2020: An international baseball season like no other

2020: An international baseball season like no other
The third feature in the End of Year Review series takes a look back at the Baseball season, which can certainly be called unique.

In a year dominated by the global coronavirus pandemic and no major international baseball competitions staged for the first time in over 50 years, the 2020 international baseball season will go down in history as one of a kind.

A total of three WBSC Baseball World Cups, two Baseball Olympic qualifiers and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were originally scheduled in 2020 before all were postponed to 2021 for COVID-19 health and safety reasons.

With international travel greatly affected by the COVID-19 health and safety regulations, national leagues led the way with the return to play, providing an excellent illustration of baseball's adaptability and conformity.

International Season

International baseball was supposed to start in late March in Arizona, USA with the WBSC Americas Baseball Olympic Qualifier, followed by the last remaining opportunity to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Games -- the Final Qualifier that was scheduled to begin in early April in Taiwan. Both, however, had to be postponed indefinitely amid the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

WBSC President Riccardo FRACCARI stated that these were "unprecedented times," adding: "The strength of the WBSC community, and sport as a whole, can help endure these challenging times facing the world."

Not long after, the IOC announced that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were also postponed to 2021.

President Fraccari commented: "Baseball-softball’s anticipated Olympic comeback will have to wait a short while longer. But I have no doubt that when the Tokyo 2020 Games take place, our entire global family will rejoice as we make our long-awaited and spectacular return on the greatest sporting stage of all."

Baseball's 2020 international calendar included the fifth WBSC U-15 Baseball World Cup, the ninth Women's Baseball World Cup and the third U-23 Baseball World Cup. Mexico was previously awarded the hosting rights to the three world championships and will now host them in 2021.

The Women's Baseball World Cup is scheduled for 1 to 9 March in Tijuana, with the U-15 Baseball World Cup to follow a few days later, from 13 to 22 March, also in Tijuana. The U-23 Baseball World Cup is scheduled for 24 September to 3 October in Hermosillo and Ciudad Obregon.

Bubble Concept

Mexico set an example that could help shape and successfully stage future international competitions. The six-week Mexican Prospects League (Liga de Prospectos de México, LPM), organized by the Mexican Presidential Office for Baseball Promotion (ProBéis), was played following the guidelines for health protection issued by WBSC. The short season, in agreement with the Federal Health Secretary of Mexico and the Jalisco State Government, was played in a bubble and this limited COVID-19 cases.

The pandemic has prompted WBSC to think of potential new formats for staging, operating and hosting its World Cups in the future. Different working groups have been brainstorming with the intent to propose viable and sustainable new solutions to the WBSC Executive Board for the 2021 season and beyond.

Professional Leagues

The COVID-19 pandemic had a strong impact also on club competition at the professional level.

The first professional sports league to resume activity was the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL), a WBSC Associate Member, which opened its season behind closed doors in April.

The Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions were crowned the 2020 champions on 8 November in front of a sell-out crowd in Taichung.

Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), also a WBSC Associate Member, opened its delayed season behind closed doors, too.

From 30 October to 2 November, NPB ran a trial at the Yokohama Stadium, the main baseball/softball venue for the Tokyo Olympics, to run new and innovative COVID-19 safety measures. The venue was systematically filled for three games between the local DeNA BayStars and the Hanshin Tigers. The 34,046-seat stadium was filled with 27,850 fans.

The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks won their fourth consecutive NPB title on 25 November.

Also the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) was forced to delay its season. The NC Dinos won their first ever title on 24 November. The final series was entirely played at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, the only roofed stadium in the country. The dome was an official venue of the WBSC Premier12 2019.

Major League Baseball (MLB) was also impacted by the pandemic and used a WBSC-inspired extra inning rule during its shortened 2020 campaign.

The MLB season was also delayed and opened behind closed doors. The World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays was played entirely in Arlington, Texas, a neutral site for the first time World Series history. This gave the possibility to allow around 10,000 fans to watch the games from the stands.

End of Year Review series

2020 - Softball: U-18 Men’s Softball World Cup - Japan wins lone global baseball/softball event in 2020
2020 - Development: Global baseball-softball development doesn’t stop amid global pandemic
2019: Year in Review