Japanese baseball season to resume this June

SAKAMOTO Hayato  #6 of team Japan reacts to a strike during a Championship Round of the 2017 World Baseball Classics in the US. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
SAKAMOTO Hayato #6 of team Japan reacts to a strike during a Championship Round of the 2017 World Baseball Classics in the US. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) competition is set to begin on 19 June. It will be the first professional sport event to be held in Japan since the country went into a state of emergency in April.

It follows the footsteps of Republic of Korea and Chinese Taipei who recently started their 2020 baseball seasons, albeit behind closed doors to comply with sports guidelines and avoid the spread of COVID-19.

"It is with great joy that we have been able to decide on opening the season. But we believe it is from now that we must make thorough preparations without fail, and it remains crucial our efforts move forward cautiously while protecting our players, other people involved and their families," League Commissioner SAITO Atsushi said.

Japanese players are set to come back to training in 2 June.

As part of the government policy, players will compete minus the spectators. However by 10 July, up to 5,000 fans will be allowed to attend the NPB games. Additionally in 1 August, up to 50 per cent of the stadium capacity will be allowed.

Meanwhile, NPB All-Star Games remains cancelled.

Baseball in Japan – Tokyo 2020

Baseball is a hugely a popular sport in Japan and the NPB itself already accounts for 27 million fans, which is about 20 per cent of the Japanese population, according to a report from CNBC.

Baseball will also make it’s return the the Olympic programme at Tokyo 2020 - the first time since Beijing 2008.

As the host country, Japan has automatically qualified and will be competing with five other global baseball powerhouses for the coveted gold. It’s been over two decades since Japan won an Olympic Games medals, having won bronze at both Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1998.

However, with the Games being held on home turf, and with millions of fans behind them, there are high expectations for Japan to bring home the crown.

Japan had a very strong 2019. Japan’s national team featured at the WBSC Premier 12 held at a packed Tokyo Dome in front of Japanese fans in November.

It was the three run home runs of first baseman YAMADA Tetsuto that helped Japan to claim their first title while SUZUKI Seya was named the MVP.

These two players might likely feature in Tokyo 2020 including SAKAMOTO Hayato, who made three hits for Japan at the Super Round.

The Premiere 12 team was expected to form majority of the squad for Tokyo 2020.

But with the postponement of the Games, the selection for the final squad will be delayed by a year, and changes to the prospective line up might likely happen.

When asked what he thinks about Tokyo 2020, Suzuki said: “Of course players from other countries will be carrying their nations as well. Since we have the Olympics in Tokyo next year, I want to show that Japan is the strongest if I’m able to be chosen,” Suzuki told JapanTimes last December.

Japan’s national team called ‘Samurai team’ is currently ranked no 1 in the world by the World Baseball Softball Confederation.