Pro baseball teams should lift up nation with inspiring play on field

Spring has arrived and with it pro baseball. It is hoped the passion on the field will encourage a nation that is suffering from feelings of stagnation.

The season opens on Friday for both the Central and Pacific leagues.

Last year, the opening of the pro baseball season was delayed to June due to the coronavirus pandemic, and games were held without spectators at the beginning. This year, all stadiums can allow in fans. A cap on spectators is expected to be set at 50% of venue capacity in mid-April. Hopefully, many will be able to see the drama firsthand at the stadiums.

Considering that local governments are requesting that businesses shorten their hours, the two leagues will play no extra innings. This means that games tied after nine innings will end in a draw.

Quickening the pace of games has long been a challenge. Teams are urged to cooperate in ensuring that games do not drag on.

Based on last season’s experience, teams have stepped up their measures against infections. The Yomiuri Giants set up a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing site at its spring training camp in Okinawa Prefecture. The testing site was also open to others, including players and staff from other teams and members of the media, in an effort to help reduce the burden on local medical services.

Practice games were held without spectators, but exhibition games accepted them in March. In response to requests from local governments, teams cooperated on infection control measures, such as moving up the starting times of games. Such efforts surely helped result in having no cases in the spring camps or at preseason games.

Infection control measures will be strengthened during the season as well. Electronic ticketing and automatic gates have been introduced to avoid crowding among spectators. Some teams have started a service in which antibody test kits, used to check a person’s infection history, are sent to spectators before games on request so they can monitor their own condition.

Along with the efforts of the teams, cooperation from fans is essential to prevent the spread of the virus. They are urged to make sure to wear masks and refrain from loud cheering or using musical instruments in the stands.

Many foreign players were unable to arrive in Japan because of government restrictions on entry. They have been permitted to enter the country on an exceptional basis following the lifting of the latest state of emergency. However, there will likely be a power imbalance among teams for the time being. It is hoped that up-and-coming players will make the most of this opportunity.

Heading the list of this season’s rookies to watch is Teruaki Sato, the Hanshin Tigers’ top draft pick. Sato hit six homers in the preseason, setting a rookie record.

For this season, in the year marking the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, right-hander Masahiro Tanaka has returned to the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles following a stint in the major leagues. If Tanaka wins in his first start of the season, it will become his 100th career victory in Japanese pro baseball. Hopefully, the star will inspire the people of the Tohoku region with a strong outing.

The government plans to soon allow venues to welcome up to 20,000 spectators on the condition that they review the effects of their infection control measures. The findings from reviews conducted by pro baseball teams will be used in infection control measures to be implemented at the venues of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

It is hoped that the expertise that has been built in the pro baseball world will be used to help realize a safe Games.

From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 26, 2021