisting that option for nearly two months.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike announces that as far as Tokyo is concerned, the annual Golden Week extended holiday should be the “Stay at home week.”
The three Hanshin Tigers players who were infected by the new coronavirus in March resumed practicing.
April 22 – () Tokyo 132. Japan’s national death toll is announced as 304.
April 21 – () Tokyo 123
April 20 – () Tokyo 102
April 19 – () Tokyo 107
April 18 – () Tokyo 181
April 17 – () Tokyo 201* The Hiroshima Carp divide their roster into four training groups, two of which will practice in the morning, and two in the afternoon. Players will train for three days and take one day off. Training in this fashion will begin on April 19 following a day off.
April 16 – () Tokyo 149
April 15 – () Tokyo 127. The Lotte Marines, whose home park, Zozo Marine Stadium is located in Chiba, east of Tokyo, closed its facilities to players, who had been training there since April 11.
April 14 – () Tokyo 161
April 13 – () Tokyo 91
April 12 – () Tokyo 166
April 11 – () Tokyo 197* Taiwan’s CPBL’s opening games are rained out. The season’s first official games have to wait until Sunday, April 12.
The Lotte Marines open team facilities to players but have divided the roster into four groups in order to encourage social distancing.
April 10 – () Tokyo 189*
April 9 – (?) Tokyo again declines to post an exact number for new infections, saying only “at least 180.”*
April 8 – (4,667) Hanshin Tigers catcher Kenya Nagasaka and pitcher Shintaro Fujinami released from hospital after bouts with coronavirus. PL announces that 12 games set for local venues in May, June, and July will be relocated.
Tokyo announces 144 new infections.*
April 7 – (?) A state of emergency is declared and for the first time since March 23, Tokyo declines to announce a specific new infection total for the day reporting only ‘at least 80’, harking back to the days before the Olympics were postponed when known infections were not published by either the Tokyo or national governments.
The Pacific League’s Lotte Marines close their facilities in Chiba and in Urawa, Saitama Prefecture. The Central League’s Yakult Swallows order players to stay at home until April 12. The PL’s Seibu Lions and CL’s DeNA BayStars, whose players had been allowed to train on their own, have been ordered to stay home three days a week.
April 6 – (?)
Tokyo announces 83 newly recorded coronavirus infections, while the government of prime minister Shinzo Abe announces it will declare a state of emergency to be applied to seven hard-hit areas in Japan including Tokyo and three of its neighboring prefectures, Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama.
April 5 – (3,654) Hanshin Tigers outfielder Hayata Ito is discharged from the hospital, the first of three Tigers players to be cleared and returned.
Tokyo announces a high of 143 newly recorded coronavirus infections. That’s an 11-fold increase over the outlier figure of 13 posted the Sunday before.
April 4 – (3,319) Yu Darvish joins Masahiro Tanaka in talking about an increase in racial incidents against Asians. On April 2, Tanaka cited “incidents in Florida other than the coronavirus” that made him fear for his safety as one reason for returning to Japan.
Tokyo announces 111 newly recorded coronavirus infections. Eight days after Japan first reached 100 infections in a day, 300 were recorded for the first time–despite a determined effort by the government not to test anyone who doesn’t show the most extreme symptoms.
April 3 – (2,935) NPB gives up on its plan to open the season on April 24, making it the third Opening Day target date the leagues have abandoned this year. They are now hoping for late May, but will for the first time just wait and see. Commissioner Atsushi Saito said playing games behind closed doors is no longer something they can reject out of hand.
Tokyo announces 89 newly recorded coronavirus infections, while Japan totaled 300 new infections in one day for the first time.
April 2 – (2,617) THe Central League’s six presidents meet online but decline to say anything about further postponing Opening Day ahead of a 12-team meeting on Friday. But afterward, a source reveals it will be pushed back until at least the middle of May.
Tokyo announces a one-day-high of 97 newly recorded coronavirus infections, while Japan announces 300-plus new cases for the first time.
April 1 – (2,384) Masataka Nashida, a two-time PL pennant-winning manager with the Kintetsu Buffaloes and Nippon Ham Fighters has tested positive.
Tokyo announces 87 new infections, a new high.
March 31 – (2,229) The six PL presidents hold an online meeting and decide NPB’s April 24 Opening Day target is going to be hard to meet.
The Chunichi Dragons announced their players will be able to work out at Nagoya Dome and Nagoya Stadium with coaches and trainers from Tuesday, April 1. Training times will be staggered to allow for some social distancing, while the players were instructed in ways to stay safe, according to Sports Nippon.
Tokyo hits a high of 78 new infections and Japan has 276 new cases nation-wide.
March 30 – (1,953) NPB suspends the minor league practice games from March 31 to April 6. These games had been going on even though the CL and PL clubs terminated their practice games a week earlier.
NPB secretary general Atsushi Ihara suggests that an April 24 Opening Day is not etched in stone, and indicates for the first time that NPB would actually consider the projections of experts.
The PL’s Rakuten Eagles, based in Sendai, suspend practices, while the Fukuka-based SoftBank Hawks, who had suspended baseball activities, announce they will resume from April 9 with players allowed to train at times that are staggered to allow for social distancing.
