Nippon Professional Baseball on Wednesday said it would hold all 72 of its remaining preseason games — called “Open” Games in Japanese — behind closed doors in a measure to restrict the spread of the new coronavirus. Also affected were minor league preseason “instructional” games.
According to worldometers, there were 172 confirmed cases of the virus in Japan, and concern is growing about the possibility that the outbreak will affect this summer’s Olympics.
The Japanese government has issued a report saying the next two weeks will be critical in slowing the spread of the pneumonia-causing virus. The move comes on the same day that Japan Rugby’s Top League postponed 16 games over two weekends, and the nation’s pro soccer establishment, the J-League, suspended all games until March 15.
Later that day, the Yomiuri Giants announced their two preseason games on Feb. 29 and March 1 at Tokyo Dome would be played without fans. The Giants have been urging other teams hosting their preseason games to also bar fans.
Because of this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, Nippon Professional Baseball has scheduled a break from July 21 — the day after the final All-Star game, and Aug. 13. The season was scheduled to open a week early, on March 20, with Japan Series Game 7 now slated for Nov. 15.
In 2011, the season started on April 12, two weeks later than scheduled. Two Pacific League parks, in Sendai and Chiba, suffered damage from the March 11 earthquake, while transportation, water and electricity were disrupted in many parts of eastern Japan.
Because none of the Central League parks were affected by the quake, that league, led by the Giants, wanted to push ahead with its plan to open the season in March, but the public outrage that followed the CL owners’ lack of sympathy forced them to wait two weeks.
The Giants being a leader in this issue is seen by some as the organization having learned its lesson from 2011, but I’m skeptical.
Having said that, this swift action is a nice change from the dithering and obfuscation after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that hit the 2011 season. No official game had ever been closed to the public before, so this is a pretty weighty step for a body that has been absurdly bad at making decisions.
The teams are hopeful to get started on March 20, but what the situation will be like then is unpredictable.
The preseason runs until March 15, while the two minor leagues, the Western and Eastern leagues, open on March 13 and 14, respectively.