Japanese baseball fans, the wait is almost over. On the same day that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced an end to the nationwide state of emergency, Commissioner Atsushi Saito made an official announcement about the start of the season. All twelve teams will open the 2020 season in empty stadiums on Friday, June 19.
This means that exhibition games will be played from Tuesday, June 2 until Sunday, June 14. There will be no All-Star Games, no interleague play, and the Japan Series will begin on November 21. Because of the delay (but also due to gaining back the Olympic break), teams are expected to be able to play a 120-game schedule.
In an effort to assure dates for making up rainouts, the Central League, which has just two domed ballparks (Giants = Tokyo Dome and Dragons = Nagoya Dome), is more-than-likely scrapping its playoffs and sending the pennant winner directly to the Japan Series. The Pacific, which has three domed stadiums, will apparently consider shortening the regular season schedule if necessary to make time for a Climax Series.
Amendments to the regular season schedule have not yet been released, although it is expected that the Central League will make adjustments allowing the Hiroshima Carp to stay in Tokyo for longer road trips in order to play its road games with minimal travel. The same, to a lesser extent, will be done for the Hanshin Tigers and Chunichi Dragons. The Pacific, on the other hand, has been rumored to be shuffling the schedule to have six-game series instead of the typical three. This will especially help the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, who play their home games at the northern and southern extremes of mainland Japan, respectively.
There has also been some talk of putting a time limit on games. Back in 2011 when the start of the season was delayed due to the Tohoku Earthquake and its aftermath, tie games were not allowed to go extra innings beyond the 3.5-hour mark. It is possible the same rule be adopted for the 2020 season in order to lessen wear-and-tear on players, as well as to help reduce the risk of coronavirus infection.
Some of the import players who returned to Cuba during the COVID-19 crisis will not be able to return to Japan in time to play the start of the regular season. In particular, the defending champion Hawks will be without sluggers Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial until they are able to get back to Japan.
We would be remiss to mention that one of the nation’s treasures, the Japanese High School Baseball Championship, has been cancelled. The annual tournament, held at the hallowed Hanshin Koshien Stadium, has been around since 1915, and has only been previously cancelled twice: 1918 due to the Rice Riots, and 1941 because of worsening war conditions. (It was not even scheduled from 1942-45, mind you.) Prefectural baseball federations have been trying to find ways to hold some sort of tournament to somehow make up for this loss. It truly is a shock to the entire nation to not have this incredible three-week knock-out tourney to look forward to this summer. It would have been the 102nd tournament in “Koshien” history. Scouts who normally use the tournament to recruit players for the amateur draft every fall will now have to figure out a new way of evaluating young talent, who won’t likely be playing games in front of crowds this year.