Tokyo had 13 new coronavirus infections, the fewest since it began publicizing these figures seven days earlier, while total cases nationwide increase by more than 200 for the first time.
March 28 – (1,693) Hiroshima Carp players rep Kosuke Tanaka and outfielder Seiya Suzuki question whether going ahead with the April 24 Opening Day is a smart move. Two women who attended a March 14 dinner with Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami have tested positive in Osaka.
Tokyo announces 63 new coronavirus infections, the highest figure yet. A day after Japan records 100 new cases for the first time in one day, on March 27, the nation records 194 new cases.
March 27 – (1,499) Two more Tigers players, outfielder Hayata Ito and catcher Kenya Nagasaka also test positive and are hospitalized. The Tigers suspend all team activities through April 10. Teams begin sheltering in place. No change in NPB’s target of April 24 Opening Day.
Tokyo announces 40 new coronavirus infections, the lowest figure in three days, but Japan sees 100 new positive tests in a day for the first time.
March 26 – (1,364) Shintaro Fujinami of the Hanshin Tigers becomes the first NPB player to test positive for the coronavirus. He reported losing his sense of taste and smell.
Tokyo announces a new daily high of 47 coronavirus infections.
March 25 – (1,307) The J-League abandons its plan to restart its season on April 3 and instead announces a May 9 restart.
Tokyo announces a new daily high of 41 coronavirus infections. Following a weekend when Tokyo’s parks were crammed with people drinking and partying under the cherry blossoms and coincidentally one day after Tokyo’s Olympics were postponed, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike instructs people not to go out on the weekend except for essential work or emergencies. She also asks people from neighboring prefectures to refrain from coming to Tokyo on the weekend.
March 24 – (1,211) Publicly pretending the IOC had not already decided to postpone Tokyo’s precious Olympics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that he asked Bach if he could postpone, thus saving face and pretending to be the only adult in the room.
Tokyo announces a new daily high of 17 coronavirus infections.
March 23 – (1,140) NPB resets Opening Day from April 10 to April 24, with teams saying they won’t play behind closed doors but will take special precautions to reduce the chance of infections. No specific mention is made of any kind of public threshold that would prevent teams from bringing 30 to 45 thousand fans into an arena to share each other’s breath. But things are good since the government is still saying the Olympics are on track for July 24 or are they?
March 23 – Despite International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach repeatedly saying through the weekend that he was fully behind a July 24 start to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, senior IOC member Dick Pound of Canada, whose team had already pulled out of the summer games, told USA TODAY that the IOC had already decided to postpone the games until 2021. This news is basically ignored in Japan. The IOC only comment was that Pound’s comments were premature.
Tokyo announces a new daily high of 16 coronavirus infections.
March 12 – (691) NPB resets Opening Day from March 20 to April 10, and announces that practice games behind closed doors will be played, ostensibly along the same lines as the already scheduled games — the clubs had airline train and hotel reservations… After conducting simulations, the teams decide that the last date they can start the season and still play a 143-game schedule is April 24.
March 11 – (635) Japan’s national high school baseball federation decides to cancel its spring invitational tournament, one of the year’s two big high school events at historic Koshien Stadium. It is the first cancellation in tournament history and the federation decided it was better to cancel than to play it behind closed doors.
March 9 – (523) NPB and J-League executives decide to push back the start of play after their second liaison conference.
March 2 – (275) NPB and J-League executives confer on how to go forward in their first liaison conference.
Feb. 29 – (243) First preseason games played behind closed doors.
Feb. 28 – (234) All members of the media attending games will have their temperatures taken and will be denied entry if they have a fever of 37.5 C. Orix Buffaloes players are banned from going out of the team’s hotel while on the road.
Feb. 28 – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asks all elementary, junior high and high schools be closed through the end of spring vacation in April.
Feb. 27 – (214) The Chunichi Dragons announce health protocols for reporters at their team’s games, while South Korea’s KBO cancels its preseason. Feb. 25 –
Feb. 26 – (189) NPB decides to hold its remaining 72 preseason games and other practice and farm instructional games behind closed doors.
Feb. 25 – (171) The Yomiuri Giants announce that their preseason games at Tokyo Dome on Feb. 29 and March 1 will be closed to fans, and that reporters will have their temperatures taken upon entry.
Feb. 25 – The same day, Japan’s pro soccer establishment, the J-League, announces the suspension of 94 games through March 15. Japan’s elite rugby competition, the Top League, suspends two rounds of games.
Feb. 15 – (53) The Lotte Marines ask fans to refrain from interacting with players, asking for autographs and giving them present. This came a day after Valentines Day, when Japanese ballplayers are typically deluged with chocolate.
Feb. 12 – (29) The Seibu Lions cancel two practice games against the Uni-President Lions of Taiwan’s CPBL.
Feb. 7 – (25) The Tigers ask fans to refrain from their iconic “jet” balloon launches during spring training and preseason games. They are joined the following day by the DeNA BayStars.
Jan. 31 – (17) The Hanshin Tigers announce that players attending fan events at spring training will wear masks, while reporters were requested to wear masks, gargle and wash their hands.
Jan. 28 – (1) Gerrardo Parra arrives in Japan wearing a mask. When asked about it he replies that he reads the world news.