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Thursday, Nov. 2, 2006


'Babe Factor' puts butts in Sapporo seats

Special to The Japan Times

SAPPORO -- The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters have already won the first two Japan Series games played on the northern island, and they are about to win its first championship.More than 41,000 people have come out for each postseason game at Sapporo Dome, and the main reason for that is the "Babe Factor."

A stroll through the throng leads one to notice just how many women are among the Fighter faithful, from school girls to O.L.'s and obachan -- babes pile into the Star Cityfs home base in droves, driving on Hokkaido's team.

Watch Japan Series footage from the Sapporo games, pay attention to the crowd and notice all the red. That's because of Nippon Ham center fielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo, "The Spaceman," the man who makes headline writers and, well, babes melt.

Shinjo will retire after this season, and his T-shirts -- yours for a few thousands yen -- bring notice to that fact, as if there was a person somewhere in Japan who did not know that Shinjo was on the way out.

"I am a SUPER STAR indefinitely for you," the shirt reads. "It keeps me living in your memories. ..."

Sure there are plenty of men walking around wearing the Shinjo shirts as well, but the reason why the tunic has become a top-seller is all the women, the same ones who will make Shinjo a millionaire a couple times over if he follows through with his plans to be a nude model in retirement.

So Shinjo's the one you do not want your daughter to fall for, mainly because you know she will no matter what.

Ahead of him in the batting order is the more tender Atsunori Inaba, Nippon Ham's other fisher of women.

When he comes to bat, Inaba's theme music is Freddie Mercury's "I Was Born to Love You."

What woman wouldn't melt if Inaba walked into the room crooning that one?

Sure Freddie Mercury may have had someone decidedly non-babelike in mind when he recorded the tune in the mid-1980s, but it still manages to get the job done.

The Fighters have won 11 straight when more than 41,000 have piled into Sapporo Dome, and who can blame them for being excited about catering to the ladies?

ONE YEAR AGO the Bobby Valentine Sweeptstakes was well under way, and ultimately the Chiba Lotte Marines retained the jackpot, keeping Valentine on the bench after giving him a multiyear contract.

Media reports coming out of San Francisco indicate that Valentine could be a candidate for the Giants vacancy, depending on how things go with Bud Black. People have been salivating to pry Black away from his current gig, pitching coach for the Los Angeles Angels, and if the Giants are the latest to be unsuccessful in doing so, look for Bobby V. speculation to heat up a little bit.

The E-List is betting that Bobby will be in Chiba for the start of next season, but the List wasnft born yesterday, and right now some people are poring over some year-old paperwork and going over exit clauses.

THE CHUNICHI DRAGONS' sense of urgency in the Japan Series is completely absent. The List isnft even sure if the big guys are pressing in their at-bats anymore, which is good news for Nippon Ham pitching and bad news for anyone who may have been hoping that the Central League was going to get its groove back finally.

The best example of the semi-lackadaisical vibe? How about the sluglike clip manager Hiromitsu Ochiai breaks out when he goes to the mound, usually before pulling the plug too early or too late on whoever may be pitching at the time. The List could understand the crawling pace coming from, say, Katsuya Nomura, but not from Ochiai.

There was a good reason it took so long to play Game 4 -- a 4-hour, 13-minute marathon -- in a word, Ochiai. The Dragons used 19 pitchers (maybe it only seemed like 19) and Ochiai had to mosey on out to the mound each time. DHL could have gotten a letter to Kuwait in the time Ochiai spent travelling between mound and dugout Wednesday.

NEVER FORGET THIS: The Dragons are a good team. The Japan Series is merely shaping up to be a matter of that good team running into a much better team. Trey Hillman may shoot a certain sports writer if all this smack talk winds up tempting fate a little bit, but the List is betting that won't happen. And the certain sports writer's prediction of Fighters in 6 is looking to be a little generous.

JAPAN TIMES' RESIDENT Fighters fanboy, Kaz Nagatsuka, denied himself the privilege of picking his favorite team when the time for preseason predictions to go in the Japan Pro Baseball Fan Handbook and Media Guide, saying, "I want them to win, but really, they have no chance."

Fast-forward eight months and the Kazmanian Devil has changed his tune a little bit, saying, "The reason I did not take them is that I did not want pressure on them or myself."

With that kind of strategy working like flubber, the Giants could do well to give Kazu a look if Black and Bobby V. fall through.

WHO KNEW GENGHIS KHAN was a food? Send it and soup curry, and send them right away to stephen@japantimes.co.jp.

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