Tag Archives: Atsushi Saito

NPB eyes opening to fans from July 10

In a show of cautious optimism considering the resurgent number of coronavirus infections in a nation that has seriously avoided testing, Atsushi Saito, the commissioner of Nippon Professional Baseball on Monday told reporters Japan’s two leagues would look to admit fans to its parks from July 10, the Hochi Shimbun reported Monday.

Link to my NPB coronavirus timeline.

After meeting online in a liaison conference with counterparts from pro soccer’s J-League and public health experts, Saito said that, government guidance permitting, up to 5,000 fans will be admitted to games from July 10.

“We believe we will be able to open the doors to fans from July 10,” Saito told reporters in an online press conference, four days after NPB’s 12 teams began their regular season three months late due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

If conditions permit, the clubs hope to admit crowds up to half of their parks capacity from Aug. 1.

Confirmed new infections in Japan by date

Data provided by the ministry of health labor and welfare.

Confirmed new infections in Japan bottomed out around 20 on May 25, when the government announced the state of emergency would be lifted nationwide, and NPB announced its season would start on June 19. Since then the daily new infection rates have rebounded slightly to 40 to 60 per day.

Although a majority of people are still wearing masks, restaurants, food shops, and bars that had been shuttered or empty are now filling up, with people crowded together.

All NPB players, team and field staff were tested prior to Opening Day and no new infections were announced.

Japan’s principle means of interdicting new cases is not increased testing as was promised after the Olympics were postponed in March but to restrict entry to Japan to citizens. Non-citizens, including permanent residents, some who have lived their entire lives in Japan are not currently allowed to enter the country.

NPB goes viral: season to start on June 19

On June 19, Nippon Professional Baseball will open its pandemic-delayed season, roughly three months late, commissioner Atsushi Saito told an online press conference Monday.

Teams in both leagues are slated to play 120-game seasons, with 24 games against each league opponent, no interleague, and no all-star break. Each team will have four practice-game series starting from June 2. The season will start behind closed doors as they have already done in Taiwan’s CPBL and South Korea’s KBO.

The timing coincided with the government’s move to lift the remaining areas under a state of emergency — Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures and the northern main island of Hokkaido.

“I am very pleased we could settle on an Opening Day,” Saito said in Japanese. “But we will prepare. It is important to proceed carefully to protect the players, the people connected with the game and their families. We have created detailed guidelines so we can safely hold games.”

Saito said there is no roadmap at the present for getting fans into the ballparks.

“We have been solely focused on whether or not we could even hold games without fans,” he said. “When the situation gets better, of course we will be able to think about fans at games, but we are not having detailed discussions about it. When we get to that stage, then we will carefully consider the necessary guidance to do so.”

On May 13, Kansai University economist Katsuhiro Miyamoto said the economic cost of not playing baseball games before fans before the end of June would be 72 billion yen ($673 million). Yet the teams here have been virtually silent about the costs to them of not being able to do business in a pandemic.

Team executives have discussed the need to rethink road trips, so while the number of league games will not change, the schedule will likely undergo a massive overhaul to minimize travel.

Although the Central League teams have expressed a willingness to ditch its playoffs that determine which of the top three teams reach the Japan Series, Saito said no decisions have been made yet.

Why Japan?

The decrease in new infections throughout Japan comes as something as a surprise since until March 24, the government spent much of its PR capital on declaring Japan would be a safe place to open the Olympics on July 24. Testing was withheld as much as possible and deaths were intentionally undercounted.

Although the government declined to ramp up testing until the start of May and has done precious little tracing, it did ask sporting events and schools to shut down from the end of February. Once the state of emergency was announced for Japan’s biggest metropolitan areas and Hokkaido in early April, the government asked non-essential businesses to shut down.

There is much debate about why Japan has suffered such a small hit from COVID-19 — although a vastly larger one than in Taiwan and South Korea, where with no Olympics to protect, tougher active measures were enacted quickly.

And though the government did try to put some spin on the issue, Japan was never treated to a propaganda campaign from politicians and a major “news” network against scientific findings and the potential dangers. We were told it could be very problematic from the outset.

It is likely the lack of politicising the response or a push to put people in harm’s way in order to protect the economy, that has allowed NPB teams to say, “We’d love to start thinking about fans, but safety is the most important thing.”

