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Kanto-area teams take hit at gate

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

As Japanese baseball heads into the third week of the 2011 season, the effects of the ban on night games has been felt by three Kanto-based franchises, the Chiba Lotte Marines, Tokyo Yakult Swallows and Yokohama BayStars.

Attendance has been sparse for those teams during the early part of the year, with games taking place on weekday afternoons as opposed to weekday nights when fans can show up in greater numbers.

In games played in normal home venues involving those three clubs, the highest listed weekday attendance has been 22,525, for the Opening Day matchup of the Marines and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles at QVC Marine Field.

The games after that have been a different story.

So far, the Marines’ average weekday attendance has been 11,696, while the Swallows have averaged 8,634 and the BayStars have averaged 11,465.

Certainly there may be other factors at play, including start times, opponents etc., but simply looking at weekday games from the first three home series of the 2010 season for the same teams, the Marines had an average attendance of 15,711, the Swallows stood at 10,222, and the BayStars averaged 14,722.

Which adds up to a lot of lost revenue this month.

The Yomiuri Giants and Seibu Lions have yet to play at their respective home stadiums this year.

Family affair: As if a lifetime spent together hasn’t already provided enough ammunition for friendly, brotherly, bickering, Takahiro and Ryota Arai of the Hanshin Tigers can now argue over whose walk-off hit was better.

Ryota Arai thrust himself into the spotlight on April 19, with a 10th-inning walk-off single against the Yomiuri Giants, the first game-winning hit of his career.

Big brother Takahiro struck three days later with a game-ending double in the ninth against the Yokohama BayStars, capping a big week for the Arai family.

Shut ‘em down: Shutouts littered the NPB landscape last week with five different pitchers achieving the feat.

Chiba Lotte Marines pitchers Yoshihisa Naruse and Yuki Karakawa each threw a shutout against the Seibu Lions while Tokyo Yakult’s Yoshinori Sato and Shohei Tateyama shut down the Chunichi Dragons. Hiroshima Carp hurler Junpei Shinoda tossed the week’s other shutout, blanking the Yokohama BayStars.

Free as a bird: Last week, Hanshin Tigers fireballer Kyuji Fujikawa fulfilled the service time requirements to reach domestic free-agency. Fujikawa harbors aspirations of pitching in the U.S., making it unlikely he will exercise his new-found freedom during this offseason.

Forever young: With second baseman Akihiro Higashide in an early-season slump, Hiroshima Carp manager Kenjiro Nomura turned to 23-year veteran Takuro Ishii to make his first start at second base on Saturday. The 40-year-old responded with a great game, going 3-for-3 with a walk in a 6-6 nine-inning tie against Tokyo Yakult.