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Baseball squads gear up for an Okinawa Spring

Date Posted: 2005-02-04

Eight Japan professional baseball teams are now in Okinawa, training for the 2005 season.

Sports writers will be focusing on the Ryukyu islands the next month as squads go through their drills. A lot of eyes will be on the two new teams, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, owned by an IT company, and the Orick Buffaloes.

Tiny Kume Island, a short flight from the main Okinawa island, is hosting the Rakuten team. Kume, with a population of only 9,000, is capitalizing on the brief chance for fame, turning out to support the team with singing and dancing, flowers an the trappings of a festival. The 120 Rakuten team members, staff, coaches and trainers entered the city on a chartered bus.

The Kume Mayor, Ryuzo Takazato, joined local Chamber of Commerce members waving banners while welcoming the new team. As ceremonies unfolded, 2,000 flags whipped in the breeze.

“Wow, they’re bigger than they look on television,” said one youngster watching from a nearby fence. “It’s great,” he added, saying the players were “handsome.”

Sendai City officials, where the Rakuten Golden Eagles will play, were also on hand for Spring training. Representatives of the northern Japanese city, in Miyagi Prefecture, said “Okinawa is such a warm place and peoples’ support is great. We are so happy to come here.”

Kume Jima lobbied hard to host the team. It took more than ¥300,000,000 to upgrade facilities to handle a professional sports endeavor. Initially concerned about losing some money in their bid, the new union between Kumejima, Nakazato Village and Gushikawa Village provided more lobbying power. It also allowed government subsidies that will cover most of the expenses incurred.

Kume officials hope the team will attract many tourists from mainland Japan who want a firsthand look at their favorite team, while escaping the wintry blasts of frigid air.

The Orick Buffalo are now in Miyako Jima with its 85-member contingent. The team is new, the result of a merger between the Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Orick Bluewave.

Four water buffalo were at the airport to greet the new team, helped by both the players union and Japan Agricultural Bank. One of the buffalo will be presented to the team’s Most Valuable Player later this year.

Eisa, local baseball teams, plenty of children and flowers greeted the team as it arrived in the southern island paradise. More than 400 sports media are in Miyako as well, capturing every touch of the Spring training.

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