Tag Archives: Opening Day

It’s not all about money

After meeting with health experts and his counterpart from pro soccer’s J-League, NPB commissioner Atsushi Saito then met baseball team executives. And though Saito did not announce a date for Opening Day — in keeping with Japan’s current pandemic view of “It will be over when it’s over” — he did say that could come as early as next Monday.

For the last 30 years or so, I’ve studied the differences between MLB and NPB and spent an inordinate amount of that time researching the cost and benefits of sacrifice bunts. But at no time has the difference between the two institutions been more clear than in the way they’ve handled the COVID-19 crisis. It makes me proud to know that my favorite team for all its flaws and all of NPB’s, plays here and is not associated with MLB.

Although NPB greeted the news of a pandemic with one new official Opening Day after another and MLB owners sounded like the adults in the room, saying “Let’s see how this plays out.” The roles quickly reversed. Since the end of March, when Japan’s Prime Minister realized that ignoring the virus while praying at the Olympic alter would not keep the games in Tokyo this summer, Japan has dealt with the issue in a fairly straight-forward manner.

In my homeland, it’s been different.

MLB owners: “By staying safe at home, you people are costing me money. Let’s talk about furloughs and pay cuts because I have a right to protect the return on MY investment.”

NPB owners: “We’ll beat this thing together. Stay safe. Stay ready.”

Frankly, I consider the words of NPB commissioners to be next to useless, but that was because of Saito’s predecessor, Katsuhiko Kumazaki. A former prosecutor, Kumazaki seemed to understand little about the game and really couldn’t give a straight answer to any question. But I’m becoming a fan of Saito, who seems to understand when to be precise and when to show his humanity.

I’ve written before about how Japanese businesses are constrained to some extent by the social demand that they show some concern for their employees. And though Japanese companies will happily tread over talented individualists while promoting incompetent flatterers, they still spend on “company vacations” for the entire staff. It’s more about appearance than real caring but that’s what is expected of them.

In baseball, teams run brutal practices and used to tolerate physical abuse by coaches, but pennant winners always get vacations in December — these days a paid trip to Hawaii for virtually everyone in the organization and their families. It’s expected. It’s part of the cost of doing business.

And while MLB owners are clearly using the pandemic to tighten the screws on labor and on the bargaining rights of amateurs, NPB owners have been behaving as expected, calmly, as if the players and their families actually mattered.

In the final question of Monday’s press conference, a reporter asked Saito if the owners had considered pay cuts to the players.

“At this time, that is something that we are not thinking about,” he said with a slight chuckle that certainly sounded like he was envisioning an MLB owner being grilled for the answer to that question.

NPB goes viral: owners talk potential June, july starts

The Daily Sports reported Wednesday that a meeting of Nippon Professional Baseball’s owners discussed three potential starting dates for a 2020 season that has been indefinitely postponed by the coronavirus pandemic.

At an extraordinary meeting of the owners committee held online Tuesday, the participants confirmed that Monday’s meeting of team representatives had selected June 19, June 26 and July 3 as potential Opening Days.

The Yakult Swallows communications department released comments from president Tsuyoshi Kinugasa, who is serving as the team owner’s proxy. He said the June starts would permit about 120 games to be played per team, while the July date would limit the scheduled to around 100 while mentioning that each league’s postseason playoffs were likely out of the picture.

“We will take into account the players, the risks involved in travel, everything,” the statement said.

Kinugasa emphasized that decisions would be made based on the practicality once Japan’s current state of emergency has been lifted. He said scheduling as discussed at Monday’s meeting, would be simplified.

“Our team (based in Tokyo) might normally play a series in Hiroshima and then return to Tokyo to play the Yomiuri Giants, then have a day off before traveling to Osaka to play Hanshin.”

“Now if we play in Hiroshima, we must stop to play Hanshin and Chunichi (in Nagoya) before returning to Tokyo.”

He also mentioned the number of games that can be held, with “120 matches” being secured at the start of June 19th, which is the earliest possible date, and around 110 games when it was the latest on July 3rd. However, he also pointed out that the climax series will be tough regardless of which candidate day it is held.

Going viral: NPB looking at May start

Although Central League executives on Thursday were mum on postponing Nippon Professional Baseball’s Opening Day for the third time in response to the coronavirus pandemic, that appears to be where the league is heading prior to Friday’s NPB conference according to Kyodo News.

The new prospective start date should be announced Friday but it will probably come toward the end of May.

Here is a link to my coronavirus-NPB timeline

NPB April start date springs leaks

Despite the teams’ chant of full-speed ahead toward an April 24 start to the season despite the coronavirus pandemic, Sports Nippon on Tuesday morning provided the first inkling that anyone in Nippon Professional Baseball is willing to consider anything else as they move forward.

Later in the day, the six Pacific League presidents met online and agreed that with infections on the rise, April 24 was probably out of the question, Sports Nippon reported.

“We started by setting an Opening Day target and teams have been counting backward from then to figure out when to resume practicing. But first of all, you wait until the epidemic settles down, then you resume practice and then you ask when Opening Day should be. That should be the normal order…”

Pacific League official cited by Sports Nippon.

NPB has now met three times with Japan’s J-League pro soccer executives to discuss how to proceed with their season and after meeting with a panel of experts, have twice pushed back the start of their season.

Here is a link to my coronavirus-NPB timeline

The story quoted secretary general Atsushi Ihara, as saying, “We are taking in the panel of experts’ evaluation, analysis and projection of the infection situation, and of course, we have to consider that.”

