Spring in their step: Japan's pro baseball preseason kicks off on Okinawa

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Photos by Shoji Kudaka
Photos by Shoji Kudaka

Spring in their step: Japan's pro baseball preseason kicks off on Okinawa

by: Shoji Kudaka | .
Stripes Okinawa | .
published: February 12, 2018
On a cold day in early February, more than 200 members of the media and 2,000 fans showed up at Chatan Park Stadium.
 
It was the first day of Spring Training for the Chunichi Dragons, and all eyes are on one thing: Dice-K.
 
One of nine teams preparing on Okinawa for the upcoming season, the Dragons drew an exceptional amount of the attention, arguably because of Daisuke Matsuzaka, the former Boston Red Sox player and now Chunichi Dragon.
 
Joining the Dragons on Okinawa in the month of February are the Yomiuri Giants, Hanshin Tigers, Yokohama DeNA Baystars, Hiroshima Toyo Carp, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, Tokyo Yakult Swallows, Chiba Lotte Marines and Tohoku Rakuten Eagles.
 
Practices and games, for all nine teams, which are almost always free, can be seen throughout Okinawa. Check out the schedule for all the game-day info you’ll need.
 
It’s been four years since Dice-K and his “gyroball” left Major League Baseball and returned to Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league. After three injury-plagued seasons that saw him only pitch one game for the SoftBank Hawks, the 37-year-old Matsuzaka now finds himself looking to make the Dragons’ roster.
 
Despite the tough seasons prior, it was big news when it was announced that he was joining the Dragons for a tryout and another chapter in his almost 20-year career.
 
On this day, training began quietly. Players first showed up on the field and started jogging and warming up. They moved in a group with their chants reverberating in unison, presenting a scene similar to military physical training.
 
Many regular players were found in the group, including some new faces such as Dillon Gee, a former New York Mets pitcher. But there was no sign of Dice-K and his No. 99.
 
After a meeting, the players returned to the field and No. 99 was among the pitchers playing catch in the outfield. The Media rushed to take photos of Dice-K, who was in his Dragons’ uniform for the first time on the field.
 
Dice-K teamed up with Katsuki Matayoshi, a star player from Okinawa, to throw and get loose. Although it was just a warm up and he was not throwing hard or didn’t seem to test the “gyroball”, his signature quirky mechanics were evident.
 
Leading up to this day, it had been argued a lot on the media whether or not Dice-K could replicate any of the success he had early in his career with the Seibu Lions or Red Sox.
 
Despite the perceived pressure, Dice-K looked calm and relaxed as he enjoyed the practice with his fellow pitchers.
 
“I would like to continue working on my arms just like I did throughout the offseason,” Matsuzaka said. “And I still need to work on my mechanics too. So, there’s no time for me to waste.”
 
Just like the former major leaguer, the Dragons are trying to make a comeback as a team after a disappointing 2017 season. When asked about the impact he might have on the team, Dice-K said, “I don’t know,” hinting that it’s something fans can decide on their own. But looking at the way many fans passionately rooted from the bleachers, expectations seem high for the team and Dice-K.
 
And just because he’s returned to Japan, Dice-K has not forgotten about the American fans who have cheered him on before.
 
“I really appreciate their continued support,” Matsuzaka said. “Now I’ve got this opportunity to come to Okinawa. It would be great if [the Americans] can come to the stadium.”
 
 
Did you know?
As an 17-year-old in a high school, Dice-K threw 250 pitches in a 17-inning win. The day before that, he threw a 148-pitch shutout.
 
History on display
Pacific Pitch, a U.S.-Japan baseball history exhibition is being held at Urasoe Art Museum. Photos and other baseball memorabilia are on display through 
Feb. 18 before moving to the Nago City Central Library (Feb. 23-Mar. 11). For more info, visit StripesOkinawa.com.

NPB teams training on Okinawa

Tohoku Rakuten Eagles
Dates: Feb. 1-23 (First team)
Days off: Feb. 19
Location: Kumejima Island Baseball Stadium (First Team, 100, Torishima, Kumejima-cho, Shimajiri, Okinawa 901-3123); Nakazato Stadium (Farm, 546-1, Janadou, Kumejima-cho, Shimajiri, Okinawa 901-3017); Kin-cho Baseball Stadium (First Team, 11053 Kin, Kin-cho, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa 904-1201)
 
