Former MLB star Adam Jones signed with the Orax Buffaloes of the Nippon Professional Baseball league in December 2019 to extend his baseball career and provide new experiences for him and his family. Months later, the COVID-19 global pandemic rocked the world and made 2020 a year Jones and everyone else will never forget.
Jones spoke to Rich Salgado on Big Daddy & Friends (available on Apple Podcasts & Spotify) about playing in Japan, following an All-Star career in MLB, and his experiences of what life was like in another country during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the coronavirus took a toll on every country, the United States continues to experience the greatest devastation and challenges with it. Businesses closed, lockdowns have been in place and professional sports leagues like the NBA and Major League Baseball were forced to suspend operations.
With Jones thousands of miles away in Japan, MLB players dealt with the on-field and off-field ramifications of the pandemic. Months of frustration negotiations between MLB and the players’ union ultimately led to a shortened season, reduced player salaries and Opening Day not arriving until the middle of July.
Meanwhile, as many of his former peers and teammates were in lockdown, Jones and his family were able to enjoy exploring a new country and some opportunities that wouldn’t have been options if he remained in the United States.
While Opening Day of the 2020 MLB season didn’t happen until July, Jones and his teammates were back on the diamond long before then. The first pitch of the 2020 NPB season was thrown on June 19, without fans in attendance. However, unlike MLB, it wasn’t long before fans started to be welcomed back into stadiums.
As Jones shared with Rich Salgado, Japan took a cautious approach with 25% capacity allowed in the first couple weeks of the NPB season. With everyone in the country following safety protocols and taking precautions, COVID-19 cases started going down. Steadily, attendance at games was increased to 50% capacity and later 75% capacity inside stadiums.
Adam Jones: “People over there listen”
Meanwhile, in the United States, MLB couldn’t allow fans until the playoffs in September. Even then, it was mostly players’ families and fewer than 12,000 tickets were even made available. It took a toll on MLB revenue, with stadium attendance serving as a driving force behind a lot of the money that typically comes in.
For as much as MLB wanted to welcome fans in every stadium, spikes in COVID-19 cases across the country wouldn’t allow it. An issue that Japan largely didn’t experience, which Jones credits to everyone’s willingness to follow safety guidelines.
The patience and willingness to be safe, considering others’ health and wellness, paid off for everyone in Japan. Before long, as more states in the United States went into lockdown, Japan started opening up more.
Jones never could have foreseen what would unfold when he made the life-changing decision to play baseball in Japan. The 35-year-old is under contract with the Orix Buffaloes for the 2021 season, with preparations already being made for another great year of baseball in Japan. Meanwhile, with record-setting spikes in new coronavirus cases across the United States, uncertainty once again hangs around MLB.