Nippon Professional Baseball was set to begin their season on June 19. Those plans may now be put on hold.
Professional baseball had begun once again in Asia. The Korean Baseball Organization and Chinese Professional Baseball League had gotten their seasons underway and were starting to bring fans into the ballparks. Nippon Professional Baseball was set to be next, with exhibition games until the start of the regular season on June 19.
At least, that was the plan until Wednesday. According to Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times, two players on the Yomiuri Giants, shortstop Hayato Sakamoto and catcher Takumi Oshiro, have tested positive for COVID-19.
According to Giants officials, the two only showed traces of the virus, but that is still concerning. The upcoming exhibition game against the Seibu Lions has been canceled. At this point, NPB has yet to announce how they will handle the season in the wake of their positive tests, but it is certainly not good news for those hoping to get the season underway.
Sakamoto is the reigning Central League MVP, leading the Giants to the division title. The now 31 year old shortstop had arguably the best year of his career in 2019, producing a .312/.396/.575 batting line, belting 40 homers and 26 doubles in 639 plate appearances
Oshiro split his time between catcher and first base last season, appearing in 109 games. In his second season in NPB, he produced a respectable .265/.330/.388 batting line in 329 plate appearances, hitting 16 doubles and six homers.
Even more important than their production, these positive tests underscore the difficulty facing all professional sports in their quest to return. Player safety has to be at the forefront along with the safety of any officials, security and stadium workers, and players remaining in camp. Considering these positive tests came back now after being administered on May 27, that is a decent span of time where others could have been infected.
Nippon Professional Baseball was set to return. But in the wake of two positive tests on the Yomiuri Giants, the start date of June 19 may need to be pushed back.