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Defending Central League champions Hanshin Tigers were forced to shift their training site due to rain on Sunday, the opening day of spring training for all 12 teams ahead of the 2004 season.

News photoTsuyoshi Shinjo takes batting practice during the Nippon Ham Fighters’ spring training camp in Okinawa.

Because of lousy field conditions, Hanshin moved from Ginoza to Ishikawa in Okinawa Prefecture and began workouts with an eye to winning back-to-back pennants for the first time in franchise history under Akinobu Okada, one of six new managers to take the helm this season.

The Yomiuri Giants opened camp in Guam before they move to Miyazaki later this month, marking the first time in 12 years that Yomiuri’s main pitchers and hitters will take part in training camp together overseas.

Yoshinobu Takahashi, whom manager Tsuneo Horiuchi has penciled in for the cleanup spot this season, will be expected to take a leadership role as he endeavors in his seventh season to improve on a career .305 average with 150 home runs and 453 RBIs.

Elsewhere, the Chunichi Dragons held a rain-shortened intrasquad game as scheduled from the first day — part of newcomer Hiromitsu Ochiai’s plan to get his troops’ blood flowing as the team attempts to win its first league championship since 1999.

In the Pacific League, the reigning Japan Series champions Daiei Hawks began spring training under blue skies in Miyazaki while most news media attention was on Nippon Ham Fighters’ Tsuyoshi Shinjo and his bright red wristbands.

Shinjo is expected to bring some much-needed flash and dash to the perennially drab Fighters, who will kick off the 2004 season in Sapporo after moving from Tokyo Dome.

Japanese baseball commissioner Yasuchika Negoro opened his doors the same day in the wake of a fracas stirred up after the Kintetsu Buffaloes said they hoped to auction the rights to the team’s name to the highest bidder.

Most of the 11 other teams are objecting to the sale by Kintetsu, which with over 3 billion yen of debts is heavily in hock.

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