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Pro baseball squads invade Okinawa to train

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2012-02-03

It’s hard this week to decide whether to be humming “Baby It’s Cold Outside” or “Take me out to the ball game”, because both apply to Okinawa.

Ten of Japan’s twelve professional baseball teams have uncased the baseball bats on Okinawa soil to begin spring training, a harbinger that winter’s soon to be history and everyone will be playing the sport. Teams will train through the month of February at various spots on Okinawa, with three of those teams playing on other islands.

The Orix Buffaloes take their training to Miyako Island, where they’ll workout through the 17th. The Tohoku Rakuten Eagles are on Kume Island, training the first two weeks of the month at the local stadium. The Chiba Lotte Marines are on Ishigaki Island now for spring training.

The Yomiuri Giants will be getting a lot of attention from mid-month, when they begin training at their home stadium in Naha City. The Giants, along with nine of Japan’s other 11 professional teams, will practice in Okinawa Prefecture. In addition, five professional Korean teams, will call Okinawa home for this month as they begin tuning up for the 2011 season. Only the 2011 league champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and the Seibu Lions will not train in an Okinawa location.

Spring training officially began February 1st, with a ceremonial start sponsored by Okinawa Prefecture and the Okinawa Tourism and Convention Bureau Sports Promotion Committee. Okinawa’s political leaders, team officials and sports directors turned out for the opening festivities. Baseball team banners will hang in front of the Prefecture Hall, as well as on Kokusai Street and at Naha International Airport, for the next few days.

From Nago in the north to Miyako and Ishigaki in the far south of the prefecture, teams are warming up for the 2012 campaign in the Central and Pacific Leagues. The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, who captured the Pacific League crown two years ago, are in Nago. The Hanshin Tigers are also in north in Ginoza Village, while the Chunichi Dragons are in Chatan, the Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars are in Ginowan, and Tokyo’s Yakult Swallows are practicing in Urasoe. The Hiroshima Toyo Carp are in Okinawa through the 14th.

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 DeNA 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 is expected to get underway around the island shortly after mid-month. Pre-season contests begin taking place in late February at various training sites in central and northern Okinawa.

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