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Bats are swinging as teams prepare for season

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2008-02-14

From Miyakojima to Okinawa, and islands in between, people are beginning to hum the tune ‘take me out to the ballgame’ as Spring training rolls toward the first exhibition games less than two weeks from now.

Sixteen professional baseball teams, including three from Korea, began going through Spring training paces on Okinawa February 1st, preparing for a baseball season that officially launches in March 20th. Aside from players, coaches and managers, many of the mainland Japanese teams have loyal fans that have flocked to the training sites to mix-and-mingle with their favorite stars.

Urasoe City is hosting the Yakult Swallows, while the Yokohama Bay Stars are in Ginowan and the Chunichi Dragons and its farm team are in Chatan. The Hiroshima Carp are working out in Okinawa City, the Hanshin Tigers in Ginoza, and the Hokkaido Nipppon Ham Fighters are in Nago. The Orix Buffaloes are bringing teamwork together in Miyako, the Chiba Lotte Mariners are in Ishigaki, the Rakuten Golden Eagles and its farm team are both on Kume Island, the Shonan Searex, a Yokohama Bay Stars farm team, is at Kadena Town, and the Nippon Ham Fighters farm team is in Kunigami Village.

Only three Japanese professional teams—the Yomiuri Giants, Seibu Lions and Softbank—have opened Spring training camps in locations other than Okinawa.

Korean teams are soaking up Okinawa’s warmth as temperatures across the southern Korea peninsula are in the sub-zero range. The LG Twins are in Ishikawa, Uruma City, the SK Weapons are in Gushikawa, Uruma City, and the Samsung Lions are working out at Onna Village.

Okinawan baseball fans are lining up to see Yuuta Omine, who was best in the nation high school tournament two years ago, as he is with the Chiba Lotte Marines. The Yaeyama commercial High School super star is a pitcher. Others are rallying around the Chunichi Dragons, a team that’s gone 53 years since winning its last championship. The Dragons are training at Chatan Town.

Youngsters of all ages with aspirations of playing professional baseball are gathering daily at the training sites, hoping for a word, or a tip, or even a smile from the pro players. In the intimate Okinawa training setting, players often take their bento or noodles and sit in the stands during breaks, mixing and mingling with spectators.

The opening exhibition game is February 24th with the Yokohama Baystars and Chiba Lotte Mariners squaring off at 1 p.m. at Ginowan Baseball Stadium near the Convention Center.

Two games are on tap March st. Nago Baseball Stadium hosts the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters against the Yokohama Bay Stars at 1 p.m., and the Yakult Swallows meet the defending Japan Series Champion Chunichi Dragons at 2 p.m. at Urasoe Baseball Stadium. Two games March 2nd pit the Chunichi Dragons against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters at Chatan’s Bseball Field starting at 12:30 p.m. The Yokohama Bay Stars face the Yakult Swallows at 1 p.m. at Ginowan Baseball Field.

The Yokohama Bay Stars have five new American players on the roster this year, while Manager Marty Brown of the Hiroshima Carp says he’s four new U.S. players at the Okinawa City training camp. Tokyo’s Yakult Swallows are preparing for a season under a new manager, Shigeru Takada, and without two American Stars, Alex Ramirez and Seth Greisinger.

Trey Hillman is gone from the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, replaced by Masataka Nashida. Popular American manager Bobby Valentine is leading his Chiba Lotte Marines through warm-ups at Ishigakijima Marines Ball Park, while Fukuoka Softbank Hawks manager Sadaharu Oh prepares for what many predict will be his final season in uniform.

Terry Collins, the American manager of the Orix Buffaloes, is settling in to his second year at the helm, working his team on Miyakojima. Escaping the snows in Sendai, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles are tweaking the plays at Kume Island.

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