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Opening Day up in air: Pro baseball leagues split on when to start season

by Jim Allen (Mar 17, 2011)

After nearly five hours of meetings on Tuesday, Nippon Professional Baseball's 12 teams failed to reach a consensus on when and how the regular season will get underway.

The Central and Pacific leagues were unable to agree on when to start the season, with the CL looking to go ahead as scheduled on March 25 and the PL wanting to delay Opening Day following last week's natural disaster in Tohoku.

"We face numerous disaster-related issues," NPB commissioner Ryozo Kato said. "In the midst of that, we have to decide in which direction Japanese baseball will proceed. It's going to take time, and that can't be helped."

The only significant element the leagues agreed on is that all the teams will move forward together after exploring options and that NPB will contribute 100 million yen to disaster relief.

"We agreed that we would take these steps hand in hand," Giants representative Hidetoshi Kiyotake said.

Although the leagues agreed to examine the alternatives and options and reach a decision within a few days, no date or time was set for a resumption of discussions.

Friday's earthquake and resulting tsunami devastated Sendai, the home of the PL's Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. It is unknown when their ballpark and the local infrastructure will be able to support a regular schedule of games.

"A lot of different opinions were expressed, but now we are moving in the same direction," said acting Eagles owner Tomoharu Inoue. "I don't think we can start the season [on schedule] in Sendai."

The Eagles were scheduled to be at home on Opening Day against the Chiba Lotte Marines, whose stadium also suffered damage in the earthquake.

If the season's start is delayed, it will be the first time since the current two-league system that began in 1950.

"It's true that the leagues hold different opinions, but the PL's idea [to delay the start of the season] has solidified," Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters executive Toshi Shimada said.

Chunichi Dragons representative Norihiro Nishiwaki said it was not necessary for the two leagues to start their season on the same date.

"Rather than agreeing on having the same Opening Day, what is important is that we reach an agreement together," he said.

The players union, too, is hoping to postpone the start of the season.

Hanshin Tigers infielder Takahiro Arai, the head of the union, said the players shared the teams' desire to bolster the courage of disaster victims by playing.

"We are in agreement with the teams, but considering the circumstances, can we open the season in the 25th?" Arai said.

"The players believe a postponement is necessary, and we have informed [NPB] of our opinion."

Junsei Atarashi of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, who chaired the meeting of CL executives, said the players' concerns need to be considered.

"In the CL, our stadiums are intact, but we must gain the players' understanding before we reach our conclusion," he said.

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Eagles flee westward

The Eagles abruptly canceled Tuesday's scheduled practice at Yokohama Stadium after higher-than-normal levels of radiation were confirmed in the Kanto region.

The team boarded a shinkansen bound for Nagoya, where they will open a three-game series against the Dragons on Friday. The proceeds of the games will go toward disaster relief.

"I think this [charity series] is a good thing," said Rakuten slugger Takeshi Yamasaki, who began his career with the Dragons. "Even if it's just a little thing, we need to provide whatever support we can."

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Giants dig deep

The Giants on Tuesday announced that their preseason exhibition against the Marines in Kofu on Saturday will go ahead as scheduled with the proceeds to go to disaster relief.

The team announced it will contribute 30 million yen to victims of last week's Tohoku earthquake.


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