TOKYO (Reuters) – Opening Day at the 55,000 capacity Tokyo Dome, home of Japan’s most successful and popular baseball team the Yomiuri Giants, is usually a raucous, festive affair but this year the season began on Friday in almost total silence.
Nippon Professional Baseball, the second biggest baseball league in the world, began on Friday but without fans in stadiums following a three-month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As the Giants’ season opener began against fierce rivals the Hanshin Tigers, usually the hottest ticket in town, a few lonely fans wandered outside in the rain outside the Dome, unable to see their heroes in action.
Inside, the shouts of coaches, usually drowned out by Japan’s boisterous baseball supporters, echoed around the Dome and above seats adorned with orange Giants jerseys.
Banter from the dugout could also be heard along with the occasional drone from the commentator’s box.
The crack of bat on ball is a welcome sound for fans watching on television at least. The NPB is hopeful of welcoming a limited number of fans back into stadiums later in the season if Japan further eases coronavirus restrictions.
Before the game, both sets of players were introduced and the national anthem was played in a low-key ceremony that also involved Giants mascots and cheerleaders.
Reigning champions Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks went one step further, hosting a dance party between innings involving robots, cheerleaders and fans dancing at home.
A limited number of media could attend the game at the Tokyo Dome but only after recording their movements and temperature for 10 days leading up to the game and then having their temperature taken again upon entry.
Players are being frequently tested and there have only been a small number of positive results so far, including two Giants players earlier this month.
During the game, players are prohibited from spitting or giving high-fives and the Tigers players refrained from contact whilst celebrating Yuki Nishi’s opening run.
In an effort to complete the season, the campaign has been reduced to 120 regular season games per team, whilst the play-offs have also been shortened.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)