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Monday, Sept. 18, 2006

Higashio, Apache eager to build strong fan base

Staff writer

On Sunday afternoon, ex-baseball hurler Osamu Higashio stepped onto an unfamiliar field, a hardwood court, not a soft baseball field.

News photo
New Tokyo Apache president and former Seibu Lions pitcher Osamu Higashio enjoys talking with fans at the team's first practice of the season at Ariake Colosseum on Sunday. KAZ NAGATSUKA PHOTO

The 56-year-old former Seibu Lions star, who was introduced as the new Tokyo Apache president on Sept. 11, appeared at the team's first preseason practice at its home arena, Ariake Colosseum.

Although Higashio had already met some of the players at his introductory news conference, it was his first meeting with second-year head coach Joe Bryant.

"I think the Japanese people know who he is (and) they are aware of his accomplishments, so he has his followers, (his) fans," Bryant said of Higashio. "And I think it's going to help the program become better because they want to show respect for him."

Some 50 enthusiastic fans assembled at Ariake to see their beloved hoops team on Sunday. And some of the fans were already in midseason form, bringing colorful banners that proudly displayed players' names.

Higashio was impressed with the fans as much as with the fresh basketball floor.

"I'm really thankful that this many fans came down here to watch our first practice," he said during practice.

But there is a bona-fide challenge in front of him in his first year as president of the bj-league club.

Consider this: The average attendance for Apache home games last season, the team's inaugural campaign, was 1,844.

"There are various sports teams in Tokyo, so it won't be easy to draw attention," Higashio said.

Knowing this fact, Higashio, who compiled 251 wins in his pro baseball career, doesn't have wild expectations for his team in terms of popularity.

In other words, he wants to build a successful product by getting personally involved -- and getting the community involved.

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