NPB games are known for engaging antics that extend well beyond the play on the field. But what’s to be done in the era of COVID-19, when baseball is played in front of an empty stadium? For many — including Korea’s KBO League and the upcoming shortened MLB season — cardboard cutouts are an attempt to bring something familiar to the otherwise surreal experience.
Japan, on the other hand, is leaning into the surreality. The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks are getting some cheerleading help from a couple of familiar robots. SoftBank’s own Pepper and Spot (of the SoftBank-owned Boston Dynamics) formed the cheering section at a game this week, as the NPB team took on the Rakuten Eagles. The celebration is the first of many, running through the end of the month.
It is, as SoftBank notes, “the first time that Spot has performed a dance at a sports event.” Boston Dynamics’ robot has taken on a number of jobs of late, as the company has offered the quadruped up for sale — a first in its more than 25-year history. Construction and security are among the key uses for the ‘bot, though SoftBank is obviously equally interested in putting on a show. Pepper, the product of SoftBank’s 2015 acquisition of Aldebaran Robotics, meanwhile, has become a familiar sight in the hospitality industry.
When the shortened MLB season kicks off in the States later this month, many teams will be filling stands with cardboard cutouts. The Oakland A’s, notably, announced a plan to charge fans to have their likeness appear on the life-size cardboard facades.