Play Ball! Spring training returns to Okinawa

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Photos by Kenichi and Manami Ogasawara, Stripes Okinawa
Photos by Kenichi and Manami Ogasawara, Stripes Okinawa

Play Ball! Spring training returns to Okinawa

by: Shoji Kudaka | .
Stripes Okinawa | .
published: February 06, 2017

Compared to that of Major League Baseball, spring training in Japan comes a bit earlier and with a lot of hype on Okinawa.

Last week, all 12 Nippon Professional Baseball Organization (NPB) teams began spring training, with all players reporting to the teams. Many fans will flock to check on their favorite players, while journalists follow each and every move of star players or high-profile rookies.

Okinawa has been a spring training hot spot for a while. As a kid in the 80s, I remember just a couple teams coming down to the sub-tropical islands. But now, more than half of the teams spend some time on the islands in the month of February; this year, 9 of the 12 NPB teams are scheduled to come.

Okinawa is to the NPB what Arizona and Florida are to the MLB. And although Manny Ramirez, who recently joined a non-NPB baseball team in Japan, is unlikely to come to Okinawa, that doesn’t mean you won’t find some familiar faces. Players like Casey McGhee (Yomiuri Giants), the 2014 National League Comeback Player of the Year, Arquimedes Caminero (Yomiuri Giants), who pitched for the Pirates and Mariners last season, or Ross Ohlendorf (Tokyo Yakult Swallows), who was a starter for the Reds, are expected to play.

Or you may want to check out potential future MLB stars like the Nippon-Ham Fighters’ Shohei Otani, a two-way player who has generated a lot of buzz and could head to the States as early as 2018.

Needless to say, one of the best parts of spring training is that fans can see, and sometimes interact with, professional players close up. People can get autographs and most importantly, watch a lot of free baseball.

Prior to spring training games, which are set to begin late February, there will be a number of practice and intrasquad games at stadiums on Okinawa, the majority of which are free. And several teams from the Korean Professional Baseball are expected play with Japanese teams, as well.

As far as temperature goes, February is still in the middle of winter here. Last year, February had the lowest average temperature in Naha, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. The numbers may say one thing, but baseball is back, and sure to warm the hearts of many fans.

Did you know?
Recently, Okinawa has sent many professional players to the NPB. According to a website that ranks 47 prefectures of Japan in different categories (http://todo-ran.com/), the prefecture was ranked 9th with 29 Okinawans playing in the NPB in 2016. Okinawa leads the nation with 1.9 players in the NPB per 100,000 people in the prefecture.


NPB teams scheduled to come to Okinawa

Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
- Dates: Feb. 12 – Feb. 24 (First team); Feb. 1 – Feb. 24 (Farm)
- Location: Nago Municipal Stadium (First team, near Camp Schwab), Kaigin Stadium Kunigami (Farm, near Okuma Resort)
- Days off: Feb. 17, 22 (Frist Team); Feb. 6, 10, 15, 20 (Farm)
- Former MLB Players (Position, Previous Team): Luis Mendoza (P, Royals), Brandon Laird (3B, Astros), Chris Martin (P, Yankees), Edwin Escobar (P, Indians)

Hiroshima Toyo Carp

- Dates: Feb. 22 - Mar. 1
- Location: Koza Shinkin Stadium (near Kadena Air Base and Camp Foster)
- Days off: None
- Former MLB players (Position, Previous Team): Kris Johnson (P, Twins), Jay Jackson (P, Padres), Bradin Hagens (P, Diamondbacks), Brad Eldred (1B/OF, Tigers), Ryan Brasier (P, Angels)

Chiba Lotte Marines
- Dates: Feb. 1 – Feb. 21 (First team), Feb. 1 – Feb. 26 (Farm)
- Days off: Feb. 6, 10, 15 (Frist team). Feb. 6, 10, 15, 22 (Farm)
- Location: Ishigaki City Chuo Athletic Park Baseball Stadium
- Former MLB players (Position, Previous Team): Jason Standridge (P, Royals), Jimmy Paredes (2B/3B/OF, Phillies), Matt Duffy (1B/3B, Astros)

Yomiuri Giants
- Dates: Feb. 14 – Mar. 1
- Location: Okinawa Cellular Stadium (near Naha military port)
- Days off: Feb. 17, 23
- Former MLB players (Position, Previous Team): Scott Mathieson (P, Phillies), Miles Mikolas (P, Rangers), Arquimedes Caminero (P, Mariners), Luis Cruz (2B/SS, Yankees), Casey McGhee (3B/1B, Marlins), Garrett Jones (OF/1B, Yankees)

Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars
- Dates: Feb. 1 - Feb. 26
- Location: Ginowan Municipal Baseball Stadium (First team, near MCAS Futenma), Kadena Baseball Stadium (Farm team, near Kadena Air Base)
- Days off: Feb. 5, 10, 16, 21 (First team); Feb. 6, 13, 18, 23 (Farm team)
- Former MLB players (Position, Previous Team): Joe Wieland (P, Mariners), Spencer Patton (P, Cubs), Audy Ciriaco (3B, Tigers), Phil Klein (P, Phillies), Jose Lopez (1B/3B, White Sox), Elián Herrera (2B/3B, Brewers)

Hanshin Tigers
- Dates: Feb. 1 – Feb. 28
- Location: Gionoza Village Baseball Stadium (near Camp Schwab and Hansen)
- Days off: Feb. 6, 10, 15, 20, 24
- Former MLB players (Position, Previous Team): Marcos Mateo (P, Padres), Randy Messenger (P, Mariners), Eric Campbell (3B, Mets), Román Méndez (P, Red Sox)

Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles
- Dates: Feb. 1 – Feb. 21 (First team), Feb. 1 – Feb. 20 (Farm)
- Days off: Feb. 6, 12 (First team), Feb. 6, 12, 16 (Farm)
- Location: Kumejima Island Baseball Stadium (First); Nakazato Stadium (Farm)
- Form MLB Players (Position, Previous Team): Frank Herrmann (P, Phillies), Zelous Wheeler (OF/1B/3B, Yankees), Japhet Amador (1B/DH, Astros), Carlos Peguero (OF, Redsox)

Tokyo Yakult Swallows
- Dates: Feb.1 – Feb. 27
- Location: Urasoe Municipal Baseball Stadium (near Camp Kinser)
- Days off: Feb. 5, 10, 15, 21
- Former MLB players (Position, Previous Team): David Buchanan (P, Phillies), Josh Lueke (P, Rays), Preston Guilmet (P, Brewers), Ross Ohlendorf (P, Reds), Dean Green (1B, Tigers), Wladimir Balentien (OF, Reds)

Chunichi Dragons
- Dates: Feb. 1 – Feb. 26 (First Team) 27 (Farm)
- Location: Chatan Park Baseball Stadium (near Kadena Air Base and Camp Foster)
- Days off: Feb. 6, 13, 20
- Former MLB players (Position, Previous Team): Raúl Valdés (P, Astros), Dayan Viciedo (1B/OF, White Sox), Alex Guerrero (3B/OF, Dodgers), Elvis Araújo (P, Phillies), Jorge Rondón (P, Pirates)


Practice & intrasquad games

Feb. 11
- Rakuten Golden Eagles Intrasquad game @ Kumejima Island Baseball Stadium or Nakazato Stadium (Subject to change)
- Chiba Lotte Marines vs. Lamigo Monkeys (China) 1 p.m. @ Ishigaki City Chuo Athletic Park Baseball Stadium (Admission fee: 1,000 yen for adult, 500 yen for middle and elementary school kid)

Feb. 12
- Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars Intrasquad game 12:30 p.m. @ Ginowan Municipal Baseball Stadium
- Chunichi Dragons vs. Hanwha Eagles (KPB) 1 p.m. @ Chatan Park Stadium
- Lamigo Monkeys (Chinese Professional Baseball League) vs. Chiba Lotte Marines 1 p.m. @ Ishigaki City Chuo Athletic Park Baseball Stadium (Admission fee: 1,000 yen for adult, 500 yen for middle and elementary school kid)

Feb. 13
- Hanshin Tigers vs. Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars 1 p.m. @ Ginoza Municipal Baseball Stadium
- Tokyo Yakult Swallows vs. Hanwha Eagles (KPB) 12:30 p.m. @ Urasoe Municipal Baseball Stadium

Feb. 14
- Tokyo Yakult Swallows vs. KIA Tigers (KPB) 12:30 @ Urasoe Municipal Baseball Stadium
- Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters intrasquad game 1 p.m. @ Nago Municipal Stadium

Feb. 15
- Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars vs. Hanwha Eagles (KPB) 1 p.m. @ Ginowan Municipal Baseball Stadium
- Chunichi Dragons vs. KIA Tigers (KPB) 1 p.m. @ Chatan Park Baseball Stadium
- Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters vs. Samsung Lions 1 p.m. @ Nago Municipal Stadium

Feb. 16
- Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars (farm) vs. Chunichi Dragons 1 p.m. @ Ginowan Municipal Baseball Stadium
- Hanshin Tigers vs. Samsung Lions 1 p.m. @ Gionoza Village Baseball Stadium
- Chunichi Dragons (farm) vs. Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars (farm) 1 p.m. @ Chatan Park Baseball Stadium
- Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters vs. KIA Tigers 1 p.m. @ Nago Municipal Stadium

