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Lions maintain relaxed attitude before Game 1

by Kaz Nagatsuka

In many ways, the 2008 Japan Series clubs — the Yomiuri Giants and Seibu Lions — are similar. Neither of them are strangers to the Fall Classic. They’ve been winning thanks to their fierce offensive power, and both managers are young, vigorous leaders.

But the teams’ mind-sets were not necessarily identical as they entered Nippon Professional Baseball’s championship series.

The Lions, whose players are about four years younger than the Giants’ on average, looked more natural and relaxed, on the turf of the Big Egg before Game 1 began.

“We’re on the field as usual,” Seibu shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima said with his signature big smile after taking batting practice on Saturday. “I have a bit of nerves but it’s a positive thing. I’d like to contribute to the team anyway, and if the opponent shows room, I’ll aim at the next bases.

“But, that’s what we always do.”

Infielder Yoshihito Ishii, who had a phenomenal Climax Series against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, followed Nakajima with a mild grin.

“We don’t have much to talk about,” Ishii said with a laugh when asked what kind of mind-set the Lions have for the Japan Series. “We just play like every other game.”

Outspoken batting coach Hiromoto “Dave” Okubo stated that his players came into the series thinking as if “they feel they can watch the ballgames in the best seat for free.

“They (the Giants) get paid a lot more than (the Lions players) and I guess our players are going to play thinking they would like to give a scare. Our players are really looking forward to this series.”

Comical moment: During a workout with only the catchers, Seibu’s battery coach Katsuya Soma had a hard time hitting pop flies to his pupils and, for a short while, couldn’t give them practice.

But when he finally launched a barely catchable fly, Soma, laughing loudly, said, “Did you look at that! I’m hot! I’m in Japan Series mode!”

The catchers had to return to the dugout with bitter smiles, instead.

Bleacher talk: Seibu skipper Hisanobu Watanabe was equally loose. But as game time was drawing near and fans were filling the seats, he confessed to a “compliment,” pointing his finger to the left-field bleachers, which, he claimed, more of which were supposed to be painted in Lions blue.

“I can’t understand that there are orange seats out there,” Watanabe said. “Tokyo is close (to Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture) and there should be more Lions fans, I guess.”

Yet, at last, Watanabe was joking as well. It was unclear if he was talking about a particular couple. But observing the left-center field area that was mixed with “blue” and “orange,” he teasingly said, “Well, I guess the guy is a Seibu (fan) and his girlfriend is a Kyojin fan.”

No room to smile: While the Giants are favored in the Japan Series, they have a slight issue behind the plate. Regular catcher Shinnosuke Abe has an injured right shoulder and will not be able to put on his glove and catcher’s equipment in the series.

Although Abe’s shoulder is getting better and he can play as a pinch hitter or designated hitter, his batting practice before the game indicated that he is not fully recovered as he struggled to make clear contact with the ball and kept popping up.

But the good news is that Kazunari Tsuruoka, who joined Yomiuri in a trade during the summer, has done a decent job filling in for Abe, and it appears that he’s on a roll offensively.

In addition, the 31-year-old ex-Yokohama BayStar was making solid contact with practice pitches, hitting the ball to the opposite field.