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Supporters keep faith in Fighters

by Kaz Nagatsuka

SAPPORO — It was almost like a nightmare for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and their loyal fans on this northern island.

Yet the supporters presented a warm welcome to their beloved team as it returned home on Friday, one day after the Yomiuri Giants handed it a disastrous sayonara defeat at Tokyo Dome.

The Fighters flew back to Hokkaido on Friday afternoon. When they arrived at New Chitose Airport there was a huge crowd, including fans and TV crews, waiting for the club’s arrival.

A middle-aged woman, Mieko Shibakawa, who happened to be there to pick up her friend from Tokyo, did not expect that she would see the Fighters at all. But she was certainly excited by her good fortune.

“I’m so happy to see them,” said Shibakawa, who is from Sapporo. “Of course I watched (the game) last night. I was so vexed, because (the Fighters) were almost winning.”

Meanwhile, company employees Toshiko Tanaka and Reiko Fujikawa took the day off and visited the airport to greet Nippon Ham’s players from Sapporo, not really knowing what time they would return.

“I screamed, ‘Don’t get out!’ ” Tanaka said of the walk-off homer by Giants’ Shinnosuke Abe in Game 5. “But it actually went over the fence and I couldn’t believe what happened at that moment.”

But neither Tanaka nor Fujikawa hung their heads in disappointment.

“They’ll be OK,” Fujikawa said with a smile. “They have huge support from their enthusiastic fans like us.”