Taiwan's professional baseball league is preparing to welcome back fans

Mark Townsend
Yahoo Sports Contributor

(Coronavirus coverage on Yahoo)

It won't be long before we see fans attending baseball games again. It just won’t be happening at a Major League Baseball stadium or a Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) ballpark.

Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) announced Tuesday that it is preparing to allow up to 1,000 fans to attend games by week’s end. The official target date has been set for Friday, May 8.

You can bet MLB and the KBO will be paying close attention.

The KBO opened its season on Tuesday in South Korea without fans in attendance. While there are no current plans to allow fans back into ballparks, it could be a consideration if progress continues.

As for MLB, we’re still not sure there will be a season, let alone an opportunity for fans to return in 2020. Still, there are potential lessons to be learned. While MLB is a much bigger operation with larger stadiums and fanbases, the CPBL can provide a blueprint for what works and what doesn’t.

After all, when fans are eventually allowed back at MLB games, it will undoubtedly be a similarly gradual process.

CPBL leads baseball’s return

The CPBL was the first professional baseball league to reopen after sports leagues around the globe were shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The league resumed play on April 12, playing all games in empty ballparks. So far, the league has not experienced any complications or setbacks related to the virus. The decision to welcome back fans was approved after consultation with local health officials.

Specific details regarding social distancing guidelines and hygiene measures were not disclosed. All five of the CPBL’s teams are playing at their home ballpark. Each ballpark seats between 10,000 and 20,000 fans. That means each will be operating at five to 10 percent capacity when fans are allowed to return.

To date, the league has gained attention for having robots and cardboard cut-outs in the stands serving as "spectators."

Life-size cutouts depicting a crowd of spectators are seen placed in empty seating during a Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) game. (Photo by SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images)

How the CPBL safely returned

As the CPBL approaches one full month of uninterrupted baseball, some fans outside of Taiwan are wondering how the league has been able to safely operate. As league broadcaster Richard Wang recently told Sports Illustrated, it was all about pandemic prevention.

"The fact we are able to play baseball reflects the solid achievement of pandemic prevention," said Wang, who is also a WSBC Asia Correspondent.

"The government reacted swiftly, made a quick decision (to close the border) and made sure we will not be short on masks, among other medical resources.

"It was required by the government for CPBL to submit a pandemic prevention plan (with the help of medical personnel and authorities) in order to open the season."

The league is also maintaining social distancing measures. Players are not allowed to eat on the team bus and the only time they're allowed to remove their mask is to drink water. Media members are also required to wear masks, and are restricted from visiting the clubhouse or dugout.

The abundance of safety has served the league well and has given it confidence that fans will be safe to return. We’ll soon learn if that confidence equals success.

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