Feb. 17
- Tokyo Yakult Swallows vs. Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars 1 p.m. @ Urasoe Municipal Baseball Stadium
- Chunihci Dragons (farm) vs. Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars (farm) 1 p.m. @ Yomitan Heiwa no Mori Baseball Stadium  

Feb. 18
- Yomiuri Giants vs. Samsung Lions (KPB) 12:30 p.m. @Naha Cellular Stadium  
- Chunichi Dragons vs. Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars 1 p.m. @ Chatan Park Baseball Stadium
- Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters Intrasquad game 1 p.m. @ Kaigin Stadium Kunigami

Feb. 19
- Tokyo Yakult Swallows vs. Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars 1 p.m. @ Urasoe Municipal Baseball Stadium
- Hanwha Eagles (KPB) vs. Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars (Farm) 1 p.m. @ Kochinda Athletic Park Baseball Stadium
- Hanshin Tigers vs. Nippon-Ham Fighters 1 p.m. @ Gionoza Village Baseball Stadium
- Chunichi Dragons vs. Tohoku Rakuten Eagles 1 p.m. @ Chatan Park Baseball Stadium

Feb. 20
- Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars vs. KIA Tigers (NPB) 1 p.m. @ Ginowan Municipal Baseball Stadium

Feb. 21
- Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars (farm) vs. Samsung Lions 1 p.m. @ Ginowan Municipal Baseball Stadium
- Chunichi Dragons (farm) vs. Hanwha Eagles (KPB) 1 p.m. @ Yomitan Heiwa no Mori Baseball Stadium  
- Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters vs. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 1 p.m. @ Nago Municipal Stadium* Admission Fee 500 yen

Feb. 22
- South Korea National Baseball Team vs. Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars 1 p.m. @ Gushikawa Baseball Stadium
- Chunichi Dragons (farm) vs. LG Twins (KPB) 1 p.m. @ Yomitan Heiwa no Mori Baseball Stadium  

Feb. 23
- Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars vs. Chiba Lotte Marines 1 p.m. @ Ginowan Municipal Baseball Stadium
- Chunichi Dragons vs. Nexen Heroes (KPB) 12:30 p.m. @ Chatan Park Baseball Stadium
- Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters vs. Hanwha Eagles (KPB) 1 p.m. @ Nago Municipal Stadium
- Tokyo Yakult Swallows vs. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 1 p.m. @ Urasoe Municipal Baseball Stadium

Feb. 24
- Chunichi Dragons (farm) vs. Nexen Heroes (KPB) 1 p.m. @ Yomitan Heiwa no Mori Baseball Stadium  

Feb. 25
- Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars (farm) vs. Nexen Heroes (KPB) 1 p.m. @ Ginowan Municipal Baseball Stadium
- Hiroshima Toyo Carp Central League Championship Parade 4:30 p.m. @ Gate 2 Street
- Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters vs. Hanshin Tigers 1 p.m. @ Nago Municipal Stadium

Feb. 26
- Yokohama DeNA vs. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters 11:00 a.m. @ Ginowan Municipal Baseball Stadium

Feb. 28
- Hiroshima Toyo Carp vs. Samsung Lions Time to play ball TBD @ Koza Shinkin Stadium

*All games are free to watch unless noted.


Spring Training Games

Feb. 25 (Sat)
- Yomuri Giants vs. Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars 1 p.m. @ Naha Cellular Stadium
*Advance tickets available at Okinawa Cellular Stadium, Ryubo Department Store

- Chunichi Dragons vs. Hiroshima Toyo Carp 12:30 p.m. @ Chatan Park Stadium
*Advance tickets available at Chatan town municipal office, Chatan Town Tourist Association @ Mihama American Village

- Tokyo Yakult Swallows vs. Chiba Lotte Marines 1:30 p.m. @ Urasoe Municipal Baseball Stadium
*Advance tickets are available at Urasoe Municipal Office and Urasoe Municipal Gymnasium.
nHokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters vs. Hanshin Tigers @ Nago Municipal Stadium

Feb. 26 (Sun)
- Chunichi Dragons vs. Hanshin Tigers 1 p.m. @ Chatan Park Stadium
*Advance tickets available at Chatan town municipal office, Chatan Town Tourist Association @ Mihama American Village

- Tokyo Yakult Swallows vs. Hiroshima Toyo Carp 1 p.m. @ Urasoe Municipal Baseball Stadium
*Advance tickets are available at Urasoe Municipal Office and Urasoe Municipal Gymnasium.

- Yomiuri Giants vs. Chiba Lotte Marines 1 p.m. @ Naha Cellular Stadium
*Advance tickets available at Okinawa Cellular Stadium, Ryubo Department Store