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Rob Smaal

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Central League pushes back Opening Day to April 12

by Rob Smaal (Mar 26, 2011)

Succumbing to pressure from the government and its own players, the Central League agreed Thursday to postpone 2011 Opening Day until April 12, the same day the Pacific League's regular season gets under way.

The delay is a result of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left more than 27,000 people dead or missing, and has caused shortages of electricity and other basic needs.

Originally, the CL wanted to stick to its scheduled March 25 opening date. With pressure mounting, the league then decided to move the start of the season back four days to March 29, a move seen by many as not adequate under the circumstances. That resulted in Thursday's decision to wait until April 12, allowing all 12 NPB teams to start the season together.

"I appreciate that they made a big decision," said NPB players' association head Takahiro Arai of the Hanshin Tigers. "I believe voices from the fans and the players' association finally got through to them (the CL bosses)."

In order to preserve electricity, teams in the Kanto and Tohoku regions affected by the quake have been asked by the government not to play any home night games through April. The CL agreed to that Thursday, saying there will be no night games in April in those areas and that extra innings will not be played in games that go longer than three and a half hours.

Also, to save on power, no games will be held at Tokyo Dome, home of the Yomiuri Giants, through April.

Throughout this whole process, the CL's Giants, one of the most popular and powerful teams in the league, continued to lead the effort to start their season in March. But with the league's players strongly opposed to this, and with sports minister Yoshiaki Takaki and Renho, a state minister put in charge of electricity conservation, calling for more measures to conserve power, the Giants were forced to back down from that position and agreed to the April start.

The new schedule opens up the possibility that the 2011 season could now run into December.

"We'll carry on playing," said Arai, who vowed they would play all 144 games this season, plus the playoffs. "That was confirmed by the 12-member players' association."

Giants representative Hidetoshi Kiyotake said that stance was taken into account.

"The players' association said they would play in December," said Kiyotake, whose club will now play its season-opener on April 12 against the Yakult Swallows at Ube Municipal Stadium in Yamaguchi Prefecture, rather than at Tokyo Dome. "(We made the decision on the late start) based on their willingness to do that."

Rakuten Eagles manager Senichi Hoshino, whose Sendai-based club was most affected by the March 11 quake and tsunami, is glad the issue has finally been resolved.

"I think it's better for both the CL and PL to play under the same format, except for the DH," said Hoshino, who is in his first year at the helm of the Pacific League's Eagles. "It was the players' association, I think, that was most relieved (by this decision)."

In other PL news, the Seibu Lions have switched their April 12 season-opener against the Nippon-Ham Fighters from their home ballpark in Saitama to Sapporo Dome due to the possibility of rolling blackouts in the Tokyo area.


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