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Updated: March 10, 2020
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Grand Slam/Marco Stoovelaar
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Compiled and Copyright © 1997-2020 by Marco Stoovelaar

(Story by Marco Stoovelaar)

Season-start Japan postponed; MLB closes locker rooms

TOKYO (Japan) / NEW YORK CITY, New York (USA) - The opening of the regular season of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) in Japan has been postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Opening Day of the Japanese professional Major League was scheduled for March 20. On Monday (March 9), NPB-Commissioner Atsushi Saito announced that the start of the season will be pushed back and added that the decision had been made after consulting with medical experts. A new date has not yet been announced.

On February 26, after a meeting with representatives of the clubs, the NPB already had announced that (effective February 29), the remaining 72 pre-season games will be played with spectators. Other sporting events in Japan also have been cancelled or postponed. The NPB hopes to begin the season now somewhere in April and that it is the intention to playe the entire schedule. The last time the start of the professional season was postponed was in 2011 after the east of Japan was struck by a severe earthquake and tsunami. Back then, the opening of the season moved from March 25 to April 12.

,,These people are thinking about the health of the Japanese people'', said Alex Ramirez, Manager of Yokohama BayStars, in an interview in the newspaper The Japan Times. ,,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-Commissioner Atsushi Saito said in the newspaper The Japan News: ,,As professional baseball is supported by many fans, we, above all, want to protect them. We made the decision also because we need to protect the culture of professional baseball.''

It was also reported that the organizing committee of the 92nd edition of the annual National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament decided on March 4 that the event might be played without spectators or might be cancelled. The tournament, begins on March 19 and will be played in Hanshin Kōshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, near Kobe, in the Hyōgo Prefecture. The traditional opening ceremony of the tournament already has been cancelled. The Japan High School Baseball Federation will have another meeting on Wednesday to determine the status of the event. 32 teams coming from across the entire country annually participate in the huge event, which is nicknamed 'Spring Kōshien' or 'Senbatsu' and is attended by thousands of spectators. The tournament, which is organized annually since 1924, is broadcast live on national television. The Hanshin Kōshien Stadium was built in 1924 to host the tournament and has a capacity of 55,000. When it opened in August 1924, it was the largest stadium in Asia. Since 1936, the stadium is the home of professional NPB-club Hanshin Tigers (which back then was named Osaka Tigers). The tournament has never been cancelled, but it was suspended from 1942-1946 due to World War II. The 102nd edition of the 'Summer Kōshien', which is the National High School Baseball Championship is organized in August with 49 teams and is the largest amateur sports event in Japan.

Also on Monday, Major League Baseball (MLB), together with the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Soccer (MLS), announced temporary guidelines. That states that ''only players and essential personnel may enter locker rooms and clubhouses at MLB facilities''. The new guidelines will go into effect on Tuesday for games to be played in Florida and Arizona. During games in Spring Training and the regular season, it is common that journalists enter locker rooms to talk with players or managers and conduct interviews. As of now, Spring Training continues and it is the intention to start the regular season on Thursday, March 26, as scheduled.

On Monday, Major League Baseball had a conference call with all 30 clubs regarding the corona-situation. Afterwards, MLB issued the following statement:
,,The health and safety of everyone in our communities is of the utmost importance to us. We have been engaging on an ongoing basis with a wide range of public health experts, infectious disease specialists, and governmental agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to obtain the latest information. We are regularly conveying the guidance from these experts to Clubs, players, and staff regarding prevention, good hygiene practices and the latest recommendations related to travel. We are continuing to monitor developments and will adjust as necessary. While MLB recognizes the fluidity of this rapidly evolving situation, our current intention is to play Spring Training and regular season games as scheduled.
On a temporary basis, effective on Tuesday, only players and essential personnel may enter locker rooms and clubhouses at MLB facilities. In a joint step with other professional sports leagues, we are requiring that Clubs relocate media availabilities to another area in their facilities. Clubs will be expected to provide best efforts in facilitating usual media coverage and access to uniformed personnel and team officials in these alternate settings. Access for and coverage by the BBWAA and all media are vital to our game and we hope to resume normal operations as quickly as possible. We appreciate the media’s cooperation with this temporary step, which is being taken out of an abundance of caution for the best interests of all.''

(March 10)

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