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Giants fans show spirited support on opening day

by Kaz Nagatsuka

After seeing a full-blown display of nationalistic pride in the World Baseball Classic with jam-packed stands, the Big Egg was again filled up. But this time with more of a local taste, one that was created by spectators cheering for their own, beloved franchise.

The majority of the fans who occupied Tokyo Dome for Friday’s opening day game were, of course, Giants fans and they packed the house in their trademark orange color.

Yomiuri made a historic come-from-behind victory in the 2008 Central League pennant race, but failed to grab the Japan Series title as the Giants lost the series in seven games against the Saitama Seibu Lions.

So this was the scene on Friday: vivid orange, loud cheering and enthusiastic applause by the fans. Indeed, they were showing their loyal support for the remaining Central League champions, who entered last season with five straight defeats.

Meanwhile, the opponent, Hiroshima Carp, opened their season with plenty of optimism from their fans, too. The Carp barely missed clinching a CL Climax Series spot last fall, but with their young guns showing steady development on both sides of ball, some analysts predicted that the team can finish higher than last season’s fourth-place showing.

The Carp entered the ’09 campaign with a new uniform and their color became darker as if they tried to show their presence and determination to come up with a better result in it.

Though they were overwhelmed in numbers by the Kyojin supporters, the ardent Carp fans were calling their players’ names at the top of their lungs.

Share the excitement: In the concourse, just inside Gate 22 of the stadium, a huge glass-cased corner with the WBC’s Team Japan-related stuff was set up, and hundreds of visitors tried to view the glorious memorabilia, such as the championship trophy.

Each person was given only a few seconds in front of the showcase, but they still made a long line and waited for about a half-hour to see the exhibit.

“I recalled the excitement,” said Yoshiko Sugita, a housewife from Yokohama. “My heart is full of deep emotion.”

Sugita’s former company colleague, Kumiko Kariya, also a housewife, said that she was so agitated because she didn’t expect that Japan would repeat the title.

“Especially the games against South Korea made me uneasy,” said Kariya, who resides in Tokyo.

After cheering for their country, both Sugita and Karino came to Tokyo Dome to root for the Giants, by the way.

Johjima in Japan?: Johjiman Kita, a comedian who is known for his copying of Seattle Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima’s behaviors at-bat, was in the house for the Carp-Giants game as well.

The 43-year-old Johjiman was standing on the field wearing a Mariners jacket and with his short hair cut like the real Johjima, seeking a chance to see Giants skipper Tatsunori Hara, who led Team Japan in the WBC, too.

Johjiman’s copying is not limited to Johjima. He said he can imitate 131 professional baseball players and coaches now, including Ichiro Suzuki and Tuffy Rhodes, as well as Alex Cabrera and Boston Red Sox infielder Kevin Youkilis.

“I want to make it to a thousand,” said a laughing Johjiman, whose copying of Johjima and Ichiro are “authorized” by them, according to him.

Asked which Carp and Giants players he’s copied, Johjiman quickly did impersonations of the Carp slugger Kenta Kurihara and Giants star Michihiro Ogasawara.

But what he showed were their habits or tendencies, such as how often Kurihara touches his helmet during an at-bat, rather than their glamorous swings.

“There are so many of them who do imitations,” Johjiman said. “But most of them have not even played baseball and I have. A lot of people just care about wins and losses, but I want to let them know there are other ways of enjoying this game.”