Orix Buffaloes' Masataka Yoshida during a practice match
Orix Buffaloes' Masataka Yoshida during a practice match Image Credit: Twitter

Two Japanese teams held intra-squad practice games in empty ballparks on Monday as the Nippon Professional Baseball league nears a return from the COVID-19 shutdown.

The NPB season was supposed to start on March 20 but has been delayed due to the pandemic. Earlier this month, NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito suggested the season could start in the second half of June.

The Osaka-based Orix Buffaloes and the SoftBank Hawks, who play further south in Fukuoka, both held intra-squad scrimmages at their grounds on Monday.

Kyodo News reported that the Buffaloes allowed reporters into the stadium after requiring them to wear face masks and undergo temperature checks.

With the number of coronavirus infections falling across Japan, the state of emergency was lifted in Osaka, along with two other western prefectures, last Thursday. The measures had already been lifted in Fukuoka.

Japan will lift a state of emergency for Tokyo and remaining areas still facing restrictions on Monday.

The COVID-19 pandemic also forced Olympic organisers to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Games by a year.