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Giants lead spring training parade

Date Posted: 2011-01-21

When strains of "Take me out to the ball game" are heard being hummed by young and old alike, it can only mean that it's baseball season, and this year's spring training programs are only days away.

The Yomiuri Giants are the biggest attention-getters even before the first bats are uncased, as the team gets settled into it's new home stadium in Naha City. The Giants, along with 11 other Japanese professional teams and four Korean teams, will call Okinawa home for the next month as they begin tuning up for the 2011 season. Only Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Seibu Lions will not train in an Okinawa location.

Spring training officially begins February 1st, but ceremonies that included raising the banners of each team's mascot in front of Okinawa Prefecture Hall took place month. The ceremonial start was sponsored by Okinawa Prefecture and the Okinawa Tourism and Convention Bureau Sports Promotion Committee. Okinawa's vice governor, Yoshiyuki Uehara, and Katsuya Nomura of the Rakuten Golden Eagles team, as well as other sports directors, turned out for the festivities. The banners will hang in front of the Prefecture Hall, as well as on Kokusai Street and at Naha International Airport, until Sunday.

From Nago in the north to Miyakojima and Ishigakijima in the far south of the prefecture, teams are warming up for the 201 campaign in the Central and Pacific Leagues, along with four 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, 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 Yomiuri Giants are at the new Cellular Stadium on the west edge of Onoyama Park in Naha, and the Orix Buffaloes are gearing up for the season at Miyakojima while Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles has their nest in Kume Island.

Also warming up on Okinawa for this year's season are the Hiroshima Carp in Okinawa City. Some teams will shift training camps to mainland Japan late in February, including the Orix Buffaloes and the Hanshin Tigers. Getting ready for the year in Miyazaki Prefecture, as are the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

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 Sunday, February 20th, when the Yomiuri Giants take on the Rakuten at Cellular Stadium in Onoyama Park in Naha. The game time is 1 p.m. A week later pre-season games really get to speed when Nippon Ham face Chiba Lotte in Nago, Chunichi Dragons Rakuten in Chatan, Yakutl takes on Seibu Lions, and Yokohama Baystars are against Giants in Onoyama on Saturday, Feb. 26.

Pre-season practice contests begin taking place from mid February at various training sites in central and northern Okinawa.

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