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Spring training opens for pro baseball squads

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2009-02-05

Thousands of men, women and children—lots and lots of kids—turned out at ball parks across Okinawa Sunday to welcome professional baseball teams as the annual rite of spring training got under way.

Eight of Japan’s professional ball teams are scattered across Okinawa for the month-long spring training, as are three of Korea’s professional teams. While most are on Okinawa’s main island, three are going through the warm-ups on Ishigaki, Miyako and Kume Islands.

The Nippon Ham Fighters are in Nago City, the Hanshin Tigers are at Ginoza Village, the Yokohama Bay Stars are splitting training chores in both Ginoza Village and Kadena Town, the Chunichi Dragons in Chatan Town, the Yakult Swallows are at Urasoe City, the Rakuten Golden Eagles are on Kume Island, the Orix Buffaloes are in Miyakojima City, and the Chiba Lotte Marines are training in Ishigaki City, the Yakult Swallows are at Urasoe City, the Rakuten Golden Eagles are on Kume Island, the Orix Buffaloes are in Miyakojima City, and the Chiba Lotte Marines are training in Ishigaki City.

Baseball’s a big business in Japan, with professional leagues dating to 1934. The sport was introduced to Japan in 1930 by Horace Wilson, and the first league was formed only four years later.

Four teams are training elsewhere, although one, the Yomiuri Giants, are headed for Okinawa once the new baseball stadium at Onoyama Park in Naha City is completed in 2011. The Hiroshima Toyo Carp, Softbank Hawks and Seibu Orion of Saitama are all training in mainland Japan.

Korea’s Professional Baseball League has three teams going through spring training here. The Korean Three star Lions are at Onna Village, the LG Twins are in Uruma City and SK Wyverns of Incheon are in action at Gushikawa.

More ball players arrive in Okinawa February 16th and Japan’s 42 members of the national team arrive to prepare for the World Baseball Classic. Lee Seung-Yeop, the Yomiuri Giants first baseman, has signaled he’ll not participate in the Classic for his home country Korea, but will remain with his team.

Squads began exercise routines Sunday, and will remain in Okinawa through late February. February 28th marks the first pre-season exhibition games, with the Chunichi Dragons facing the Yakult Swallows at 1 p.m. at Chatan Town Ball Park, and Yokohama’s Bay Stars face the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters at 1 p.m. at the Ginowan Baseball Field, next to the Convention Center. The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters take on the Chunichi Dragons in Nago on March 1st, while the Yakult Swallows match up against the Yokohama Bay Stars at the Urasoe Baseball Field.

Tickets are available at the Chatan Town Office, Chatan Chamber of Commerce, Jusco, all Family Mart convenience stories, the Chatan Tourism Association and Teruya Music Store. Advance tickets are ¥2,000 for adults, or ¥2,500 at the door. Youth tickets for those 4~15 are ¥1,000 in advance or ¥1,300 at the gate. Standing room tickets for adults are ¥1,000 or ¥1,300 at the gate. Youth tickets are ¥500 in advance or ¥800 at the gate.

The first mainland pre-season exhibition games run through March to the season openers April 3rd. The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters are in the Pacific League, together with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, Seibu lions, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Chiba Lotte Marines and Orix Buffaloes. The Yomiuri Giants, Japan’s most popular pro team and one of five in the greater Tokyo area, heads the Central League. Also in the league are Nagoya’s Chunichi Dragons, the Yokohama Bay Stars, Yakult Swallows, Hiroshima Toyo Carp and Hanshin Tigers.

More than 2,500 turned out Sunday to watch the Hanshin Tigers at Ginoza Village, enjoying Minoru Iwata, a World Baseball Classic player candidate, go through his routine. “Professional baseball players are great to watch,” said one high school student. “It is not the same as we play.” Others were captivated by Hanshin’s first baseman, Takahiro Arai, as he swung his way through an hour of indoor batting practice to work on his swing. Young people from mainland Japan’s Kobe district traveled to Miyakojima City, just to watch the Orix Buffaloes in training. “They are good looking and strong,” one boy said, adding “they are my dream. I feel so great.”

An Okinawa youngster who’s caught up in baseball fever has been chasing players for autographs. He’s already picked up autographs from 30, and has nearly 1,000 baseball cards, including 300 from current squads. “I’m going to get autographs for all these cards,” he said. Hundreds of spectators, from young children to senior citizens, gathered around Nago City’s ballfield, watching pitcher Yu Dervish, stopping him and crowding around him. “I want to be a pitcher when I grow up,” one youngster said after being near the right-hander has he began a 125-pitch bullpen workout.

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