Japanese baseball fan enters empty stadium via robot

Yomiuri Giants players talk to a fan, Futaba Tsuchiya, on a monitor after their game against Hiroshima Toyo Carp, held without spectators, at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo.
PHOTO: Reuters

TOKYO - One lucky baseball fan was taken inside the otherwise empty Tokyo Dome for Yomiuri Giants' win on June 23 via a monitor mounted on a robot she controlled from home.

Nippon Professional Baseball teams have begun their season without fans in stadia due to restrictions implemented to slow the spread of Covid-19, yet 14-year-old Futaba Tsuchiya was given special access via the monitor.

Tsuchiya also interviewed two Giants players and spoke to cheerleaders as she toured the 55,000 capacity Tokyo Dome.

Giants, Japan's most popular and successful team, are giving one fan the chance to interact with the players in this way during every home game, but only if they win.

Fortunately for the Giants and Tsuchiya, they edged Hiroshima Carp 3-2 to make it four wins from four since the delayed start of the season on June 19.

The NPB and the J.League, Japan's top soccer league, announced on June 22 that a limited number of fans will be allowed into stadiums from July 10.

However, in the meantime, the Giants are hoping to keep fans involved by displaying supportive tweets on the scoreboard between innings and piping in crowd noise during the game.

Players are being frequently tested and there have only been a small number of positive results so far, including two Giants players earlier this month.

In an effort to complete the season, the campaign has been reduced to 120 regular season games per team, while the playoffs have also been shortened.