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Nippon Pro Baseball set for June 19 restart

Nippon Professional Baseball's commissioner Atsushi Saito speaks at an online press conference on May 25, 2020, in Tokyo. Japanese baseball is set to open its coronavirus-delayed season on June 19. (Photo by Kyodo News via Getty Images)

Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, widely considered the world’s second-best baseball league behind Major League Baseball in North America, has announced plans to restart its delayed 2020 season on June 19 without attending fans. 

The league was originally due to begin March 20, but has been postponed due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The restart plan comes as cases of the virus in Japan have fallen significantly and a state of emergency imposed last month is being steadily lifted.

The move will make NPB the first pro sports league in Japan to restart. The June resumption target has been eyed for several weeks. 

A revised 2020 schedule will soon be released calling for about 120 games, down from the league’s normal 143-game campaign. Practice games will start June 2. A league All-Star Game and interleague play has been cancelled. NPB intends to allow at least some fans to attend later in the season, if possible.

“I hope we can provide some guidance for sports other than professional baseball,” said Atsushi Saito, NPB commissioner. “It is important to operate cautiously according to our guidelines.”

Baseball leagues in South Korea and Taiwan have already restarted, playing largely without fans, and the Korean games in particular are being shown around the world.