An American’s Guide to Nippon Professional Baseball

With a 60-game MLB season, we’re missing out on a lot of baseball this year. It could be worse; we could’ve missed an entire season. But even with the hiccups so far with the partying Marlins and golfing Cardinals, it seems like we’ll at least get to crown a champion at the end October. 

Still, if my math is correct — and it almost never is — with two teams per game and 30 teams total that’s 15 matchups per game. We usually have 162 games and this year we’re missing 102. 102 times 15 brings us to a grand total of (drum roll please): 1,530 baseball games. 

That’s 1,530 final pitches, 1,530 seventh inning stretches, 1,530 chances at walk-offs or no-hitters. And if you factor in the cancellation of the minor league season that number is even higher. How can I call it summer without any Binghamton Rumble Ponies baseball? How do you think Jamie Farr feels without his Toledo Mud Hens! If you consider the possibility that 40 affiliated minor league teams will be losing their status before the 2021 season starts, things look even more bleak.

I love that baseball is back and this season has already provided its own share of special moments. But like many of you, I’m still craving more. Thankfully, the NPB has been there to help me fill that void. 

Nippon Professional Baseball has been around since 1949, although Japan’s first major team was founded 16 years prior in 1934. Due to the coronavirus, the league is playing 120 games rather than 143. It will have  a shortened playoff structure as well. 

The virus also forced the league to postpone opening day this year. But the season officially started on Friday, June 19. With no fans present on opening day, the NPB kept things interesting by hosting a dance-off between a group of robot cheerleaders

Here’s are a few other fun facts to get you up to speed on one of the world’s greatest baseball leagues:

-NPB rules are for the most part the same as the MLB. Although a smaller baseball and strike zone are used. The ballparks that Japanese teams use are slightly smaller than MLB parks as well. 

-NPB players are no strangers to tie games. A maximum of three extra innings are allowed during the regular season and playoffs, after which the game will be declared a tie. The seventh game of the playoff series is an exception to this rule. In an attempt to reduce virus-related risks, the league will stop games will after the tenth inning this year. (MLB games rarely end in ties, but we did see our first full game tie in a while during a summer camp exhibition game between the Yankees and Phillies this year)

-There are 12 teams in the NPB. Teams are split into the Central and Pacific leagues. Last year’s champion, the Fukoka Softbank Hawks are currently leading the Pacific league. The 22-time champion Yomiuri Giants are leading the Central. 

-The league has considered adding two teams to each league to expand the league to 16 teams. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed support for this plan. However, critics believe this could dilute the league’s talent pool and reduce the quality of play. 

-Some of the biggest MLB stars over the past 25 years have come to the U.S. after successful stints in the NPB. Dodger’s ace Hideo Nomo was the first, while other notable players include Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Shohei Ohtani and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Matsuzaka actually returned to Japan after the New York Mets destroyed his faith in American baseball clubs (maybe). He currently pitches for the Saitama Seibu Lions. 

The NPB season will conclude in early November with the Japan series. Each week until then The Challenge Sports will be updating you on notable matchups, our predictions and any changes to the NPB standings. So check back with us to stay up to date on the best moments of the Nippon Professional Baseball season.

BANNER: thatlostdog//Flickr

Writer, filmmaker, long-suffering New York Jets fan. Yes, I was watching when the butt-fumble happened. No, I don’t want to talk about it. Big chicken salad sandwiches guy– come to think of it, big all kinds of sandwiches guy. Reporting on the intersection of politics and sports, and international baseball leagues. Journalism master’s from the University of Oregon (Sco’ Ducks), undergrad at Binghamton University. Learned critical thinking by reading the racing form, won my first ever bet at the age of 7 on a 36-1 wire-to-wire winner. Post-pandemic you can catch me at the fronton throwing bread down on jai alai.

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