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Sunday, March 28, 2010

BASEBALL BULLET-IN

Japan's preseason schedule growing ever smaller


The Central and Pacific Leagues have started their regular seasons, and it seems almost as if we went from the beginning of spring training right into the games that count.

What the heck happened to the exhibition season?

Opening Day came on so darn early, and you have to wonder if the 12 Japanese teams were ready for the official openers after playing so few "open" games. A couple of managers expressed the opinion there were not enough tuneup games to prepare adequately for the real thing.

There was a time when Opening Day came during the second week of April. Like, in 1994, the lid-lifters took place on April 9, after most teams had played between 25 and 30 exhibition contests.

This year, the Chunichi Dragons played the most preseason games, 19. However, no teams in the Pacific League played more than 13, and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles did not even make double figures, appearing in only nine.

Rakuten manager Marty Brown said, "I agree the exhibition season is too short. It has always been a problem with some teams, due to the travel and weather. I think the league should set up the spring training game schedule that is fair to all getting ready for the season."

He was referring to the fact his club is the only one that does not play any exhibition games in its own home stadium because it is too cold in Sendai, even in mid-March, to play outdoors.

So, the Eagles played "home" games at Nagasaki in Kyushu, Akashi in Hyogo Prefecture and Shizuoka. They had one rainout, played five games as the visiting team, and Rakuten was often not scheduled on days when most of the other teams were in action.

The Hiroshima Carp played 15 exhibition games, and manager Kenjiro Nomura said even that number was too few.

"I would like to play at least 20 exhibition games," Nomura said while thinking about Grapefruit or Cactus League schedules. "I plan to see what I can do next year about getting more games, even if it means going to Florida or Arizona and playing against the major league teams."

That idea should perk up the ears of the various groups in those two states who are trying to attract one or two Japanese clubs to take spring training at available locations there. Among those who have been assisting those efforts are former Lotte Orions slugger and Orix BlueWave manager Leon Lee and ex-Seibu Lions third baseman Mike Pagliarulo.

There seems little chance any Central or Pacific League team will opt to hold full camps in the U.S. from Feb. 1, as most are committed to the municipalities and prefectures that built new — or upgraded older — facilities to keep them in town.

However, if the Japanese teams want more exhibition games, heading to Florida or Arizona for a couple of weeks in March might be an option.

* * * * *

Diamond Dust: What's new at Tokyo Dome this season?

They've painted the foul poles in left and right field, changing the color from Yomiuri Giants orange to a lemon yellow, and a yellow line extends from pole to pole above the home run fence, presumably to assist the umpires in making the correct call on balls that barely clear — or fail to get over — the wall.

That line would have come in handy several years ago during a Pacific League game at the Big Egg when the umps could not tell if a batted ball had rebounded off the top of the fence and should have been ruled in play or had gone over the wall for what should have been called a home run.

The hitter had stopped at second base and, after hearing arguments from both managers, the umpires huddled to decide if they should call it a double or a home run. They compromised and sent the guy to third for the only ground-rule triple I have ever heard of in the history of baseball.

Meanwhile, does the prefecture and city of Niigata want a pro baseball franchise, or what?

First, there was that news item which circulated on March 11 about that city inviting any club to come in. Then on March 24, there was another push by the city fathers, at least to get more games played in 2011 at the new Hard Off Eco Stadium.

Five Central and Pacific League contests and an All-Star Game will be staged at HOE this season, and they want 10 or more next year. Don't be surprised, however, if one of the CL or PL teams decides later this year to move its base to the Japan Seacoast city ready to support its own club.

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Stateside, Kansas City Royals manager Trey Hillman has changed his uniform number from 22 to 88, the numeral he wore for five seasons as skipper of the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan where he won two Pacific League pennants and the Japan Series title in 2006.

Finally this week, this topic has come up every spring in recent years, as foreign players new to Japan and fans visiting the country ask how they or their relatives and friends can follow Japanese baseball through a Web site.

JapanBall.com colleague Brandon Seifken lives in the Tokyo area and tells us a number of Pacific League games are streamed live over the Internet on Yahoo Japan, which will air the games free in March and beginning charging for them next month.

The link can be found at: baseball.yahoo.co.jp/npb/schedule/

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com



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