NPB clubs hit diamond as spring training starts


The 12 Japanese professional baseball teams all started spring training Wednesday in Miyazaki and Okinawa prefectures ahead of their season openers on March 30.

The Central League’s Yokohama BayStars, opened camp in Okinawa’s Ginowan with manager Kiyoshi Nakahata, decked out in the team’s new uniforms, hitting grounders to the pitching staff.

With a change in ownership, the BayStars are hoping to climb out of the cellar for the first time in five years under Nakahata, the former Yomiuri Giants star who is in his first coaching job since leading Japan at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Nakahata is one of four new managers in Japanese baseball this season. The three others are Morimichi Takagi (Chunichi Dragons), Yutaka Wada (Hanshin Tigers) and Hideki Kuriyama (Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters).

Former analyst Kuriyama is in his first managing gig, and will have to find a way to keep the Fighters in contention despite having lost ace Yu Darvish, who signed with the Texas Rangers via the posting system.

Kuriyama, nevertheless, was nothing but positive on his first day in the new job.

“It’s hard to tell how people really think or feel until you’ve actually worked with them,” said the former Tokyo Yakult Swallows outfielder. “I want to figure them out as soon as possible.”

The Japan Series champion Fukuoka Softbank Hawks went to work in Miyazaki. Manager Koji Akiyama certainly has his work cut out for him after three pitchers in the rotation — Tsuyoshi Wada, Toshiya Sugiuchi and D.J. Houlton — parted with the team over the winter.

“We need to do everything we can to become No. 1 again,” Akiyama said. “We don’t have a day to waste. We have to think through everything we do.”