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Taiwan first in world to resume pro baseball amid pandemic

Spectator-less season will kick off on Friday with Rakuten Monkeys playing Chinatrust Brothers

CPBL's temporary logo reminds people to wash their hands amid pandemic. (Twitter/CPBL image)

CPBL's temporary logo reminds people to wash their hands amid pandemic. (Twitter/CPBL image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan’s professional baseball league will become the first in the world to start its 2020 season as many countries have been forced to delay or cancel sports events due to the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The country’s Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) is set to begin its new season on Friday (April 11), with ballparks closed to the public as a precaution against the coronavirus. Throughout the season, matches will only be attended by team members, league and stadium staff, cheerleaders, and journalists.

The opening game will take place in Taoyuan City on Friday evening, with the home team and last year’s champions, Rakuten Monkeys, competing against the Chinatrust Brothers. CPBL President John Wu (吳志揚) has called on baseball fans to stay home for the broadcast and refrain from gathering outside the baseball stadium to avoid potential exposures to the virus.

The league will also implement strict preventive measures at stadiums, training fields, and hotels that will receive baseball players following the advice of experts and the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), the CPBL said via a statement. It has also simplified game schedules to ensure that teams will travel less during the season, the statement said.

Wu said it is important to keep the season going so that baseball players can continue playing matches and improve their statistics. Nevertheless, the season has been delayed for three weeks and promotional events were put off.

The goal of the CPBL is to finish the regular season, which consists of 240 games, according to Wu. He acknowledged the challenge of holding sporting events during a global virus outbreak, and stated that side events such as all-star and winter league games would not likely occur.

Since its initial outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, the coronavirus has sickened more than 1.4 million worldwide and killed at least 82,000 as of Wednesday (April 8). With governments issuing state of emergencies and cities implementing lockdowns, professional baseball seasons in a number of countries have been forced to postpone, which normally start in April.

In an article published on Sunday (April 5), Russell Flannery, the Shanghai bureau chief of Forbes, joined forces with other foreign media in praising Taiwan’s capacity to control the spread of the virus at an early stage. He wrote that by kicking off the professional baseball season, “Taiwan will soon achieve a 2020 sports feat that's eluded the U.S.”

The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) also tweeted about this accomplishment, saying “Taiwan’s CPBL to be first pro baseball league to open 2020 season (11 April).” Meanwhile, the South Korean KBO League is expected to open the new season on April 21.