Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball has announced that it will delay the start of the 2020 season owing to the worldwide coronavirus outbreak. Veteran reporter Jim Allen has the news from across the Pacific.
For the time being, Japan’s top league will push its opening date back into mid-April. It had been scheduled to kick off on March 20th. Whether further delay might be contemplated isn’t clear.
League commissioner Atsushi Saito framed the decision was an imperative. “We must protect the players, staff, families, but no one more so than the fans,” he said. “We must protect the cultural legacy of pro baseball.”
While NPB’s Spring Training contests have been taking place without fans in attendance, MLB’s Grapefruit and Cactus League action has proceeded as usual. The league has instituted some policies to help limit the potential for coronavirus transmission to or between players and others actually employed in or around the game. But fans have been left to make their own decisions.
By all indications from the scientific community, the questions facing the MLB commissioner’s office aren’t going to recede anytime soon. The dangerous Covid-19 virus is believed to have spread more broadly than positive tests reflect, with potential for exponential growth. Social distancing measures, including the avoidance of large public gatherings, represent a key tactic for slowing the transmission of the disease.
We have already seen several major events cancelled in the United States. The National Basketball Association has contemplated staging games without fans present. It seems that MLB will at minimum need to prepare for potential mitigation efforts — whether or not entered voluntarily or dictated by governmental action.
As Saito puts it, “if you have games you have to make a maximum effort.” NPB determined that the necessary level of precaution was not feasible. It remains to be seen how the matter will be handled in North America.