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Saturday, Oct. 21, 2006

Fighters skipper Hillman: It's time to enjoy thrill of competing in Japan Series

Staff writer

NAGOYA -- Elbow-deep in the biggest series of his managerial career, Trey Hillman is taking time to smile.

Hillman has the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in the Japan Series, beginning Saturday at Nagoya Dome against the Chunichi Dragons, and he isn't letting the pressure of winning the team's first title, and the franchise's second overall, get to him.

"It's a wonderful experience from a managerial standpoint," Hillman said. "You have to allow yourself to live in the moment, and you have to enjoy the moment.

"You never know, it may be the only time it happens to you in your managerial career."

The bright lights and big expectations are there for Hillman and the Fighters as they have been all season long, but the Texan is staying consistent with his characteristic positivity.

"At the end of the day, you have to find some way to enjoy it," he said.

Hillman and the Fighters would be able to enjoy the Series just fine with a win, but theirs isn't the only success-starved franchise in Japanese baseball.

The Dragons have won only one Japan Series title, and that was 52 years ago.

ON THE ROAD: Hillman said that he was not expecting a strong reception from Nagoya Dome's fans. Nonetheless, the experience of playing at one of Japan's best-designed domes is one he has eagerly awaited.

"I've always liked Nagoya Dome, and when we've had games here before, it's always somewhere I have felt comfortable playing," Hillman said. "We know by ticket sales that we won't have many fans here, and that will make it a hostile environment."

THE BALL FOR GAME 1: Although the Central League custom of not announcing starting pitchers in advance will be observed for the Japan Series, both the Dragons and Fighters are expected to send their aces to the hill in Saturday's Game 1, which would have Fighters sensation Yu Darvish (11 strikeouts in a seven-hitter during the second-stage PL playoffs) vs. Dragons righty Kenshin Kawakami (17-7 during regular season).

DON'T YU FORGET: And even if it is not Saturday when Darvish gets his shot at the Dragons, Chunichi slugger Tyrone Woods had some words of advice for the 20-year-old right-hander during batting practice on the eve of the Japan Series.

"I figure I will see some sliders and forkballs from him," Woods said. "He won't be throwing many fastballs my way, I know that."

Given his Japan-high 47 home runs and 144 RBIs, Darvish may be wise to listen to Woods. But the Floridian power hitter wasn't all doomsday talk about Nippon Ham's Young Guns, Darvish and 22-year-old rookie Tomoya Yagi.

"I haven't seen much of either one of them, but I know they are good pitchers," Woods said.

SEASON SERIES: In six interleague games between the Fighters and Dragons this season, the Fighters walked away with a 4-2 series victory. Now they'll be chasing a similar margin, but with one more game to try to do it. All three games played at Sapporo Dome went to extra innings, with Nippon Ham winning a pair of games in the 10th inning and Chunichi earning a victory in the 11th.

Trammell not bitter

DETROIT (AP) Tram, Gibby and Lance -- Detroit's stars the last time it was in the World Series -- led the Tigers on the field for three seasons before they were fired last year to make room for manager Jim Leyland and his staff.

Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson and Lance Parrish are gone, but their contributions are not forgotten.

Trammell insists he's proud -- not spiteful.

"When you get fired, there is a period of time you need to cool off," Trammell said in an interview with The Associated Press. "But baseball has been going since April and I've truly enjoyed my year away from the game.

"I'm just proud that I'm a Tiger -- and always will be. To watch what they're doing now doesn't make it bittersweet at all for me."

Trammell sat back and relaxed this year in San Diego, enjoying a rare break from baseball to spend time with his wife and their three children. He watched more than half of the Tigers' games on TV and rooted without hesitation for the team he played on for 20 years and managed for three.

A year after Trammell was fired, manager Jim Leyland led the Tigers to the World Series for the first time since winning it in 1984, when Trammell was the MVP.

Leyland consistently has praised Trammell and his staff for their role in the team's turnaround, leading a 2003 team that was set up for failure and lost an AL-record 119 games and dealing with a flawed or banged-up team the following two seasons.

"I'm the first to say that I'm reaping the benefits of all of their hard work," Leyland said. "This isn't about me. More credit should be going to those guys, and to the people in the front office. They made this happen, not me."

Trammell's tone was similar during a phone conversation earlier this week. He politely, if sheepishly, conducted interviews this week with reporters wanting him to reflect on the magical 1984 season and on the short and sour run he had as Detroit's manager.

"I've been trying to stay out of the way because it wasn't about me as a player or a manager, and it's certainly not now," said Trammell, who is expected to help deliver the first ball to the mound before Game 2 of the World Series. "I'm just really happy for the fans, who have stuck with this team for many, rough years.

"It's also a great time for the franchise, which is no longer a laughingstock, but is now regarded as an up-and-coming organization. People are jealous of their young talent."

Gibson didn't return two messages left by the AP, but Trammell said Gibson took his kids to a Tigers game recently and is planning to go to Game 1.

Tram, Gibby and Lance were drafted by the Tigers, who put them on the field together in the late 1970s.

As a 20-year standout in the field and at the plate for the Tigers, Trammell was MVP of the 1984 World Series championship team, a six-time All-Star, and a four-time Gold Glove shortstop. He has received a respectable amount of Hall of Fame votes but not enough to be inducted.

Gibson's numbers don't compare to Trammell's, but his dramatic home runs in the World Series -- for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988 and Detroit in 1984 -- created memories many will have forever.

"I consider Jim Leyland a genius, but if you don't understand what Kirk Gibson limping up to hit that homer for the Dodgers means to baseball, you are an idiot. If you don't know about Alan Trammell, you are an idiot," Tigers reliever Jamie Walker said. "They were great players and great guys, and I wish they could be a part of this."

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