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Team Europe vs Japan

Japanese baseball fans have every reason to be happy.

Players and coaching staff for the newly formed and branded “Europe” continental team arrived in Japan’s capital city on Wednesday and underwent their first-ever training Thursday.

Manager Steve Janssen (Netherlands National Team manager) and Marco Mazzieri (Italy National Team manager) led the European selection through the team’s first workout session, ahead of their two-game series against the top-ranked Japanese National Team, scheduled for 10-11 March at the iconic Tokyo Dome.

Japan vs Europe

Japan vs Europe

“It’s a huge honor to be here and great opportunity to showcase European Baseball,” Janssen told a crowd of reporters attending Europe’s initial workout at JR East Ballpark.

The Japan vs Europe Series will be broadcasted not only in Japan but even in Europe, via the Eurosport 2 channel.

When asked what the target is for Europe in its games versus Japan, Janssen said, “We are not here for sightseeing — we’re here to win.”

Janssen spoke highly about the nation that Europe will be making its historic debut against: “The Japanese National Team is the number one [ranked] country in the world…they can do it all. They are the complete package.”

Last November, Japanese National Team manager Hiroki Kokubo guided the Samurai to victory over a selection of Major League Baseball stars in a best-of-five series. Kokubo will have 19 players from that November roster, which was filled with the biggest stars in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), available for national team service against Europe.

On March 11, Europe will play its first-ever game as the home team, sporting the white jersey. A special Opening Ceremony will be held prior to Game 2 at 17:25.

With baseball widely considered to be the number one modern sport in the country, it is expected that Japan’s greatness in the sport will remain for a couple or three more decades.

Image from IBA Org

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The National Basketball League

It is not unknown to many that Japan enjoys two big basketball leagues in their country with lots of teams. This is supposed to be a good thing for the Asian country, unfortunately, the basketball support in the country is actually not that big.

In 2012, Japan announced their intention of establishing the National Basketball League as the top-flight professional league in the country. The governing body of international games, the Japan Basketball Association made this announcement.

The National Basketball League exists alongside BJ League, arguably the more popular tournament of the two. There is no system of promotion and relegation between bj-league and the NBL.

The National Basketball League

The National Basketball League

In the Autumn of 2013, the first National Basketball League started. In the final round, Toshiba defeated Wakayama to take the inaugural title in May 2014.

For the 2014-2015 season, the league saw an expansion team enter the tournament. The Hiroshima Dragonflies entered the league under the Western Conference.

On the other hand, the Tsukuba Robots transferred from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference.

Evident in the statements above is that the National Basketball League took the format of the National Basketball Association in America, in which two conferences are the main divisions of the league. With this, a team from the Western Conference is expected to battle it out against a team in the Eastern Conference for the championship.

Also, just like the NBA, the National Basketball League has a developmental league in the National Basketball Development League, the former JBL 2 Division.

Teams

Eastern Conference

 

Levanga Hokkaido (Hokkaido Prefecture)

Link Tochigi Brex (Tochigi Prefecture)

Chiba Jets (Chiba Prefecture)

Hitachi SunRockers Tokyo (Tokyo, and Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture)

Toyota Alvark Tokyo (Tokyo)

Toshiba Brave Thunders Kanagawa (Kanagawa Prefecture)

Tsukuba Robots (Ibaraki Prefecture)

Western Conference

Aisin Seahorses Mikawa (Aichi Prefecture)

Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins Nagoya (Aichi Prefecture)

Wakayama Trians (Wakayama Prefecture) *Announced withdrawal from league on 7 January 2015[3]

Hiroshima Dragonflies (Hiroshima Prefecture)

Hyogo Storks (Hyogo Prefecture)

Kumamoto Volters (Kumamoto Prefecture)

Image from Twitter

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Japanese Baseball League

The Japanese Baseball League is the corner stone of the popularity of baseball in Japan. Established in 1936, it had a great 13 year run until 1949. A year after, it was reorganized as the Nippon Professional Baseball, which still exists and continues to be a success.

The most popular team in the league is the Tokyo Kyojin, playing for the country’s capital city. They are also considered as the most dominant team in the league, winning a total of nine championships. From 1938 to 1943, they were able to win six of the nine championships successively.

