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story.lead_photo.caption Hanshin Tigers players warm up before a game against the Yomiuri Giants on Friday at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo. Japan opened its professional regular season Friday without fans in attendance. (AP/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO -- Japanese baseball managed to do what American baseball has not -- play ball.

After a three-month delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the world's second-most famous baseball competition opened a season Friday that will be shortened from its regular 143 games to 120. That, of course, is twice as many as MLB figures to play -- if it plays at all.

The regular season had been scheduled to start March 20. It is slated to end Nov. 7, followed by postseason play.

It wasn't a perfect start, but all 12 league teams played. Two of the games were in open-air stadiums in Tokyo and Yokohama. They started about 30 minutes late with rain threatening.

The other four were in domed facilities in Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka and Saitama prefecture northwest of Tokyo.

"I'm very happy, very excited about today's game," said Alex Ramirez, the manager of the Central League's Yokohama BayStars. "Just to think about all the time we've had to wait, and stuff like that. It's just the best feeling."

All games in Japan will be played without fans until at least July. The league also has revised the schedule to limit travel. There will be periodic testing and quarantines and, according to league guidelines, players will be banned from spitting.

Teams can dress 26 players and choose from 31 players on an active roster. Non-baseball staff will wear masks.

Former Baltimore star Adam Jones went 0 for 3 in his debut for the Orix Buffaloes, a 9-1 loss to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Pacific League.

Former Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland pitcher Zach Neal threw one-hit ball for six innings to lead the Seibu Lions over the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in the Pacific League. Neal became Seibu's first foreign opening-day starter since Taiwan's Kuo Tai-yuan in 1995.

In the Tokyo Dome, Yomiuri defeated the Hanshin Tigers 3-2 in a Central League game, the Giants' 6,000th victory dating from 1934.

The orange seats in the dome were empty, save for messages in large, block letters across the seat that read: "Tokyo Pride" or "With Fans."

The stadium in Yokohama, which is the venue for next year's Olympic baseball final, was typical of the atmosphere. Seats behind the plate and down the baselines were covered with 5,000 large panels, most carrying faces of fans with various goodwill messages.

"I have been waiting for such a long time," a note on one panel read, written in Japanese.

Another said: "My heart is always here."

BayStars captain Kenta Ishida spoke in pre-game ceremonies, thanking health care workers.

"Thanks to the medical professionals still on the front line and many others who are supporting us," Ishida said. "Today, professional baseball can start the season because of them."

Japan has recorded almost 1,000 deaths attributed to the coronavirus. That compares to almost 120,000 in the United States, which has 2.6 times the population of Japan but about 120 times more deaths.

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Empty seats with orange jerseys are placed during a practice session prior to an opening baseball game between the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo Friday, June 19, 2020. Japan's professional baseball regular season will be kicked off Friday without fans in attendance because of the threat of the spreading coronavirus. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
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Ballboys walk an aisle prior to an opening baseball game between the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo Friday, June 19, 2020. Japan'fs professional baseball regular season will be kicked off Friday without fans in attendance because of the threat of the spreading coronavirus. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
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Spectators' seats are covered with large panels, carrying faces of fans with messages during an opening baseball game between the Yokohama Baystars and the Hiroshima Toyo Carp at a stadium in Yokohama, near Tokyo, Friday, June 19, 2020. After a three-month delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the world's second-most famous baseball league opened a shortened season Friday without the presence of fans. (Kyodo News via AP)
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Comedians perform in front of audience as a hall reopened after the closure of three and a half months, in Osaka, western Japan Friday, June 19, 2020. All domestic restrictions were removed Friday and people can now start travel anywhere in Japan. Physical distancing and other preventive measures remain in place.(Kyodo News via AP)
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A man stands at the empty seats with orange color jerseys prior to an opening baseball game between the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo Friday, June 19, 2020. Japan's professional baseball regular season will be kicked off Friday without fans in attendance because of the threat of the spreading coronavirus. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
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Tokyo dome is seen during a practice session prior to an opening baseball game between the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo Friday, June 19, 2020. Japan's professional baseball regular season will be kicked off in the day without fans in attendance because of the threat of the spreading coronavirus. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
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Humanoid robot Peppers are seen in the seats at a stadium during an opening baseball game between Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Chiba Lotte Marines in Fukuoka, western Japan, Friday, June 19, 2020. After a three-month delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the world's second-most famous baseball league opened a shortened season Friday without the presence of fans. (Kyodo News via AP)/Kyodo News via AP)
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Passengers wait for a bullet train at Tokyo station Friday, June 19, 2020. All domestic restrictions were removed Friday and people can now start travel anywhere in Japan. (Kyodo News via AP)

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