Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball resumed exhibition play this week as it prepares for its new June 19 start date, but two players on the Yomiuri Giants have already tested positive for COVID-19, per Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times. Reigning Central League MVP Hayato Sakamoto and catcher Takumi Oshiro both tested positive on the first day that games were set to resume. Wednesday’s scheduled exhibition game between the Giants and the Seibu Lions has been canceled.
Beyond that cancellation, there’s been no announcement as to how the league will handle the pair of positive tests. Both players will surely be isolated, but the league’s overall health and safety guidelines aren’t yet clear. The Kyodo News wrote just yesterday that NPB was still in the process of finalizing those protocols, borrowing heavily from the guidelines utilized in the Korea Baseball Organization and Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League — both of which are now well into their respective regular seasons. The CPBL, in fact, has begun to allow fans to attend games — permitting up to 2,000 per contest as of mid-May, per FocusTaiwan. NPB has been aiming to play a 120-game season.
The pair of positive tests underlines the importance of Major League Baseball establishing health and safety protocols that are not only agreeable to players but as efficient as possible in terms of minimizing the spread of the virus. NPB is less than half the size of MLB (12 teams). The challenges of keeping 30 MLB teams, coaching staffs and taxi squads healthy (as well as umpiring crews, security workers, grounds crew, etc.) are plentiful. To this point, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have yet to reach agreements on either health protocols or player compensation.