The coronavirus has changed everything for the Ryukyu Blue Oceans, Okinawa's first-ever professional baseball team, who opened their inaugural season in January.
The team in Japan's southernmost prefecture resumed training on May 21, after having being forced to suspend the 2020 season in April. But like many sports organizations around the globe, the team is still unsure of its next move.
The Blue Oceans had been scheduled to play 50 games against Nippon Professional Baseball farm teams, corporate teams and the Taiwan national team, but its calendar has been wiped clean.
"We can't play games, and I'm afraid we'll be forgotten," said team founder and president Futoshi Kobayashi, a former pitcher for the DeNA Baystars.
With restricted access to stadium and training facilities, Blue Ocean players have been limited to individual workouts in public spaces such as parks.
Baseball clinics and fan gatherings, organized by the team in hopes of building relationships in the community, also had to be canceled.
Former Chunichi Dragons player Kyohei Kamezawa, who serves as both an infielder and fielding coach, continues to train at his new home in Ginowan, in central Okinawa, despite being informed of a pay cut.
"I'm feeling anxious about the situation I've been put in. I want to play games soon," Kamezawa said.
No baseball would mean a huge financial blow for the new team, which is supported by 50 corporate partners and individual sponsors.
"Honestly, we're hurting," Kobayashi says in regards to lost merchandise and concession sales and game day revenue.
The new team does not currently belong to a league, but will seek to join NPB, Japan's top pro baseball establishment.
NPB has been talking about a possible expansion from 12 to 16 teams sometime in the future. Okinawa Prefecture, a hotbed of spring training camps in February, is reported to be one of the areas being discussed as a host for a new team.
The Blue Oceans come with many familiar faces for NPB fans, with former Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles manager Yasushi Tao acting as the general manager, and former Chiba Lotte Marines ace Naoyuki Shimizu serving as manager.
The Blue Oceans have home stadiums in Ginowan and Urasoe, and a secondary home ground on Miyakojima island.
Contributing to local economies and increasing the number of participants in baseball are key to the Blue Oceans, who are giving ordinary citizens a chance to own a part of the team for as little as ¥100,000 yen.
"We ask that you support our team, no matter how small," Kobayashi said.
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