Chinese Baseball League Is First In The World To Return After Coronavirus Outbreak, Includes Robot Fans

A baseball catcher wears a traditional mask and a medical one amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Gene Wang / Getty Images

Baseball is back — with some unusual fans in the stands.

The first regular-season baseball game of 2020 took place this weekend as the Chinese Professional Baseball League played its season opener, one of the first sporting events in the world since the outbreak of the coronavirus. As the New York Post reported, the league had been scheduled to start on March 14 but was delayed due to the pandemic. Opening day was scheduled for Saturday, but a rainout pushed it back to Sunday.

As the report noted, the league kicked off with a game between the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions and the Chinatrust Brothers, a contest without human fans in the stands. Instead, some robots beat drums in order to create something of a gametime atmosphere.

The game drew worldwide interest, including a full write-up from CBS Sports that included the game’s highlights. There were some connections to Major League Baseball, with the first home run of the league’s season — and the first meaningful home run of any kind in 2020, the report noted — given up by former Seattle Mariners and Baltimore Orioles pitcher Ariel Miranda.

China, once the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, has seen a steady decline in cases, allowing the league to return from its hiatus. The Chinese Basketball Association has announced plans to come back as well, though it is unclear when the sport will start back up again as the league reportedly delayed plans to start this month.

In the United States, there is no consensus over when the Major League Baseball season might start its 2020 season. The opening of the season was pushed back indefinitely as states across the nation instituted strict lockdown orders, and reports have indicated that the league is considering taking some unusual measures to bring baseball back. Two proposals include bringing all teams to Arizona or sending them to their spring training facilities in Florida and Arizona, playing an abbreviated season with realigned divisions. But both would have to wait until the nation’s outbreak has lessened.

Experts have said that any attempt to bring back sports will likely be unsuccessful until there is a vaccine for the virus, as continued outbreaks would force stoppages, as players and league officials come down with the virus and leagues have to move back into quarantine.

The Chinese Professional Baseball League season opener was won by the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions in 11 innings, with the game taking more than 4 1/2 hours.