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Day of decision: Japan's baseball executives wrestle over status of 2011 season

by Jim Allen (Mar 16, 2011)

Nippon Professional Baseball executives on Tuesday held extraordinary sessions, the outcome of which will decide when and how the 12 teams will begin their 2011 seasons.

The Central and Pacific leagues were scheduled to begin play on March 25, but Friday's 9.0 magnitude earthquake has threatened that schedule.

"We may have to postpone Opening Day," Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks executive Itaru Kobayashi told The Daily Yomiuri on Tuesday.

"We should play the season. Just standing still doesn't protect anything. Somebody should do some economic activity."

Sendai, the home of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, was hit hard by the earthquake and ensuing tsunami. Although Nippon Seishi Kleenex Stadium could conceivably be made ready in time for the March 25 opener against the Chiba Lotte Marines, the city's infrastructure is another matter.

Kunio Shimoda, NPB's secretary general, said Monday that of the 12 teams, "nobody believes they'll be able to play in Sendai on the 25th."

In addition to the Eagles' home ground, Chiba Lotte's QVC Marines Field is also unready for the season.

The quake caused liquefaction under the bayside stadium's parking lot. The Marines had hoped to begin playing exhibition games there on Thursday, but have since canceled their home games through Friday.

"In addition to the liquefaction, the quake damaged plumbing in the park and it's not yet up to standards that will allow us to play," said Akira Ishikawa, the Marines' director of baseball operations.

Each league's board of directors were to meet and discuss the issue and Shimoda said they would likely reach different conclusions.

For the past four seasons, both leagues have played 144-game schedules, but they have a long history of doing things differently. Although both leagues were scheduled to start on the same day, the PL has often opted for early openers.

None of the CL's home parks suffered significant damage. Other than disruptions to transportation and the availability of electrical power, there are few obstacles to that league playing on as originally scheduled.

With the situation in Sendai, it is easy to see the PL opting to delay the start of its season and reducing the number of games played.

Another option is for the Eagles and Marines to use alternate venues until they are able to host games in their home parks.

"We have offered the use of our stadium," Kobayashi said. "Kobe is also available."

The Eagles, whose last exhibition game was halted on Friday after news of the earthquake reached them, took to the field on Tuesday for a practice game at Yokohama Stadium.

All four of the preseason games slated for Tuesday were canceled. On Monday, an official with the Hiroshima Carp said that due to the current difficulties, the team will not travel to the Kanto region for its scheduled exhibitions.


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