While most Japanese teams headed south to begin “spring” camp and ride out the final few weeks of winter, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters took a distinctly different track and flew west instead.
The Fighters touched down in the United States late last week to get ready for their first spring camp outside Japan in 29 years. The Pacific League club has set up shop in Peoria, Arizona, the spring training base for MLB’s San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners.
“It’s really exciting to be in this environment,” manager Hideki Kuriyama told Nikkan Sports after inspecting the Padres’ facilities last week. “This is a really good place. I want to enjoy each day here.”
Fighters players worked out on their own on the field on Saturday. Shohei Otani ran along the outfield fence and played catch from about 50 meters.
“I’ve been able to put in good preparation,” Otani told Japanese media in Arizona. “I think my body responded well. I don’t want to do too much because it’s the first day.”
Otani’s fame preceded him. The two-way star is the most coveted NPB player among MLB clubs, mostly for his ability on the mound, and will probably be the center of attention as baseball fans, and some scouts, based in the U.S. get the rare chance to see him up close. Already, a few fans have been able to approach Otani and get him to sign baseballs.
Nippon Ham is scheduled to be in Arizona from Feb. 1-15, and will play practice games against the Korean Baseball Organization’s Lotte Giants (Feb. 8 and 10) and NC Dinos (Feb. 13) during their stay.
The Fighters will hold the second half of their spring camp in Nago, Okinawa, from Feb. 17-28.
Numbers game: New Yomiuri Giants first baseman Garrett Jones will wear No. 5 for the Kyojin this year.
The Giants are probably hoping the number provides Jones with a little residual good luck.
Davy Johnson was a Best Nine infielder and won a Diamond Glove Award (the Golden Glove forerunner) wearing No. 5 in 1976. Alex Ramirez wore the number from 2008-2011 and won a pair of MVP awards while helping the Giants win two Central League pennants. Jose Lopez won a Golden Glove in 2013 and hit 40 homers in two seasons during his stint as the No. 5.
Of course, recent history hasn’t been all roses. Frederich Cepeda donned the uniform last season, but made just 20 appearances with the top team, going 0-for-21 at the plate.
Of course the numbers the Giants care about more are Jones’ homer totals from his eight seasons in the major leagues and how much of that he can bring to Japan. Jones hit 122 homers in MLB, reaching double-digits in six consecutive seasons and surpassing 20 three times.
Dre Day: Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles rookie Rui Okoe is pondering a very important decision: which song to use as his walk-up music.
So far, Okoe is said to be leaning toward Dr. Dre’s 2000 song, “The Next Episode,” citing former NPB star Tsuyoshi Shinjo, who used the tune during his years with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, from 2004-2006, as an inspiration.
Former San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds also used the song during the latter part of his career.
Seibu Lions rookie Tomoya Mori walked up to the tune for part of the 2015 season.