Why doesn't Okinawa have a pro baseball team?

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa
It’s safe to say that the game day experience of regular season professional baseball on Okinawa is limited to televised games. Although the prefecture hosts spring training for many teams, there are only a few official games played on the island once the season kicks off. Despite being a home for all the regular-season prep, Okinawa is left behind once all the official fun begins.
 
In its 2014 proposal titled “Japan Revival Vision,” the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP), the present ruling party of the county, touched on a possibility of expanding the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization (NPB) to 16 teams by adding four teams to the current 12.
 
Along with Shizuoka Prefecture, northern Shinetsu region, Shikoku, Okinawa was named as a candidate to host a new team. The proposal to change the 50-year-old 12-team format was met with mixed responses.
 
The Huffington Post reported in 2014 that while people such as Senichi Hoshino, a former manager of Tohoku Rakuten Eagles, gave a thumbs up to the expansion, there were voices concerned about the huge running cost for hosting a professional team and a possible drop in quality of the game by bringing in more players to the market.
 
Four years after the plan to bring a team to Okinawa surfaced, not much has materialized. Despite the lack of development, another possibility of launching a pro-baseball team on the island has emerged.
 
In 2015, Ryukyu Shimpo reported a project by a Taiwanese business group to build a shopping complex in Okinawa that would include sports facilities. This plan is thought to be part of the group’s plan to set up a professional baseball team in Okinawa and allow it to join the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL), a pro league in Taiwan. The article touched on the economic ties between Taiwan and Okinawa as a background by quoting the fact that Taiwanese account for 30 percent of tourists that come to Okinawa.
 
Recently, not much has been heard of the idea, but the plan appears to be legitimate given the ever-growing number of Taiwanese tourists headed to Okinawa. According to the Okinawa Prefectural Government, 607,300 Taiwanese tourists visited Okinawa in 2016 - a 27 percent increase from the previous year. In February, the Lamigo Monkeys of the CPBL visited Ishigaki island for exhibition games with the Chiba Lotte Marines of the NPB, another clear baseball tie with Okinawa and Taiwan.
 
Baseball in itself is a very popular sport in Okinawa. The prefecture has sent many players to the NPB, and local high school baseball teams get rockstar treatment when they play in national tournaments. But Okinawans have long had to settle for games on TV – mostly Yomiuri Giants games - as their game day experience. However, given the success of NPB teams such as Nippon-Ham Fighters and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in connecting with fans in local cities, or the rise of non-NPB independent leagues such as the Shikoku Island League Plus or ROUTE INN BCL league, having a professional baseball team in Okinawa may not be a far-fetched idea. 
 
2018 NPB Regular season games on Okinawa 
 
Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters vs. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks
 
Date: Tues., June 26 & Wed., June 27
Where: Okinawa Cellular Stadium Naha (near Naha Millitary Port, 42-1 Oonomiya-cho, Naha-city)
Tickets: ((Day-of-tickets): infield reserved seats range from 3,000 to 7,000 yen; outfield (non-reserved) for 2,000 yen (adult) and 500 yen (junior high students and younger)
 
* All advance tickets, except outfield child tickets are 500 yen cheaper.
 
 
 
NPB NOTES
- The single season record for batting average is not held by Ichiro. It’s held by American Randy Bass who hit .389 in 1986. Ichiro’s best was .387 in 2000.
- Former Mariners and Reds outfielder Wladimir Balentien hit 60 homeruns in 2013 - the single season record.
- Until it was broken in 2015, former Cubs outfielder Matt Murton held the record for hits in a season with 214.
- Another former Cub, Tuffy Rhodes, won the Pacific League MVP for the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes in 2001. Rhodes hit 55 homers and drove in 131 runs.
- The nearly 100-year-old Meiji Jingu Stadium, home to the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, isn’t just named after Meiji Shrine – it’s actually owned by the famous shrine.
 
What you need to know
- Stand up when your team is batting
- Each player has a cheer song when at bat
- The Giants are equal to the Yankees
- The Giants-Tigers rivalry is therefore Yankees-Red Sox
- Games can end in a tie after 12 innings
- 4 foreign players are allowed on the 25-man roster (no more than 3 pitchers or 3 hitters)

 

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