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Central League’s reputation takes hit in scheduling row

by Jason Coskrey

The show must go on. At least so says the Central League.

The league’s old-school, bull-headed desire to begin the season on March 25 at all costs gave way slightly to the voice of reason on Saturday night. Not, however, before its reputation took a beating in some circles.

Agreeing to push its openers back to March 29 — a mere four days later — looks less like a concession and more like a bully, used to pushing people around, grasping for the last modicum of control it had left.

To its credit, the league will play as many day games as possible to save power, and will not allow games to go extra innings this year.

In the wake of the tragic events in the Tohoku and Kanto regions after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and an ensuing tsunami battered a section of the country and in hours nearly wiped decades-old cities off the map, baseball was in its proper place on the back burner.

The Pacific League, which fields a team in one of the hardest hit areas — Sendai’s Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles — decided in the wake of the tragedy, and the logistical problems it caused, that it would be best to delay the start of the season, planned for March 25, to April 12.

Rather than stand in solidarity with the six PL clubs, the CL teams, with the Yomiuri Giants reportedly at the head of the train, steadfastly stuck to a March 25 start.

Predictably, the decision was met with widespread criticism from many corners, including some members of the government, respected minds from the academic community and even the league’s own players, namely Hanshin Tigers star Tomoaki Kanemoto and Tokyo Yakult Swallows veteran Shinya Miyamoto, who each issued scathing criticisms.

“It might make sense to promote baseball when things improve,” Miyamoto told Nikkan Sports last week. “If they are thinking it would help now, they are not thinking about it in the right way.”

As with anything, there were differing opinions. While there were more players publicly against playing, some said it couldn’t be helped.

As for the CL leaders, they touted baseball’s role in the nation’s recovery.

Others pointed out playing games so soon after one of the most tragic events in the nation’s history wasn’t such a great idea.

Those voices should’ve been heeded earlier.

After all, it’s not like baseball was spared the impact of last week’s event. The Eagles have a stadium that at the moment is unusable and a fan-base that was among the worst off in Japan after the disaster. So why not stand together with the Pa. League and have both leagues open simultaneously on April 12?

Central League leaders cited professional duty and baseball’s place in Japanese culture as the reason they absolutely had to get on the field as soon as possible. It’s a fine goal, that in this case looks misguided at best and self-serving at worst.

Which is a shame, since on some level the CL is right.

Baseball could be a great way to help lift spirits and aid the recovery process.

But not yet. The wounds are still too fresh, the images of destruction still too vivid.

There is a time and a place for everything and baseball will have its day. The game is embedded in the very fabric of the nation and it can be a healing salve when the country begins to move on.

Yes, the games must go on, but at the right time.

The Central League had a chance to stand up and do the right thing from the beginning.

Instead, the league took a giant hack and struck out swinging.