Baseball is back…. for Chinese fans at least.
The Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL), based on the island of Taiwan, will be the first major sports league to begin its 2020 season on Sunday 12 April. It was supposed to kick off the day before, but a deluge of rain washed the game out.
Republic of China’s impressive response to the coronavirus outbreak meant that there were only a few hundred confirmed cases of the pandemic recorded on the island, out of a population of 24 million.
The growth rate of infection continued to slow over the past few weeks, to a point where daily life is almost totally back to normal - meaning CPBL officials are happy to finally play ball.
The league’s opening day was originally scheduled for March 14.
“If you came through here right now, it’s like a normal day, really.” Bryan Woodall, who has pitched the last five seasons in the CPBL, told Sports Illustrated.
“We are getting our temperatures taken everywhere, and we’re required to wear a mask… But we’re able to go out in public, we’re able to go out to eat, we’re able to do our own thing.”
Theses measures, in addition to swift restrictions on international travel, prevented widespread closures of schools and shops.
Turning to technology
However, there will be one very noticeable difference to the usual opening day of the baseball season... the stadium bleachers will be empty.
The remaining social distancing rules mean fans will have to stay at home. A maximum of 200 people will be allowed per stadium premises, including players, coaches, team staff, ballpark workers, league officials and the media.
But one home ground has come up with a bionic solution to the issue: raucous cheerleaders will be replaced by robots.
That’s right. The CBPL titled-defending Rakuten Monkeys announced that they will fill their empty seats with 500 cyborg mannequins in the audience, dressed up as fans.
The Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium-based team certainly won’t have to worry about fans exiting early in the event of a one-sided game!
The CPBL features a large number of American players who will feel a world away from their homeland, currently in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.
After completing a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon entering the Republic of China, it is business as usual for the players on the field.
“It’s kind of peaceful, honestly,” Uni-President Lions pitcher Josh Roenicke told Sports Illustrated.
“Games out here get so loud. But we’ll see how long that lasts, I’m sure it’ll get boring after a while, and hopefully fans can be in here sooner rather than later.”
The Baltimore native has been in a public quarantine facility since his return on March 29. That means staying inside a room, with meals delivered to his door three times a day and regular health visits from the island's Centers for Disease Control.
“It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It’s a small room, and, you know, there’s a lot of hours in the day.”
Sunday’s double header will see the Chinatrust Brothers take on Roenicke’s Uni-President Lions, while we will have to wait a little longer to see Rakuten Monkeys' robotic supporters in action, after their opener against Fubon Guardians was postponed due to rain.