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Pro baseball teams swing into spring

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2010-02-04

The crack of bats is being heard across Okinawa Prefecture as ten of Japan’s 12 professional baseball teams opened their spring training rituals this week.

From Nago in the north to Miyakojima and Ishigaki in the far south of the prefecture, the ten teams are warming up for the 2010 campaign in the Central and Pacific Leagues, along with three additional teams from Korea’s professional circuit. All but three of the ten teams are working out on Okinawa’s main island, while the others are on outlying islands.

The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, who captured the Pacific League crown last year, are at Nago. The Hanshin Tigers are also in the north in Ginoza, while the Chunichi Dragons are in Chatan, the Yokohama Bay Stars are in Ginowan, and Tokyo’s Yakult Swallows are practicing in Urasoe. The Chiba Lotte Marines are at Ishigakijima, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles are going through their paces on Kumejima, and the Orix Buffaloes are gearing up for the season at Miyakojima.

Also warming up on Okinawa for this year’s season are the Hiroshima Carp. The team will shift its training camp to mainland Japan in mid-month, along with the Orix Buffaloes and the Hanshin Tigers. Three Korean teams, the LG Twins are at Uruma City’s Ishikawa district, the SK Wyverns practice in Uruma City’s Gushikawa district, and the Samsung Lions are also Onna Village for the pre-season.

The Japan Series Champion Yomiuri Giants are readying for the year in Miyazaki Prefecture, as are the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. The Saitama Seibu Lions will be in Nichinan, also in Miyazaki. The Giants are searching for a fourth straight Central League title this season, with all eyes on Tetsuya Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi, the 2008 Rookie of the Year, is making the transition this year from the bullpen to the regular pitching rotation. The Giants will make Okinawa pre-season home next year, moving into the new Onoyama Stadium being constructed in Naha City.

Baseball’s been a big business here in Japan since 1872, when Horace Wilson introduced the game to Tokyo audiences. Professional leagues were begun in 1934. The professional circuit is divided into two six-team leagues, the Central League with the Yomiuri Giants, Hiroshima Carp, Hanshin Tigers, Chunichi Dragons, Yokohama Bay Stars and Tokyo Yakult Swallows. The Pacific League is comprised of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, the Orix Buffaloes, Chiba Lotte Marines, Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, Saitama Seibu Lions and Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

Pre-season action on the baseball diamond gets under way Saturday, February 20th, when the Chunichi Dragons take on the Tokyo Yakult Swallows at Chatan Baseball Field next to Jusco in Mihama. Game time is 1 p.m.

Two pre-season contests take place Saturday, February 27th. The Yokohama Bay Stars face the Tokyo Yakult Swallows at 1 p.m. at Ginowan Baseball Field next to the Okinawa Convention Center, and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters take on the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles at Nago’s 21st Century Forest Park starting at 1 p.m.

The Tokyo Yakult Swallows go into action on Sunday, February 28th at 1 p.m., meeting the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters at Urasoe Baseball Field.

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