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Hunky Fighters the main attraction for baseball’s newfound admirers

by Kaz Nagatsuka

SAPPORO — One of the special traits of the Fighters’ games at Sapporo Dome is the sincere fans’ warm, enthusiastic cheering, perhaps more so than at any other ballpark.

While the Yomiuri Giants are considered the favorite to win the ongoing Japan Series, Hokkaido Nippon Ham isn’t backing down from the challenge, partly because it feels like it has an edge with its fans.

And when you actually visit the ballpark and look around, you will find there are so many middle-aged women. This could be the reason why their cheering is so warm.

Eiko Hanamatsu, from Chuo Ward in Sapporo, attended Sunday’s Game 2.

Hanamatsu, speaking before the game along with her husband, Toshio, said her heart has been captured by the Fighters team since it relocated from Tokyo to Hokkaido in 2004.

“I didn’t know anything about baseball before,” said Hanamatsu, who is in her 60s. “But it’s completely changed since their arrival.”

Hanamatsu, wearing a jersey bearing the name of Fighters skipper Masataka Nashida, and holding a big cup of beer, said coming to the stadium is one of her pleasures.

“The taste of the beer here is better than anywhere,” said a smiling Hanamatsu, who added she and her husband bought season tickets for the “Diamond Seats,” right behind the back net for the 2009 season.

Hanamatsu, who purchased tickets for all the Japan Series games at Sapporo Dome, agreed that a lot of older ladies assemble at the dome, jokingly explaining that those people love to see young, healthy baseball players.

“They are handsome, tall and in shape,” she said. “And their athletic abilities are great.”

Elsewhere, in the infield stands behind the Fighters dugout, friends Misuzu Suzuki and Hanae Shimizu were looking forward to game time with “Darvish bentos” perched on their thighs.

Both Suzuki and Shimizu, wearing Nippon Ham’s third jerseys, are wives of self-employed husbands in Iwamizawa, a suburb of Sapporo, and planned to go home by late-night bus after the game.

“We didn’t have any ballclubs (before the Fighters), and our winters are so long,” said Suzuki, who was also wearing a colorful handmade cap. “So the people here are really looking forward to (the games).”

Shimizu said she was previously a fan of J. League club Consadole Sapporo, which took roots in Hokkaido ahead of Nippon Ham. She added that she also would root for the Giants.

Asked if she has mixed feelings about her beloved Fighters facing the Giants in the Japan Series, Shimizu quickly denied the notion.

“I don’t like (the Giants) any more at all,” Shimizu said with a laugh. “I’m totally into the Fighters now. I love their young fellas.”

The northern island is getting colder day by day. But inside Sapporo Dome, the air is not affected at all because of the enthusiastic fans.