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Red-clad fans show faith in Hawks

by Kaz Nagatsuka

FUKUOKA — Red isn’t a part of the Hawks’ team colors. But Yahoo Dome was lit up in red on Thursday for the opener of the Pacific League Climax Series final stage.

Why red?

It’s a magical color for the 2010 Pacific League pennant race winner.

The Hawks wore red jerseys and swept the Seibu Lions from July 19-21, before entering the All-Star break, to put themselves a half-game behind the then-league-leading Lions at home.

Fast forward to Sept. 18-20. Fukuoka Softbank asked its fans to come out to the home stadium with jerseys and T-shirts in red for a series again the Lions, whose magic number was four with seven games left in the season.

Although the players and staff did not wear the red uniform, the Hawks repeated miraculous feats. They swept the Lions, coming from behind to win all three games.

In retrospect, this was the turning point for Softbank en route to capturing the PL’s regular-season title.

“I don’t feel like we ever get beaten with the jersey in this color,” said Toshiko Moriyasu, a 53-year-old housewife from Hakata Ward, Fukuoka, who was spotted in a red Munenori Kawasaki jersey, before Thursday’s Game 1 against the Chiba Lotte Marines.

“The Marines are certainly on a roll, having defeated Seibu (in the first stage). But I don’t feel fear with them. The Haws play at home surrounded by these enthusiastic fans. That’s a huge advantage.”

In 2005, Softbank had to swallow a bitter pill. Despite finishing first in the regular season, it lost to Chiba Lotte in five games in the second stage in Fukuoka. Then the Marines went on to beat the Hanshin Tigers in the Japan Series.

Not only that year, the Hawks are known for their playoff disappointments in recent years, having failed to earn a Japan Series berth in the past six seasons.

But Yasuo Kuroki, who was in line trying to get a ticket for Game 1 outside the dome four hours beforethe “play ball” call, said that he isn’t particularly concerned about the past.

“The media has been emphasizing it too much, but I don’t think that past outcomes factor into this series,” the 38-year-old company employee from Nishi Ward, Fukuoka, said with a shrug. “It’s already been five years since (2005). Both team are almost completely different teams with different players and coaches.”

Kuroki also said that the days that the Hawks falter in the postseason will come to an end this fall.

“I’m not going to say that this team has been good at playing in the playoffs,” Kuroki said. “But again, this team is not the same team as the teams until last year. I think the team is confident, especially after the way it finished the regular season.”