Safe to say, this isn’t how Cory Spangenberg expected this experience to begin.
When the Clarks Summit native signed up for a season in Japan with the Saitama Seibu Lions, he was ready to play in front of some of the world’s most passionate fan bases.
He’s still playing games, but the fans aren’t there.
Because of COVID-19 concerns, Nippon Professional Baseball is having its teams play spring training games in empty stadiums and the regular season is delayed until April 10.
“Its definitely strange,” Spangenberg said in a text message. “Sports are meant to be played in front of fans and are more fun in front of fans. When there’s no fans, it’s hard to get that extra energy and focus you pull from them.”
As of Wednesday, Japan had 873 cases of COVID-19 infections, according to the World Health Organization, far fewer than the United States (7,087). Spangenberg said he and his wife Julie are still able to enjoy their time, though they’re being careful.
“People here are very cautious,” he said. “Everyone wears a mask even before all of this. This country is so clean and respectful, so we’ve been able to explore a little. Not as much as we’d like to, but we’re not held up in our apartment.”
Spangenberg, who turned 29 on Monday, said the language barrier has been the biggest adjustment, but said his translator has been great and Google Translate helps a lot, too. Baseball-wise, things are pretty similar to the spring trainings he experienced in the San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers organizations. Days have early starts, then they play games in the afternoon.
“So far it’s been a good experience,” he said. “It’s been a huge change but the support here is great.”