The Nippon Professional Baseball season, which has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, will begin June 19, the league announced on Monday.
The decision comes after the government’s advisory panel approved the plan to end Japan’s nationwide state of emergency for the five prefectures still under the order, including Tokyo and Hokkaido, earlier in the day.
The 2020 campaign will begin without fans in attendance, though the league will continue to monitor the situation in hopes of allowing spectators into ballparks later in the summer.
Opening day was originally scheduled for March 20 before being postponed because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We’ve caused a lot of problems and worry for the players, staff and, first and foremost, the fans by constantly changing the schedule,” NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito said during an online news conference that followed an emergency meeting of league representatives. “But we hope to provide encouragement to the public, which has had to endure the feeling of being locked down during the quarantine period and also give guidance to other sports.”
While NPB teams normally play 143 games during the regular season, Saito said clubs would be aiming to complete 120 during the shortened 2020 campaign. The commissioner said his office was “not too far away” from revealing the revised 2020 schedule.
He hinted the schedule would be made in a way that lowers the risks of infection for teams in regards to games, practices and travel.
Some Japanese outlets have reported the Central League would abandon the postseason Climax Series, while the Pacific League would retain a shortened version of the playoff format. Saito insisted NPB and its clubs “have not reached a decision” on the matter. He said the Japan Series would be held, but did not provide a specific start date. The series had originally been scheduled for Nov. 7-15.
It’s also been speculated NPB would cap games at nine innings or put a time limit on when a new inning could start, though Saito would only say the leagues “are discussing it.”
NPB has already terminated the interleague portion of the schedule as well as the annual All-Star Series.
After delaying opening day, NPB formed a joint task force with the J. League and convened a panel of medical experts with the aim of determining the right time to resume their respective seasons amid the pandemic.
NPB will soon finalize its own guidelines regarding the virus and make those publicly available.
“While it’s a joy for us to open our season, we’ll need to proceed with the utmost caution to protect our players, staff and their families,” Saito said. We have to prepare with that in mind. That’s more important than anything else.”
Teams will prepare for the campaign by playing practice games from June 2-14. The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Orix Buffaloes were on the field on Monday, playing intrasquad games in their respective home stadiums.
Last Friday, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike revealed a roadmap toward restarting the city’s economy while securing the safety of its citizens. The plan stated that NPB and the J. League would be allowed to host games behind closed doors once the state of emergency is lifted.
The J. League is on track to announce plans to resume its season on Friday.
Saito said that the next meeting of the joint task force would be held on June 8.