In addition to April 24, which NPB revealed in March was the last day their simulations suggested they could complete a full 143-game schedule, they have also run simulations for seasons that start on May 8 and May 15.

April 24 Opening Day is madness

Tokyo Disneyland may be closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, but Fantasyland is operating at full capacity in the halls of government and in the offices of Nippon Professional Baseball.

For three months, the Japanese government has been in full-fledged denial about how the spread of the new coronavirus might affect its staging of the Olympics. Schools were requested to close for all of March, and promoters of large events were asked to either cancel them, postpone or hold them behind closed doors, but the official insistence that everything would be alright and the Olympics would not need to be rescheduled has delivered a powerfully mixed message.

Through the weekend, the official message from the government and Olympic organizers has been that nothing would prevent the games from going forward as scheduled from July 24. This message was often delivered as: “We will take every measure to ensure the health and safety of the athletes and the fans, but the games will go on no matter what.”

On Monday, with the Olympics all but certain to be postponed until at least next year, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, who a few weeks ago asserted that there was no chance the games would be canceled or postponed, spoke of a possible lockdown in Tokyo for the first time if things get worse.

Yet, while Tokyo began talking about emergency measures on Monday, NPB and Japan’s pro soccer establishment, the J-League, announced it was time to restart their seasons in April with NPB planning to pack fans into its parks from April 24.

Obviously, this is not because Japan has the coronavirus outbreak under control since that is very much in doubt. Rather the reason seems to be NPB’s desire to get fans into the parks for a full slate of 143 games. On March 23, NPB announced it had run various simulations and decided that April 24 was the last day that a full schedule could be played. So now, “voila” there’s our new Opening Day.

NPB’s announcement on Monday sounds more like the old Olympic mantra: “We’ll do everything to ensure the safety of the players and the fans, but it’s our business and we’re going to play our games.”

So even if cramming 30,000 fans and a few thousand stadium employees onto public transit and into close quarters during a pandemic is a really bad idea, well 143 games is kind of important to us and our fans want us to play so there.

Although the government has asked companies to have employees work from home and midday trains in Tokyo are less crowded than usual, morning rush hour still sees people crammed together in rolling virus incubators.

People were warned this past week not to assemble in parks across the country for spring tradition of having picnics and drinking sessions under the cherry blossoms, but parks filled up nonetheless.

On Sunday, the promoter of a mixed-martial-arts event outside Tokyo defied government requests to put the event on hold and opened it up to 6,500 fans.

Many are encouraged by the fact that Japan has not buckled under the weight of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t still happen.

Japan’s infection rate has been slower than that of western European nations or the United States. And relative to those nations, Japan has acted quickly, but there’s also been a sense that the government is not giving us the whole truth. One can apply for being tested in Tokyo if they meet the following conditions.

  • In the past two weeks they have come into contact with an infected person, or traveled in an area with infections.
  • Pregnant women, senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions who have experienced cold-like symptoms, a fever of 37.5 C or higher, extreme fatigue or difficulty breathing for around two days.
  • A member of the general population experiencing the above conditions for four days or more.

Those satisfying the pre-conditions can then call and ask about being tested. It’s almost as if the government didn’t want to know the truth, lest the image of control was revealed to be just a facade.

There is a concern that many infected people with mild symptoms or none at all are circulating freely, encouraged by Japan’s officially low infection rate, and that the country is a viral bomb awaiting a trigger to go off.

And now with schools set to reopen soon, and pro baseball and soccer aiming to pack people into stadiums again, it looks like that trigger is being prepared.

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.

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.

NPB planning on delayed openers: Report

Japan’s Nikkan Sports reported Sunday citing a source in reporting Nippon Professional Baseball is taking the logical precaution of making plans for a delayed start to the regular season.

Despite the yet uncontrolled spread of the new coronavirus in Japan and around the world, NPB’s regular season is still scheduled to go ahead as originally planned before full crowds on March 20 — a week earlier than normal to allow for a Tokyo Olympic break. NPB’s Plan B, according to the report, would see the season start at the end of April.

All of NPB’s preseason games since Feb. 29, however, have been played behind closed doors. On Monday, NPB is to meet with Japan’s pro soccer establishment, the J-League, for a second time, when they will hear expert opinions.

The J-League was the first major sports body in Japan to act, suspending all play between Feb. 25 and March 15, but is also planning an alternative restart to the season in April.

The prime minister last month asked for all elementary, junior high and high schools to close through the end of spring vacation in early April, the start of Japan’s new school year. A number of companies have introduced “telework” from home by employees. Advertising giant Dentsu ordered such a move when someone in its Tokyo main office was diagnosed as having the pneumonia-causing virus.

The Dentsu headquarters building in Tokyo’s Shiodome-Shimbashi business district has forced eateries that served Dentsu staff to shorten hours or temporarily shut their doors.

On Sunday, the Japan Sumo Association will hold a tournament behind closed doors for the first time in history, when the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka begins its 15-day run in Osaka.

The first of Japan’s two major high school baseball tournaments, the national invitational is scheduled to start on March 19 at historic Koshien Stadium outside Osaka, but the National High School Federation has put off a decision whether to cancel or hold the event behind closed doors.

Perhaps the biggest focus in Japan right now is the fate of the 2020 Olympics, slated to open on July 24 in Tokyo. Organizers have been scrambling to downsize pre-Olympic events, but the government and the organizing committee have rejected any talk that a change to the main event is being considered, which is probably the most transparent lie in the history of transparent lies.