Virus postpones opening of Japanese pro baseball season

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              In this Feb. 29, 2020, photo, a ball boy walks with notice next to empty spectators' seats during play in a preseason baseball game between the Yomiuri Giants and the Yakult Swallows at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo. Japanese officials said Monday, March 9, 2020 they are postponing the start of the 12-team professional baseball league season because of the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
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TOKYO (AP) — Japanese officials postponed the start of the 12-team professional baseball league season on Monday because of the spread of the coronavirus.

The season was to open on March 20. Japan’s professional league had been playing its preseason games without fans because of the virus.

“I personally believe that we have no choice but to postpone at this stage,” Japanese league commissioner Atsushi Saito said.

Baseball officials said they were unsure when the season might start, but mentioned some time in April.

Japan’s baseball league last suspended play in 2011 after an earthquake, tsunami and the subsequent meltdown of three nuclear reactors in Fukushima prefecture, located 250 kilometers (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

The head of the soccer J-League said it was also extending its suspension of play. That league had suspended play until March 18.

“At this moment I think it’s very difficult to resume the matches,” J-League chairman Mitsuru Murai said.

An expert in infection control has been advising both leagues.

“We suggested at this point it would be better to postpone their matches,” said Mitsuo Kaku, a professor at Tohoku Medical and Pharmaceutical University.

Baseball and soccer are among many sports that have been shut down in Japan by the spreading virus, or taking place without fans.