COVID-19 is pretty much the lone topic of conversation these days, and for obvious reasons. Japan has started to see a sudden surge in numbers as well, and it has directly affected the baseball world.
On March 26, Hanshin Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami went to a hospital in Osaka after complaining of losing his sense of smell. Hours later, his PCR test came back positive for COVID-19, and he was admitted to hospital. He showed no other symptoms, and up until the day prior, was practicing with his teammates. He has since regained his sense of smell, but will remain in hospital for at least the next week or beyond.
As it turns out, he and six of his teammates participated in a dinner party on March 14 that involved no fewer than 12 people in total. (Further investigation has indicated that the number of guests was likely higher, as people were coming and going at random times.) At present, two of Fujinami’s teammates, outfielder Hayata Itoh and catcher Kenya Nagasaka, have tested positive and are in hospital. They had complained of losing their sense of taste in the days prior to their PCR tests. Also, no fewer than three women who were in attendance have also tested positive.
The result of this, plus a spike in the number of infections reported in the Tokyo area, is that all NPB teams have completely ceased baseball operations. Until yesterday, some farm teams were still playing practice games and holding workouts at club facilities. Now, even farm games have been called off for a minimum of one week. There has been no update from the team owners, who apparently are still aiming to have the season start on April 24. According to this article from Kyodo News reporter Jim Allen, the date has been set with no regard for anyone’s health, but rather is an attempt to salvage the full 143-game schedule.
We will keep you posted on the latest developments in Japan.