Perhaps this is a sign of the times indicating the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants, the once-almighty Kyojin team, does not have the overwhelming popularity it once had.

Over the years, fans have often asked this column how to get tickets to Giants home games, and it used to be you had to wait in line at Tokyo Dome or your local ticket office on the morning the tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. They would only let you buy two, and they were sold out by noon, so you had no chance to get back in line to purchase two more.

Now, a friend in the U.S. who will be visiting Tokyo next week asked me if I could get him four reserved seats to the Giants-Chunichi Dragons nighter at the Big Egg for Saturday, April 9. Tix for those games went on sale on Feb. 26, so I thought this might be a long shot, especially since he wants more than two.

However, I went to the Ticket Pia counter at JR Kichijoji Station on Monday, March 28, and was happily surprised to get him, with no complications, four B tickets at 3,700 yen each.

That is not to say there were no limitations. All the A seats had been sold out and, had I wanted B seats on the Giants (first-base) side, I could have gotten the four, but not together. I was able to buy the four consecutively numbered B-seat tickets on the Dragons (third-base) side with no problem.

To be sure, the Giants still have an enormous fan base, as evidenced by the fact their games this weekend with the Hiroshima Carp were sold out, and Yomiuri is sure to draw more than three million for the season as usual, an attendance figure of which any pro baseball team anywhere would be proud. However, the days of camping out all night to wait in line for the right to purchase a maximum of only two tickets are apparently over.

By the way, we have all been waiting to see what attendance figures the Giants would announce this season, now that inflated crowd counts rounded off to the nearest thousand are also a thing of the past. Now we know.

The opening night capacity audience for the April 1 game was reported as 43,684, and that’s no April Fool.

Last column I mentioned in response to an e-mail question from a reader that no Japanese teams have an English-language version of their Web site, but American Larry Rocca, the Promotions Director for the Chiba Lotte Marines, said his club will soon put up an English-language rendering of their home page.

In fact, a Japanese reader going to school in Alaska, Shinichi Yoneda, says it is already online at www.marines.co.jp/ and there is an English column page on the site.

According to the Marines, the Lotte foreign players will write columns throughout this season. The first one is from Benny Agbayani. Plus, there is also an English column page from Rocca.

I checked it out and, sure enough, I clicked the English selection on the menu bar and got to read “Bobby’s Letter” from manager Bobby Valentine, “Rocca’s Column” and “Diary From Abroad” by Agbayani. Great idea, and there are some wonderful innovations going on out there at Chiba Marine Stadium.

Hopefully, I’ll get to interview Rocca soon and report more on what’s happening, and perhaps more teams will add English-language sections to their Web sites.

Kawai-so Dept: The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles naturally took a lot of flack for losing to the Marines 26-0 in the second game of the season on March 27. The line score included 23 hits for Lotte to only one for Rakuten, and the Marines’ new foreign player, Val Pascucci, had a seven-RBI game with a grand slam, a two-run homer, a run-scoring double and another hit.

To say the Eagles had a tough week after their great 3-1 Opening Day victory on March 26 would be putting it mildly. The disastrous 26-0 defeat was followed by a three-game losing streak in Fukuoka Yahoo! JAPAN Dome where starting pitchers Kevin Hodges, Gary Rath and Eiji Yano all threw well for the first half of their respective games, then things fell apart.

American first baseman Damon Minor has been out of action with eye problems, and they say he has had trouble adjusting to the Japanese pitching. Well, yeah, if you can’t see the ball!

The team got an additional scare when third baseman and cleanup hitter Luis Lopez was hit on the hand by a shuuto (inside tailing fastball) and had to leave the March 28 game at Fukuoka. It had been feared Lopez might have sustained a broken hand or finger, but he was back the next night, albeit in a designated hitter role with his hand heavily taped.

The Eagles failed to hit a home run in their first five games, and the best player statistically from last season, Koichi Isobe (26 home runs, 75 RBIs and a .309 average with the Kintetsu Buffaloes) did not get a hit.

The Eagles opponents slammed eight homers, and the runs-for and runs-against tallies were conspicuously one-sided, thanks mainly to that 26-0 drubbing, as Rakuten had scored six runs and given up 47. Ouch! The Rakuten team composite batting average was .160 for those first five games, with the pitching staff ERA at 10.32.

We are reminded, however, that during the 2004 season, the Boston Red Sox were defeated in one of their games 26-3 (at least they kicked a field goal), but went on to win the World Series in four straight over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Hang in there, Eagles! It will get better. Five games does not a season make. Look for Minor, Lopez, Isobe and Co. to come around, support the pitchers and win some games.

As a matter of fact, it already got better at the home opener on Friday night. Inspired by the Sendai crowd and pitching ace Hisashi Iwakuma, the Eagles scored two six-run innings and won 16-5. Isobe broke his 0-for-18 slump, hitting Rakuten’s first-ever homer, and Lopez contributed a three-run blast. So there!

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