Design & Development

Fighters cleared to open 2023 NPB season in new ballpark

Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) club Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters has apologised after an agreement was reached that will allow it to commence the 2023 season in its new ballpark, despite the venue not conforming to league rules.

The problem emerged earlier this month as it was revealed that part of the field at ES CON Field Hokkaido fails to meet the standard set out by the official baseball rules in Japan. Under the official baseball rules, it is stipulated that 60 feet is required from the home plate to the backstop, and from the base lines to the fences, stands or other obstacles in the foul territory.

However, the new stadium currently does not fulfil the criteria, with this issue said to have been raised at a meeting of the NPB executive council on November 7. The proximity of the stands to the field, which is made up of natural grass, is one of the selling points of the new stadium and the Fighters had said they were looking into the issue.

Following a November 14 meeting of NPB officials and representatives of all 12 teams, an agreement has been reached on the matter. At the meeting, Koji Kawamura, president of the Fighters, was backed when proposing a plan to carry out repair works at the stadium in the close seasons of 2023 and 2024 so that the venue will be up to standard for the 2025 campaign.

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper said the NPB regulations are a direct translation of Major League Baseball’s official rules. However, the MLB version states the ‘60 feet or more’ distance is recommended, not mandatory.

HKS, the US design firm that has developed ES CON Field Hokkaido, said the blueprint for the stadium is based on the MLB version of the rules. This incorporated a distance of 50 feet from the home plate to the backstop.

In reaching the agreement, Atsushi Ihara, NPB secretary general, said: “You have to separate the case of a building that has violated the rules from discussions about revising the baseball rules.”

In a statement, Kawamura added: “I would like to sincerely apologise to all of our fans and related parties for the concern caused by the problem with the standards of ES CON Field Hokkaido. 

“Based on the concept of ‘viewing style’, we have been working to create a stadium with a sense of realism by referring to examples of MLB, such as ordering the design from an American design company (HKS) with a proven track record in MLB ballpark design.

“There were problems with the process, such as insufficient confirmation and consultation regarding differences in field regulations. Therefore, at the meeting of representatives of the 12 teams, we apologised and explained that we would cooperate with the FSE (Fighters Sports & Entertainment) to proceed with a renovation plan in the 2023 off-season in order to meet the standards of the official baseball rules.

“We have been allowed to start the 2023 season at ES CON Field Hokkaido and use it after that. Our team will make solid preparations for the opening of the season in 2023, and will continue to do our best to develop the baseball world and improve fan service.”

ES CON Field Hokkaido, first revealed in November 2018, is set to open in March. The 35,000-seat stadium, featuring a retractable roof, is now said to be at 95% completion.