NPB goes viral: All-Star eclipse

Nippon Professional Baseball declined to name a date to start its season on Monday after a meeting with their Japanese pro soccer counterparts and health experts but did cancel this year’s all-star series, the Daily Sports reported.

“I regret to announce that we have decided to cancel the All-Star series and the Fresh Star (minor league all-star) game,” commissioner Atsushi Saito said. “This was the 70th year of the competition. There’s no excuse we can offer to the fans who have waited so long and to those in the game.”

At the start of the press conference, Saito said, “It is difficult to determine the opening date at the present time.”

The 12 teams had been eying June 19 as a potential starting date, but could not pull the trigger.

“Even though we couldn’t decide on a date, there are around the world and in Japan, discussions going on about exit strategies. Over the next two weeks, we will carefully monitor the situation. We will make steady preparations and buildup so that we might be able to open the season in the middle of next month.

Although the number of new infections reported in Japan has declined somewhat, the health experts warned the pro sports executives that “the situation remains unpredictable.”

Japan’s season was set to start a week early this year, on March 20, and end two weeks late, to allow for a three-week Olympic break. Since that was abandoned early in March, NPB has twice announced new Opening Day dates only to see those, too, become untenable.

NPB aiming for April 24 openers

After meeting for the fourth time with the J-League pro soccer establishment, Nippon Professional Baseball on Monday announced the Central and Pacific Leagues will aim to start their 2020 seasons on April 24.

The J-League has suspended play since the middle of February, while NPB completed its preseason games behind closed doors. The baseball season was originally set to start on March 20 in a season that would include a three-week Olympic break and would run until the middle of November. But due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, Japan’s government asked that large events be canceled to limit the spread of the virus.

When making the decision to delay Opening Day, NPB set April 10 as the earliest possible start time, and since March 20, teams have been playing practice games behind closed doors.

“It’s difficult to say that we will absolutely be staging games from April 24, but we will make a maximum effort to do so,” NPB commissioner Atsushi Saito said.

Opening season in April motivated by greed, not logic.

The PL will suspend its practice games from Tuesday and then resume baseball activities on April 10, while the CL will play its scheduled games on Tuesday and Wednesday and then take off until April 14.

The leagues are looking at playing six warm-up games before Opening Day, and expect to play a full 143-game regular season, although the Climax Series playoffs to determine each league’s Japan Series team may be abbreviated.

The teams are looking into measures that would reduce the health hazards by possibly restricting access to elderly fans and those with health conditions and perhaps keeping out fans who have just arrived from overseas.

When the April 10 date was set last month, late April was targeted as the last point at which NPB could still play a full 143-game full season.

NPB puts Opening Day on hold

Nippon Professional Baseball postponed the start of its 2020 regular season on Monday after an emergency meeting of the 12 teams’ representatives, commissioner Atsushi Saito said.

“How must we (pro baseball) act? We must protect the players, staff, families, but no one more so than the fans. We must protect the cultural legacy of pro baseball. That is why we made this decision,” Saito said.

Earlier, Saito said delaying the start the regular season was “unavoidable at the present stage” because of the risk that playing games in front of crowds will increase the rate of new coronavirus infections in Japan.

Opening Day was set for March 20, but it now appears that it will be put on hold until the middle of April. The last disruption this large came in 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami devastated areas of northeastern Japan and triggered a nuclear meltdown north of Tokyo. That season was delayed for two weeks.

NPB executives and their counterparts from Japan’s pro soccer establishment, the J-League, met with public health experts, who explained the risks.

“We can’t play games in the current situation, where for every one person in a large crowd, two to three more will likely become infected,” he said.

“If you have games you have to make a maximum effort. If you don’t have the ability to measure body temperatures, disinfect the stadium and equipment and so on, then you can’t be said to be doing your best.”

Since Feb. 29, all of NPB’s preseason games have been played behind closed doors.

Meanwhile, the government, while urging that people and institutions take the threat of infection seriously, has put its head in the sand about the upcoming 2020 Olympics, scheduled to open on July 24.

Former prime minister Yoshiro Mori, the head of the local organizing committee said, “It is impossible that the games will not go ahead as scheduled.”

When senior IOC member Dick Pound suggested that alternatives plans might somehow be necessary, Japanese lawmakers began hyperventilating, screaming for the heretic’s head.