On Monday, the Pacific League’s SoftBank Hawks announced that its two big Cuban outfielders, Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial, had arrived in Fukuoka and had tested negative for the coronavirus.
This is good news for the Hawks and their fans and for the two individuals, who will be happy to get back to normal. But for other residents of Japan, it is one more discouraging sign that our lives mean less than ballplayers employed by powerful corporations.
Testing our patience
Until recently, Japan put numerous hurdles in the path of citizens and residents whose doctors wanted them tested for the coronavirus. Individuals had to have a few prescribed symptoms for up to four days and then get permission from a physician in order for someone working at a call center to decide whether the case merited being added to the list of those awaiting testing.
But ballplayers and professional athletes have been different. If, like Hanshin Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami, they reported losing their sense of smell or taste, they would go to the front of the testing line and have a result within 48 hours.
So far five ballplayers have tested positive for COVID-19, while everyone connected closely to pro soccer and baseball can be tested regularly in order for NPB and the J-League to resume operations.
Sports are essential
Soon after a state of emergency was ordered in April, some lawmakers suggested Tokyo’s National Training Center, where Olympic athletes train, should be reopened when private businesses were being asked to close their doors. The logic? It was essential for Japan to achieve its gold medal targets for the Olympics that the government now hopes to hold next July.
“Winning Olympic gold medals is essential,” we were told.
Of course they are essential, that’s why millions of dollars were paid in dubious fashion to help secure the event for Tokyo so that billions of dollars could be siphoned from the national treasury for a huge number of projects involved in the games.
Ballplayers are more important than us
In March, Despaigne and Gracial left Japan to receive treatment for minor injuries and train with Cuba’s national team ahead of qualifying for the 2021 World Baseball Classic.
The two remained in Cuba after qualifying was canceled and the start of Japan’s season was postponed. When Nippon Professional Baseball announced in May that its season would start on June 19, the pair were in Cuba, where international travel had been suspended.
Some fans expressed concern that even if travel was made possible between Cuba and Japan, the two would not be allowed into Japan since they are not Japanese citizens.
Currently, only Japanese citizens are allowed to enter the country. Residents of Japan, including permanent residents – many of whom are foreign nationals who have only ever lived in Japan – are barred from entry.
But if you can play baseball, いらっしゃい。(Welcome)