• Kyodo


Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters highly touted rookie Yuki Saito got his pro baseball career under way with great fanfare as the 12 Japanese clubs began spring training on Tuesday.

According to a team announcement, a throng of about 800 spectators were in the stands to track the former Waseda University ace’s every move as Saito prepares for the 2011 season, which kicks off with Opening Day on March 25.

A media circus, including some 50 TV cameras and 400 reporters, was also on the scene to view the newest star to join Japanese baseball, and a helicopter even shot images of the 22-year-old Gunma Prefecture native from above the stadium.

Saito, who was wearing sunglasses to block out the strong rays on a spectacular day in Okinawa Prefecture, took the field with his teammates for a warmup a little after 8 a.m.

“I have to make something of myself,” said Saito, who dons the No. 18 jersey. “I had a very relaxing practice.”

Saito joked around with team superstar Yu Darvish and other pitchers as they went through relay drills with the infielders, and he was the first up to field grounders.

“It was a really friendly atmosphere, just like I had expected. It was really easy working with my teammates,” he said.

Newly appointed Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles manager Senichi Hoshino was the other person to draw the spotlight in his team’s camp in Kumejima, Okinawa Prefecture, making his return to the helm for the first time since skippering the Hanshin Tigers in 2003.

Hoshino watched the bullpen session of his players, including ace Hisashi Iwakuma, who is back with Rakuten after his talks with the Oakland Athletics fell through in the offseason.

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