HIROSHIMA – Having waited nearly as long for their seventh pennant as they did for their first, Hiroshima Carp fans proved to be a force to be reckoned with this season, Hall of Famer Koji Yamamoto said Saturday.
“The Hiroshima fans feel like we are part of their family. And that’s big,” said Yamamoto, the 1975 Central League MVP on the city’s first pennant-winning club.
On Saturday, the Carp beat the Yokohama BayStars to clinch their first Japan Series birth since Yamamoto, in the first of his two five-year stints as skipper, got them that far in 1991.
“This is like a dream come true. We had waited so long,” said Nashika Nishikawa, who attended the Carp’s Climax Series clinching game at Mazda Stadium with her daughter and her sister’s family.
Yamamoto said the team’s new home, Mazda Stadium, and the kind of team the club has created has only fanned the supporters’ fire even more.
“The coaching staff has worked on everything, base running, batting, fielding,” Yamamoto said. “If you look at other teams, the Carp are better. The fans who watch sense the team’s speed because of their base running. The fielding is great and if you play good defense, the fans are happy. In that way, the team has become one with the fans.
“The ballpark, too, plays a part. The atmosphere when you take in a game is great, so the number of fans increases. And if the team wins, it generates even more excitement.”
Another fan, Shun Yamamoto, said he had no interest in baseball until Mazda Stadium opened for business in 2009.
“I went to the stadium and I was blown away. The cheering was just amazing,” he said. “The team may get energy from the supporters but I get energy from the team.”
The Carp are famous as Japan’s citizen’s team, something that started in the early 1950s, when the new cash-strapped franchise sold shares of team stock to fans to stay afloat.
And because the citizens of Hiroshima identify so strongly with the club, poor performances could sometimes make the relationship a prickly one. But all that has changed.
“The supporters are no longer heckling us, but only cheer us on,” Koji Yamamoto said.
Tomoko Namba, the founder of the BayStars’ parent company and the first woman owner in Nippon Professional Baseball, said she was impressed with what she saw and realized the importance of gaining the home-field advantage that comes with winning the regular-season pennant.
“The passion of the fans and the region was amazing,” Namba said. “Had DeNA been playing at home, the results might have been different. It made me think it is essential to make our team stronger.”
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