It is the World Baseball Classic, but WBC here could stand for “Whopping Big Crowds” or “Wildly Boisterous Cheering.” The Japanese fans are going bonkers over Team Samurai Japan, with the No. 1 attraction being Seattle Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki.
I was in Miyazaki last week when manager Tatsunori Hara’s club was wrapping up its camp at Sun Marine Stadium and preparing for “practice games” (that is, unofficial exhibitions) against the Yomiuri Giants. Capacity crowds of more than 30,000 filled the ballpark on Feb. 21, and the following day in a steady, cold rain.
Tickets were handed out at no charge and some fans camped out all night to get them. When the last of the freebies was given away, it was still dark outside early Saturday and Sunday morning.
Several hours later, the right-field stands were the first to fill with spectators wanting to get near Ichiro.
After the practices and games, thousands of fans were stacked up on fenced-in stairways trying to get close to Ichiro and the other players as they exited the stadium, hoping to get a photo or maybe even an autograph.
Having seen the lengthy traffic jams that had formed with cars trying to get to Samurai Japan’s practice sessions in the days prior to scrimmages with the Giants, the Miyazaki police closed off the stadium parking lots to regular cars, but many were parked at nearby restaurants and convenience stores. Later, most of the autos had stickers put on them to let the drivers know their vehicles would be towed.
There is an exhibit at the Miyazaki Airport displaying the uniforms and selling souvenirs of teams holding spring training camps in the prefecture. There were sections for the Giants, Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, Saitama Seibu Lions, Hiroshima Carp and Yakult Swallows (farm team), but the one that attracted the most attention and sold the most goods was by far — no surprise — the WBC.
McDonald’s outlets in Miyazaki were packed as well. As a WBC sponsor, the fast-food chain was handing out Samurai Japan clear-file folders with images of the Japanese players to customers buying a Quarter Pounder burger, fries and soft drink set. Make mine with cheese.
Wrapping up camp and moving on to Osaka, Hara’s boys began official WBC warmup games with Team Australia on Feb. 24-25, playing to (this time paid) crowds of better than 33,000 each night at Kyocera Dome.
Tickets for the March 5 Japan-China WBC official opening game as well as March 7-9 games at Tokyo Dome are sold out, I am told, as every fan wants to be there to watch the Samurai win against South Korea, China and Taiwan, advance to the next round and go for another WBC title after winning the inaugural tournament in 2006.
Hats off to Major League Baseball for the WBC idea. It is a sure money-maker in Japan — even in these tough economic times.
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I have been asked by several fans to give a rundown of just who’s who among foreigners in Japanese baseball this season. Through Thursday, a total of 64 imported players had been signed up by Central and Pacific League teams, along with two managers, three coaches and a farm team skipper.
One who apparently will not be returning is former Hiroshima Carp (2003-05) and Orix Buffaloes (2006-08) right-hander Tom Davey, who pitched some great games for both clubs before and after operations on his upper arm.
T.D. wrote in an e-mail: “It looks like I will be going to the (independent) Atlantic League this season. I guess 35-year-olds coming off shoulder surgery are not in demand, but I am hoping to do well (in the Atlantic) and possibly get picked up here (at a higher level) in the States or go back to Japan.”
The Baseball Bullet-In will take a week off next Sunday due to extensive coverage of the WBC. We’ll see you again on March 15.
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Saitama Seibu Lions (4): OF Hiram Bocachica, LHP Alex Graman, RHP Hsu Ming-chieh (Taiwan), RHP John Wasdin.
Orix Buffaloes (6): IF Alex Cabrera, IF Jose Fernandez, IF Greg LaRocca, RHP Jon Leicester, OF Tuffy Rhodes, RHP Ryan Vogelsong.
Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters (5): IF Jason Botts, IF Luis Jimenez, OF Terrmel Sledge, RHP Brian Sweeney, LHP Ryan Wing.
Chiba Lotte Marines (4+3): OF Benny Agbayani, IF Gary Burnham Jr., IF Chase Lambin, RHP Brian Sikorski. Manager: Bobby Valentine. Coach: Frank Ramppen. Farm Team Manager: Lenn Sakata.
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (6): RHP Matt Childers, RHP Marc Gwyn, RHP Lin En-yu (Taiwan), RHP Darrell Rasner, IF Fernando Seguignol, IF Rick Short.
Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (6): OF Chris Aguila, RHP Brian Falkenborg, RHP Justin Germano, RHP D.J. Houlton, RHP Kameron Loe, LHP Yang Yao-hsun (Taiwan).
Yomiuri Giants (8): IF Edgardo Alfonzo, LHP Adrian Burnside, RHP Dicky Gonzalez, RHP Seth Greisinger, RHP Marc Kroon, RHP Wirfin Obispo, OF Alex Ramirez, IF Lee Seung Yeop (South Korea).
Hanshin Tigers (5): RHP Scott Atchison, IF Aarom Baldiris, OF Kevin Mench, RHP Chris Resop, LHP Jeff Williams.
Chunichi Dragons (6): IF Tony Blanco, IF Tomas De La Rosa, OF Lee Byung Kyu (South Korea), RHP Maximo Nelson, LHP Nelson Payano, LHP Chen Wei Yin (Taiwan).
Hiroshima Carp (5+2): RHP Scott Dohmann, LHP Ben Kozlowski, RHP Colby Lewis, IF Scott Seabol, RHP Mike Schultz. Manager: Marty Brown. Coach: Jeff Livesey.
Tokyo Yakult Swallows (5): RHP Ricky Barrett, IF Jamie D’Antona, OF Aaron Guiel, LHP Lee Hye Chun (South Korea), RHP Lim Chang Yong (South Korea).
Yokohama BayStars (4+1): RHP Ryan Glynn, OF Dan Johnson, RHP Tom Mastny, LHP Les Walrond. Coach: John Turney.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com
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