YOKOHAMA – The fog of uncertainty surrounding the NPB season hung just as think in the air at Yokohama Stadium as the gray clouds that hovered above the ballpark on Tuesday morning.
The Yokohama BayStars and Hanshin Tigers were supposed to play a preseason game in the early afternoon, but the game was called off because of the steady rain that fell on the stadium. They won’t have to wait long to get back on the field, however, as both clubs are scheduled to play on Wednesday.
As for when they’ll actually play games that count, that’s still up in the air after Monday’s announcement that NPB will push back opening day as Japan continues to grapple with the COVID-19 outbreak.
“These people are thinking about the health of the Japanese people,” BayStars manager Alex Ramirez said. “Fans, non-fans, the people. So I think NPB is very concerned about this situation. It’s something that we also have to be concerned about. Health first.”
NPB clubs had already been playing preseason games without fans in the stands, a decision made after an appeal from the Japanese government to limit large-scale gatherings in order to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Monday’s decision, delivered by commissioner Atsushi Saito, came after a meeting with medical experts, who advised the joint NPB-J. League task force earlier in the day.
“We’re in a situation right now where kids aren’t able to go to school,” said Tigers manager Akihiro Yano. “It’s a tough time for everyone, so we want to take this time to think about what we can do to give people a little energy.”
NPB has said it hopes to begin the 2020 season sometime in April and that the goal is to play the complete regular-season schedule.
So teams continued with their preparations for the season on Tuesday without knowing when opening day will actually arrive.
“We want to use this time until the season starts to just prepare as best as we can,” Yano said.
Yano and Ramirez were both still in their playing days the last time NPB pushed back the start of a season. That was nine years ago, in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011.
Ramirez, remembering his time with the Yomiuri Giants during that period, already knows what advice he’ll give his players over the coming weeks.
“Just stay in shape, just keep doing their routine,” Ramirez said. “Keep practicing, do extra work every single day and just be ready for the games. That’s the only thing that we can do. As a player, that’s what I did.”
A few of the BayStars and many of the Tigers took the field on Tuesday, playing catch while tarps covered each base. Neither club took batting practice and soon both were preparing to leave the stadium after the game was officially rained out.
“Since NPB made its decision, all the teams and players just have to follow it,” BayStars closer Yasuaki Yamasaki was quoted as saying by Sankei Sports. “Of course we want to come back together as soon as possible. I hope the decision about opening day is reached as soon as possible.”
Yano said the Tigers wouldn’t change much about their approach and would continue to practice and play in the spirt of their team slogan, “It’s Showtime.”
Ramirez planned to take a similar approach with his team.
“We just gotta continue with the plan,” Ramirez said. “Day by day, we just gotta do whatever we need to do and continue and just wait, as everybody is waiting for NPB to decide what day is going to be opening day.
“That’s all we can do. All the players know the situation and they know what they need to do to get ready.”