Mar 24, 2020 - Sports

The last baseball players standing during the coronavirus shutdown

Players celebrate after a preseason NPB game played behind closed doors last month. Photo: Jiji Press/AFP via Getty Images

With sports shut down almost universally, the two best baseball leagues outside MLB — Japan's NPB and South Korea's KBO — are still soldiering on, with numerous restrictions and safety measures in place, of course.

The state of play: NPB teams are playing preseason games in empty stadiums, and the league just set April 24 as the target date for its regular season to begin (likely without fans). KBO teams are playing intrasquad scrimmages while the league's preseason is suspended, but like MLB, its regular season start date remains a mystery.

What is the NPB? Nippon Professional Baseball, aka the second most competitive league in the world.

  • Origins: After a brief stint as an All-Star barnstorming tour, the Japanese Baseball League was formed in 1936 before expanding and reorganizing into Nippon Pro Baseball in 1950.
  • League format: 12 teams, split into the Central and Pacific Leagues. The Yomiuri Giants are the winningest franchise and are Japan's equivalent of the Yankees.
  • Famous players: Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Hideo Nomo, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Masahiro Tanaka, Yu Darvish, Shohei Ohtani.
  • Watch: Here's a highlight from a preseason game two days ago. The pitcher? 39-year-old Daisuke Matsuzaka!

What is the KBO? The Korea Baseball Organization, which trails only MLB and NPB on the global baseball stage.

  • Origins: The league formed in 1982 with six inaugural teams and has since expanded to 10.
  • League format: All 10 teams are in one large "division" and play every team 16 times for a 144-game season. The Kia Tigers have won the most titles (11 in 38 seasons).
  • Famous players: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Shin-Soo Choo, Ji-Man Choi, Jung-Ho Kang, Chan-Ho Park.
  • Watch: Teams are streaming their intrasquad scrimmages on YouTube.

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