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Pro baseball returned to Japan over the weekend. There were home runs, super plays in the field, highly anticipated debuts and fans in the stands. There were also, however, reminders things aren’t quite back to normal as NPB opens another season amid a pandemic, writes Jason Coskrey.

Take the length of games. With local and government officials continuing to ask bars and restaurants in the Tokyo metropolitan area to close early, NPB decided to limit games to nine innings this year.

But one thing hasn’t changed: Yoshiyuki Kamei is the Yomiuri Giants’ ace in the hole, writes Coskrey. On opening day, Kamei made his only at-bat of the night count, connecting on a sayonara home run to clinch an 8-7 win over the Yokohama BayStars.

The Giants' Yoshiyuki Kamei begins to celebrate after hitting a game-winning home run against the BayStars at Tokyo Dome on Friday. | KYODO
The Giants’ Yoshiyuki Kamei begins to celebrate after hitting a game-winning home run against the BayStars at Tokyo Dome on Friday. | KYODO

The MLB season, meanwhile, starts Thursday. Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said Sunday that right-hander Kenta Maeda will start in his team’s opening day game against the Milwaukee Brewers on April 1 — his first opportunity in the majors.

San Diego Padres pitcher Yu Darvish, meanwhile, spoke out earlier this month against hate crimes targeting Asians in the U.S., which have spiked in the pandemic. “Underneath the skin we’re all the same. It doesn’t sit well with me,” said Darvish, the son of an Iranian father and Japanese mother.

Tennis star Naomi Osaka also chimed in on the subject following the deadly shooting of eight mostly Asian women in Atlanta on March 16. “It’s really sad that this even has to be a hashtag/slogan,” Osaka wrote on Instagram about #stopasianhate. “It should be common sense but it seems like common sense is uncommon in this world now.”

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