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Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2006

Morimoto's double mobbed at airport

Staff writer

SAPPORO -- Hichori Morimoto is always quick with a punchline, but the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters left fielder's latest joke was unscripted and accidental.

Morimoto, easy to pick out in a crowd because of his shaved head, once appeared as a Martian, covering his head in green facepaint and wearing antennae and pointed ears. He isn't afraid to pull a prank.

As fans learned, however, Morimoto isn't the only one walking around Hokkaido with a beaming smile and a shiny cranium.

When the Fighters landed at Chitose airport on Monday, scores of fans gathered, hoping for a snapshot or an autograph.

Some of them left with photos of a high school teacher.

Michitada Hattori, an English teacher from Aichi Prefecture who landed with a group of students at Chitose on Monday, was mobbed by fans and photographed by people who mistook him for the charismatic Morimoto.

Hattori, 35, and his students were on the same plane as Fighters manager Trey Hillman.

"I'm astonished," Hattori said of the fan uproar when he emerged. "My students had told me I look like (Morimoto), but I still didn't know what to do."

Hattori's smiling mug was on the front page of Japanese newspapers, running under headlines that read, "Fake Hichori . . . panic at the airport."

Although the mixup would have been worthy of a Morimoto gag, the body double was merely by chance.

"If that photo runs big, I am going to be embarrassed," said a surprised Morimoto when shown Hattori's photo.

DESIGNATED HOKKAIDO: With the change of scenery for Games 3-5, the Chunichi Dragons had to change their batting order a little bit, adding a designated hitter because of Pacific League rules.

Pitcher Kenta Asakura -- who started Game 3, along with any other hurler Chunichi uses while the Series is in Sapporo -- didn't have to bat.

Dragons fan favorite Kazuyoshi Tatsunami was DH on Tuesday, blowing his cover shortly before the official lineups were posted.

"I am going to be the DH," said Tatsunami, asked about "rumors" that he would be DH'ing.

It's an easy day's work, according to Tatsunami, who pinch-hit in both of the first games.

"You feel the pressure when you're fielding, but all I am is a DH," he said. "I can stay in the batter's box and relax. I'll just try to hit anything that comes into the zone."

Fighters infielder Michihiro Ogasawara, who played at third base in Nagoya, returned to first base Tuesday, and Fernando Seguignol switched back to DH, freeing up the hot corner for Naoto Inada.

MISSED OPPORTUNITY: The Dragons led in the seventh inning of Game 2, but with Nippon Ham scoring four runs in the seventh and eighth to come back, Chunichi lost a good chance to neutralize a little bit of the Fighters' home-field advantage at rowdy Sapporo Dome.

"We wanted to come to Hokkaido with a 2-0 lead," left fielder Kazuki Inoue said.

The Softbank Hawks had trouble coping with the loud crowds up north, and a sweep of the first weekend would have been a powerful ally.

But there were no tears Tuesday during batting practice.

"We are not worried about Game 2," Inoue said. "Since we had a day off, we were able to clear our minds."

DOME DUST: Apparently displeased with his performance in the first couple games of the Japan Series, Chunichi slugger Tyrone Woods (1-for-5, three walks in the Japan Series) took extra batting practice after arriving in Sapporo on Monday. . . . Back home, the Fighters still operated out of the dugout on the third-base side, as they have always done. The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles are the only other team in Japan that uses the third-base dugout during home games. . . . All three interleague games between Chunichi and Nippon Ham this season at Sapporo Dome went into extra innings, with the Fighters winning 3-2 and 4-3 in 10 innings and the Dragons prevailing 4-3 in 11 innings.

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