 
Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
Dates: Feb. 17-23 (First team); Feb. 1-23 (Farm)
Days off: Feb. 20 (First Team) Feb. 15, 20 (Farm)
Location: Kaigin Stadium Kunigami (First team and Farm, 83-1, Hanji, Kunigami village, Kunigami, Okinawa, 905-1414) 
Akeomi Sky Dome (Near Camp Schwab, inside 21st Century Park Nago, 492 Miyazato Nago city Okinawa, 905-0011)
 
 
Chiba Lotte Marines
Dates: Feb. 1-19 (First team and farm)
Location: nIshigaki City Chuo Athletic Park Baseball Stadium (1408, Tonoshiro, Ishigaki city 907-0004)
 
 
Hiroshima Toyo Carp
Dates: Feb. 16-27
Days off: Feb. 20 
Location: Koza Shinkin Stadium (near Kadena Air Base and Camp Foster, 2-1-1, Moromizato, Okinawa city, Okinawa, 904-0432)
 
 
Hanshin Tigers
Dates: Feb. 1-28
Days off: Feb 5, 9, 14, 19, 23 
Location: Kariyushi Hotels Ball Park Gionoza (Near Camp Schwab and Camp Hansen, 188 Ginoza, Ginoza Village, Kunigami, Okinawa 904-1302) 
 
 
Yokohama DeNA BayStars
Dates: Feb. 1-28
Days off: Feb. 5, 9, 14, 19, 26 (First team); Feb. 6, 12, 17, 23 (Farm) 
Location: Atomhome Stadium Ginowan (First team, near Camp Foster and MCAS Futenma, inside of Ginowan Seaside Park, 4-2-1 Mashiki, Ginowan city, Okinawa 901-2224) 
Kadena Town Baseball Stadium (Farm team, near Kadena Air Base, 875, Yara, Kadena town, Nakagami, Okinawa 904-0202)
 
 
Yomiuri Giants
Dates: Feb. 15-28
Days off: Feb. 19, 23 
Location: Okinawa Cellular Stadium Naha (near Naha military port, 42-1, Onoyama-cho, Naha city, Okinawa 900-0026)
 
 
Chunichi Dragons
Dates: Feb. 1-28 (First Team) Feb. 1-Mar. 1 (Farm)
Days off: Feb. 19 
Location: Chatan Park Baseball Stadium (First Team, near Kadena Air Base and Camp Foster, 2 Mihama, Chatan-cho, Nakagami-gun, Okinawa 904-0115)
Yomitan Heiwano Mori Stadium (Farm, near Torii Station, 2901 Zakimi, Yomitan-son, Nakagami-gun, Okinawa
 
 
Tokyo Yakult Swallows
Dates: Feb. 1-26
Days off: Feb. 19 
Location: Urasoe Civic Baseball Stadium (Near Camp Kinser, 1-13-1, Nakama, Urasoe, Okinawa 901-2103)
 

Practice games 

Feb. 15
- BayStars vs. Samsung Lions (KPB): Time TBD @ Atomhome Stadium Ginowan (near Foster and Futenma)
- Dragons vs. KIA Tigers (KPB): 1 p.m. @ Chatan Park Baseball Stadium (near Foster and Kadena)
- Yakult Swallows vs. Hanwha Eagles (KPB): 1 p.m. @ Urasoe Civic Baseball Stadium (near Kinser)
 
Feb. 16
- Tigers vs. Eagles: 1 p.m. @ Kariyushi Hotels Ball Park Gionoza (near Schwab and Hansen)
 
Feb. 17
- Giants vs. Dragons: 12:30 p.m. @ Okinawa Cellular Stadium Naha (near Naha Military Port)
- BayStars vs. KIA Tigers (KPB): 1 p.m. @ Atomhome Stadium Ginowan (near Foster and Futenma)
- Marines vs. Lamigo Monkeys: 1 p.m. @ Ishigaki City Chuo Athletic Park Baseball Stadium (Subject to fees. For more info, contact supokou@city.ishigaki.okinawa.jp)  
- Eagles vs. Samsung Lions (KPB): 1 p.m. @ Kin-cho Baseball Stadium (near Hansen)
- Fighters intra-squad game: 1 p.m. @ Kaigin Stadium Kunigami (near Okuma Beach)
 
Feb. 18
- Swallows vs. BayStars: 1 p.m. @ Urasoe Civic Baseball Stadium (near Kinser)
- Carp vs. Dragons: 1 p.m. @ Koza Shinkin Staduim (near Kadena and Foster)
- Tigers vs. Fighters: 1 p.m. @ Kariyushi Hotels Ball Park Gionoza (near Schwab and Hansen)
- Giants vs. KIA Tigers (KPB): 12:30 p.m. @ Okinawa Cellular Stadium Naha (near Naha military port)
- Marines vs. Lamigo Monkeys: 1 p.m. @ Ishigaki City Chuo Athletic Park Baseball Stadium (Subject to fees. For more info, contact supokou@city.ishigaki.okinawa.jp)  
 
