A Nippon Professional Baseball executive committee panel, which is screening the applications of Internet-related companies Rakuten Inc. and Livedoor Co. as they vie to create a new baseball team in Sendai, failed to reach a decision on Tuesday.

The NPB panel gave a progress report on the screenings of the two companies but has not revealed any concrete conclusions on whether either company is fit to establish a team next season.

The panel formed from the 12 pro baseball teams will narrow down the choice to one applicant after an account of both companies’ finances is presented and reviewed by each team on Friday. The final decision is expected at a meeting of owners next Tuesday.

The panel also said that interleague play, which will be introduced between the Central and Pacific leagues next season, is highly likely to take place between May 6 and June 16.

Protected players

KOBE (Kyodo) Orix BlueWave general manager Katsuhiro Nakamura said Tuesday he will place Kintetsu Buffaloes pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma and outfielder teammate Koichi Isobe on a list of 25 protected players who will receive preferential signing rights with the merged club.

Iwakuma, who led the Pacific League with 15 wins, has already said he is unwilling to play for the team to be created by the Kintetsu-Orix merger.

“We don’t know what will happen (as far as a trade is concerned) but all I can say is we intend to protect these players,” said Nakamura.

Iwakuma said he met with Orix general manager Takashi Koizumi last Friday but their talks ended inclusively. He wants to hold talks with Kintetsu general manager Keisuke Ashitaka before the Nov. 4 announcement of 25 protected players.

Livedoor Phoenix

Internet service provider Livedoor Co., which has applied to own a professional baseball team, said Tuesday its ball club will be called Sendai Livedoor Phoenix.

Livedoor conducted Internet voting to decide the name for its baseball team, with Phoenix proving the most popular among a list of 10 candidates.

Rival Internet shopping mall operator Rakuten Inc., which has also applied to own a professional ball club, on Friday named its team the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Omura eyes free agency

KOBE (Kyodo) Kintetsu Buffaloes outfielder Naoyuki Omura said Tuesday he has decided to become a free agent with hopes of possibly moving to another team after his club’s merger between the Orix BlueWave in the off-season.

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