Thrilling baseball games in store as spectators once again fill stands

The professional baseball season has arrived. Players are encouraged to engage in passionate play that will shake off any sense of uncertainty and energize the large numbers of fans who will fill the ballparks for the first time in ages.

The season opens on Friday for both the Central and Pacific leagues. In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic delayed the start of the season by about three months and there were no spectators. Last year, the season started with a limited number of spectators, but this year it can be held without a limit on the number.

This year will also see the return of the extended 12-inning system for the first time in three seasons. Last year, many games ended in ties, because they were terminated in the ninth inning even if the score was tied at that time.

Players have voiced their hopes, saying they are happy to be able to play baseball in front of a large audience. Each team is sure to carefully develop its tactics and play vigorously in the field.

Many fans who come to the stadium will be able to enjoy their fill of intensely fought games.

At Tokyo Dome, one of the largest monitors in Japan has been installed to provide a powerful visual display. To avoid crowd congestion, admission by facial recognition and cashless payments have also been introduced on a large scale.

In recent years, other stadiums have also begun to use large screens to show a variety of plays. Ingenuity in entertaining fans at the ballpark can further enhance the appeal of watching baseball.

The professional baseball community has been working with soccer’s J.League and experts to study how attendance of spectators affects the spread of infections. The data supported the conclusion that the risk of infection was low, as spectators are responsible about wearing masks and expressing enthusiasm for their teams in nonvocal ways.

An accumulation of scientific findings has made safe spectating possible and opened the way for large crowds to return to the ballparks.

While continued efforts on the part of baseball teams will be necessary, the cooperation of spectators is also essential to prevent infections. Visitors to the ballparks are urged to refrain from taking off their masks or cheering loudly during the games.

Last year, in a historic first, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and the Orix Buffaloes, both of which had finished last in their leagues the previous year, competed for the top spot in Japan. This year could be another highly contested season.

Most eyes will be on the new managers — Tsuyoshi “Big Boss” Shinjo of the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami of the Chunichi Dragons and Hiroshi Fujimoto of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks — to see how they will lead their teams.

Baseball fans are also looking forward to the performance of Kazuma Okamoto of the Yomiuri Giants and Yakult’s Munetaka Murakami, who competed fiercely for the batting title last year, and seeing fast-rising pitcher Roki Sasaki of the Chiba Lotte Marines in action.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 25, 2022.