Season to start April 10 at earliest

Japan’s Central and Pacific leagues’ seasons will open no earlier than April 10, Nippon Professional Baseball’s 12 teams decided Thursday. Opening Day was originally scheduled for March 20.

After a meeting of the teams’ representatives, commissioner Atsushi Saito said a number of simulations had been conducted. At present, the leagues’ playoff formats, known as Climax Series will be maintained on a schedule that will allow the Japan Series to be completed before the end of November. NPB player contracts expire at the end of November.

As the leagues did in 2011, when the season was delayed following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent nuclear disaster, practice games will be played in the time frame prior to the start of the regular season.

NPB’s preseason games have been played as scheduled, but have been held behind closed doors.

Stadium issues will also need to be addressed for certain teams in the postseason, whose stadiums may have already been lent out for other purposes from the middle of November. Teams are required to reserve their home grounds for potential use in the Japan Series, but the dates set aside for this year’s series are likely no longer in play.

In 2000, the Daiei Hawks were penalized when they were unable to hold a Japan Series game on the scheduled day. A few years earlier, when the Hawks were a PL doormat, they had committed the facility for use by a convention of neural surgeons.

The leagues were scheduled to take a three-week break so that no baseball would be played during the Olympics. The CL’s Yakult Swallows, whose home park, Jingu Stadium, is a few hundred meters from the Olympic Stadium, is expected to be turned into an Olympic parking lot and equipment staging area. Yokohama Stadium, the home park of the CL’s DeNA BayStars, is set to host Olympic baseball and softball.

The Swallows were set to use Tokyo Dome as an alternate home stadium before and after the Olympics.

Although the president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, former primer minister Yoshiro Mori, and Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike have declared any changes to the Olympic calendar “impossible,” there is a growing sense that the coronavirus pandemic will not allow for the games to go forward as originally planned.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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