Feb. 19
- Fighters vs. KIA Tigers: Time 1 p.m. @ Kin-cho Baseball Stadium (near Hansen)
 
Feb. 20
- Baystars vs. Hanwha Eagles (KPB): Time TBD @ Atomhome Stadium Ginowan (near Foster and Futenma)
 
Feb. 21
- Giants vs. Swallows: 12:30 p.m. @ Okinawa Cellular Stadium Naha (Near Naha Military Port)
- Fighters vs. Samsung Lions (KPB): 1 p.m. @ ONNA Akama Ball Park (7441 Onna, Onna village, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa 904-0411)
- Eagles vs. Hanwha Eagles (KPB): 1 p.m. @ Kin-cho Baseball Stadium (near Hansen)
 
Feb. 22
- Dragons vs. Marines: 1 p.m. @ Chatan Park Baseball Stadium (near Foster and Kadena)
- Fighters vs. Samsung Lions (KPB): Time TBD @ ONNA Akama Ball Park (7441 Onna, Onna village, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa 904-0411)
 
Feb. 23
- BayStars vs. KIA Tigers: Time TBD @ Atomhome Stadium Ginowan (near Foster and Futenma)
- Eagles vs.  Fighters: 12:30 p.m. @ Kin-cho Baseball Stadium (near Hansen)
 
Feb. 26
- Dragons vs. Hanwha Eagles (KPB): 1 p.m. @ Chatan Park Baseball Stadium (near Foster and Kadena)
 
Feb. 27
- Giants vs. SK Wyverns (KPB): 12:30 p.m. @ Okinawa Cellular Stadium Naha (near Naha Military Port)
- Dragons vs. BayStars:  1 p.m. @ Chatan Park Baseball Stadium (near Foster and Kadena)
 
Feb. 28
- BayStars vs. SK Wyverns  Time TBD @ Atomhome Stadium Ginowan (near Foster and Futenma)
 

Spring training games

Feb. 24
- Swallows vs. Tigers: 1 p.m. @ Urasoe Civic Baseball Stadium (near Camp Kinser) Outfield bleachers 1,500 yen for adult, 500 yen for minor. Infield bleachers 2,500 yen for adult, 1,500 yen for minor. Designated seats 3,000 yen.
- Dragons vs. Fighters: 1 p.m. @ Chatan Park Stadium (near Camp Foster and Kadena AB) Infield bleachers 2,500 yen for adult, 1,300 yen for minor. Outfield bleachers 1,300 yen for adult, 800 yen for minor.
- Carp vs. Eagles: 1 p.m. @ Koza Shinkin Stadium (near Kadena AB and Camp Foster) Infield bleachers 2,500 yen for adult, 1,000 yen for minor. Outfield bleachers 1,500 yen for adult, 500 yen for minor.
- Giants vs. BayStars: 1 p.m. @ Okinawa Cellular Stadium Naha (Near Naha Military Port) Bleachers 2,300 yen. A certain amount of free bleachers tickets will be given away for elementary school students and below on the day of the event.
 
Feb. 25
- BayStars vs. Eagles: 1 p.m. @ Atomhome Stadium Ginowan (Near Camp Foster and MCAS Futenma) Home plate box seats 3,000 yen per adult, 1,500 yen for minor. Infield bleachers 2,000 per adult, 1,000 yen per minor. Outfield bleachers 1,500 yen per adult, 500 yen per minor.
- Dragons vs. Tigers: 1 p.m. @ Chatan Park Stadium (near Camp Foster and Kadena AB)
Infield bleachers 2,500 yen for adult, 1,300 yen for minor. Outfield bleachers 1,300 yen for adult, 800 yen for minor.
- Swallows vs. Fighters: 1 p.m. @ Urasoe Civic Baseball Stadium (near Camp Kinser) Outfield bleachers 1,500 yen for adult, 500 yen for minor. Infield bleachers 2,500 yen for adult, 1,500 yen for minor. Designated seats 3,000 yen.
- Giants vs. Carp: 1 p.m. @ Okinawa Cellular Stadium Naha (Near Naha Military Port) Bleachers 2,300 yen. A certain amount of free bleachers tickets will be given away for elementary school students and below on the day of the event.