The Chiba Lotte Marines of Japan’s Pacific League have embarked on a campaign to raise funds for hurricane and typhoon relief efforts in the New Orleans and Mississippi Gulf Coast areas in the U.S., and Kagoshima here in Japan.

At the suggestion of manager Bobby Valentine, approved by Lotte’s director of planning and public relations Shigeo Araki, the team will be donating money from program sales during the final six home games (Sept. 17-22) of the 2005 regular season to aid victims of the disaster-stricken regions.

Valentine will also be signing autographs in exchange for donations from fans prior to the remaining six home games, and collection boxes will be set up inside Chiba Marine Stadium.

In addition, Valentine will solicit donations from Japanese and foreign players on all 12 Pacific and Central League teams, and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters manager Trey Hillman and several players have already pledged their support.

Valentine has recorded a message appealing to fans for contributions, and it will be played on the scoreboard video screen at Marine Stadium during the games. Dates for those last half-dozen home contests are Sept. 17 and 18 vs. the Seibu Lions at 1 p.m., and Sept. 19 (1 p.m.), 20, 21 and 22 (6:15 p.m.) against the SoftBank Hawks.

Also in Chiba, the Marines have re-scheduled the door prize portion of their Hawaiian night promotion (rained out following the attraction segment on Aug. 23) for Thursday, Sept. 22. The Marines will be playing the SoftBank Hawks, and the door prizes include two roundtrip tickets to Honolulu on Japan Airlines and three nights stay in a top-class hotel.

Also to be given away are Pacific League playoff tickets and the Marines flag which has flown above the scoreboard at CMS this season, signed by team players. The Sept. 22 game against the Hawks is Lotte’s final home encounter of the 2005 regular season, and it is Fan Appreciation Day. All fans attending will be given a lucky card to make them eligible for the prize drawing.

Diamond Dust: The Yokohama BayStars will hold a farewell ceremony for retiring closer Kazuhiro Sasaki before the home fans in the port city on Saturday, Oct. 8.

You will recall the forkballer made what was then billed as his “final appearance” in a game against the Yomiuri Giants at his native Sendai on Aug. 9, when he struck out Yomiuri Giants slugger Kazuhiro Kiyohara.

The Oct. 8 game at Yokohama Stadium will be a makeup of a previous rainout between the BayStars and the Yakult Swallows, and game time is set for 5 p.m. Not sure if the Daimajin will pitch in the game but, if he does, what do you bet Sasaki gets called in late in the game to face Yakult’s most veteran player, catcher Atsuya Furuta?

Furuta, by the way, is being touted as the next Swallows manager but, since he said he is not ready to retire as an active player, some sports papers have suggested he will become a playing manager, and that could happen for next season.

Also on the managerial rumor mill, former Hiroshima Carp infielder-outfielder Marty Brown has been mentioned as a candidate to replace the retiring Koji Yamamoto as the Carp skipper for 2006.

Brown played for Hiroshima for three seasons (1992-94) and is currently the manager of the Buffalo Bisons, the AAA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.

As for the Yomiuri Giants, former manager Tatsunori Hara has this past week emerged as the leading candidate to head the club next season. Following the announcement by Senichi Hoshino that he will not be leaving his job in the Hanshin front office to take over as field boss of the Giants, Japan’s sports papers have switched to publicizing a return by Hara who managed the team to the 2002 Central League and Japan Series championships, then stepped down after Yomiuri dropped to third place in the CL in 2003.

Hard to believe it, but Chunichi Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai sent outfielder Alex Ochoa to the team’s farm outlet on Sept. 11. OK, maybe Alex was struggling a bit at the plate, but he’s such a valuable player on offense and defense, and he’s playing his third season for the Dragons, so they know what he can do when he breaks out of a slump.

I could understand benching Ochoa for a game or two, but sending him to the farm means he cannot play on the first team for 10 days, and the timing could not have been worse.

Second-place Chunichi was losing ground fast on the front-running Hanshin Tigers in the Central League pennant race, and dropping Alex to the minors did not help.

Among those surprised by the move were Yomiuri Giants manager Tsuneo Horiuchi and Hanshin relief pitcher Jeff Williams.

In fact, it was Horiuchi who told me about it prior to the Sept. 11 game between the Dragons and Giants at Tokyo Dome.

“Wayne-san, they sent Alex to the second team!” Horiuchi said, with an air of delight one of Chunichi’s best players would not be in action that night.

Yomiuri then went on to win that Sunday game and sweep the three-game weekend series over the Alex-less Dragons.

Two days later before a game against the Giants at Nagasaki, Williams indicated, with Ochoa not on the field, it would be easier for his Tigers when they face the Dragons at Koshien Stadium Sept. 19-21. If Hanshin sweeps that series, the Tigers will be on the verge of clinching their second Central League pennant in three years.

Finally this week, wouldn’t it be something if the San Diego Padres win the 2005 World Series, and the Orix Buffaloes (or Seibu Lions or Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters) emerge as Japan Series champs next month?

All, at this writing, have win-loss records below .500, but the Pads and one of the three Pacific League clubs will qualify for postseason play.

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