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Chunichi begins preparations for Konami Cup Asia Series

by Kaz Nagatsuka

The Chunichi Dragons, who ended their 53-year NPB title drought by winning the Japan Series last week, went through a casual workout at Tokyo Dome on Wednesday afternoon to prepare for the Konami Cup Asia Series 2007, which begins on Thursday.

For Chunichi manager Hiromitsu Ochiai and his Dragons squad, it would certainly be an honor to add the champion’s flag from the third edition of the annual tournament to their memorabilia shelf.

But after winning the Japan Series, the Konami Cup may feel like more of a bonus or a reward to the newly minted NPB champions.

Ochiai and his players looked loose during their practice on Wednesday and did not make any brave statements ahead of their Asia Series debut.

“We’d just like to play good ballgames,” said Ochiai, who led his team to a second-place finish in the Central League pennant race during the regular season before finishing the year by going 9-1 in the postseason, highlighted by their victory in the Fall Classic against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

The Dragons will take on the SK Wyverns, this year’s champion in the Korean Baseball Organization at 6 p.m. That contest follows the opening game of the competition between the Chinese national team — dubbed the “China Stars” — and Taiwan’s Uni-President Lions, who won this season’s Taiwan Series, at noon.

One of the major concerns for the Dragons on Wednesday was their lack of knowledge about the other representative clubs as the Japanese champions clinched the Japan Series title less than a week ago.

Ochiai admitted that he doesn’t have much detailed information on his opponents.

“We’ve played some games,” Ochiai said, when asked about his knowledge of Korean baseball. “But it was part of our training, and frankly I’m not sure what type of baseball they play.

“So we need to realize it keenly in (Thursday’s) game. It’s actually not only the case against the Korean team, but we will also have to do it against the Chinese and Taiwanese teams. At this point, we just don’t know what kind of games they play.”

Chunichi closer Hitoki Iwase, who pitched the ninth inning of a combined perfect game with starter Daisuke Yamai in Game 5 of the Japan Series, said the Dragons’ lack of overall knowledge about their foes shouldn’t be a problem if they’re able to perform at their best.

“Before thinking about the opponents, you have to do your best,” Iwase said. “That’s the most important thing for sure.”