Meanwhile, on the other side of the world from Target Field, the Yokohama Bay Stars lost 2 - 8 to host Yakult Swallows at Jingu Stadium in Tokyo on the evening of 7 August. Clad in his official Twins home navy Max Kepler jersey, your correspondent was there to provide a taste of live baseball in the time of Coronavirus.
The 2020 season began for Japan professional leagues in early June. At first, teams played in empty venues as they have thus far in the Major Leagues, but a few weeks ago NPB began allowing limited fan attendance. Jingu normally seats 39,000, but Yakult issues only 5,000 tickets at present, which go on sale about a week in advance. Apparently all of these games have been sellouts. It was impossible to obtain tickets to an earlier Giants - Swallows match as online demand overwhelmed servers. The tickets obtained for this game were dregs in the visitors section - all that was left just a short while after sales opened.
The game itself was over in a hurry on a very muggy night. Yokohama starter KAMICHATANI Taiga was tagged for four runs (three earned) in just three innings, giving up seven hits and a wild pitch to take the loss. The four relievers to succeed him fared little better against Swallows bats. Yakult starter YOSHIDA Daiki picked up his first win of the season riding 14 total hits, including a single of his own. Six of his teammates had multi-hit games: YAMASAKI Kotaro went three for four with a double, SAKAGUCHI Tomotaka banged out a triple and single, MIYAMOTO Takeshi and MURAKAMI Munetaka posted a double and a single each, and Alcides Escobar reached first twice.SHIOMI Yasutaka capped the slugfest with two hits, the big one a two-run line drive into the home fans' left field bleachers in the fifth.
This is what live baseball looks like during an epidemic: Although players are being tested, in the stands infection precautions were less than airtight (so to speak). Since Japan's nationwide capacity is only 33,000 tests/day, control of the contagion relies a great deal on Japanese conscientiousness and good manners. Fans were urged to mask up when not enjoying their beer and edamame (not often, it must be said), and to express support for their team with clapping instead of cheering, singing and shouting. Seating was not well planned. Somehow this ticket holder wound up immediately behind another fan and his buddy two seats to the left, while the three rows behind were completely empty for a number of seats in both directions. Ushers were not helpful in improving spacing, advising patrons to remain in their seats. Some of this advice was ignored.
Although the usual buzz and enthusiasm were sadly missing, the quiet was a welcome change for a non-Japanese fan. Blaring brass bands in both supporters' grandstands were of course not permitted to play. Surprisingly, there were not even any drums. Relief from the horns was complemented by an absence of constant fan chanting, which meant that the sounds of the game could come through. This being Japan, those with tender eardrums did not suffer strings of F-bombs coming off the field. However, the mildly obscene version of, "Get off the field, you bum!" ("Omae heta kuso!") could be heard on occasion coming from stands populated by fans in blue attire.
There was no appreciable change to how the game was played.As this is Japan, no calls were argued, running was station-to-station, and you could bank on a bunt with a runner on first and nobody out.;-)
It was a tonic to get back out to the ball park after six months largely surrounded by the same four walls. Once the right degree of physical distance between onlookers was achieved, concern over contagion receded and it was possible to enjoy even a one-sided affair like this. Going back for another game this season is probably not in the cards, however.It just doesn't make sense to expose oneself too much just for the sake of entertainment.Sadly, many more months will have to pass before we can securely enjoy the game the way we used to.For now some catch in the park, streaming from the Majors and televised local games will just have to do.