Japanese Baseball

Japanese Baseball

Unlike American pro teams, Japanese Baseball League teams were usually named after their corporate owners/sponsors rather than the cities or regions in which they played. This was because Japanese franchising does not have strong territorial requirements as in the Major Leagues; as a result, the JBL teams clustered in metropolitan areas in Japan’s center (Tokyo, Nagoya) and south (Osaka). As a result, teams were notorious for how often they changed their names, often because of changes in ownership/sponsorship (and also because of nationalistic regulations imposed during wartime, such as the outlawing of English team names).

The league played a 119-game schedule in 1947. That year, baseball personality Soutaro Suzuki proposed that JBL teams should have pet names like the Yomiuri Giants’, whose pet name was “Kyojin”, and names such as the Osaka Tigers’ alias “Mouko” (fierce tiger), the revived Tokyo Senators’ “Seito” (bluestockings) and the Pacific’s “Taihei” (tranquility) began to be used by the press. However, some teams rejected the use of these pet names, so they were never fully adopted. But even in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, the use of pet names is still greatly accepted.

Although the Japanese Baseball League is not anymore existent, it will forever remain in the history of Japan

Image from Manulife

 

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Ichiro Suzuki

Ichiro Suzuki is a Japanese baseball legend who has been playing in the Major League Baseball for a long time. Born in 1973, he was able to play in the American league at the age of 38. The teams he played for include the Seattle Mariners, and the New York Yankees. Ichiro has established a number of batting records, including MLB’s single-season record for hits with 262. He had 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons, the longest streak by any player in history.

Ichiro’s talent was discovered when he played in Japan for the Orix Blue Wave of Japan’s Pacific league. In the said league, he played nine years achieving records and various awards.

Ichiro is the first MLB player to enter the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame (The Golden Players Club). He is a ten-time All-Star and won the 2007 All-Star Game MVP Award for a three-hit performance that included the event’s first-ever inside-the-park home run. Ichiro won a Gold Glove Award in each of his first ten years in the major leagues, and has had seven hitting streaks of 20 or more games, with a high of 27. Ichiro also leads all active players in stolen bases, with 487.

Suzuki with the Yankees

Suzuki with the Yankees

Ichiro was born in the town of Toyoyama. In the same town is where he grew up and developed a love for basketball. At the age of seven, Ichiro joined his first baseball team and asked his father, Nobuyuki Suzuki to teach him to be a better player. The two began a daily routine which included throwing 50 pitches, fielding 50 infield balls and 50 outfield balls, and hitting 500 pitches, 250 from a pitching machine and 250 from his father.

On August 9, 2014, Ichiro hit a single in a game, again against the Indians, to pass George Sisler on the all-time hit list with his 2,811th hit. Ichiro had previously broken Sisler’s single season hit record in 2004.

Image from Japan Guide

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Norichika Aoki

Baseball is the number one modern sport in Japan. It is not surprising then that many Japanese players are well-developed in baseball to the point that they are capable of playing internationally in the pros.  Nori Aoki is an example.

Norichika Aoki is a Japanese professional baseball player who is currently playing for the San Francisco Giants of the Major League Baseball. In the past, he has played for the Milwaukee Brewers and the Kansas City Royals. In the local league in his mother country, he has played for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.

In the 2011-2012 season, the Swallows posted Aoki to the Major League Baseball. The Milwaukee Brewers won the posting and immediately signed Aoki to a two-year deal. He became the team’s first Japanese player to be acquired through this process. Kosuke Inaji served as Aoki’s interpreter throughout the season.

 

Due to his fine play, as well as unfortunate injuries to his team’s regular players, Aoki found himself with an increased role year after year. In his first full season with Milwaukee, Aoki hit .288/.355/.433 with 10 home runs (one inside the park), 50 RBIs, and 81 runs scored in 520 at-bats, plus 30 stolen bases. By the latter half of the season he was batting primarily in the leadoff position for the Brewers. Aoki also set the record for doubles in a single season (37) by a Brewers rookie.

In 2013, after a successful run with the team, the Brewers decided to let Aoki go, sending him to the Kansas City Royals via trade. Aoki has batted leadoff for the Royals for much of the 2014 Kansas City Royals season. On August 6, in a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Aoki hit a grand slam in the fifth inning off of relief pitcher Bo Schultz. This was his first career grand slam, as well as his first (and only) homer with the Royals.

As his contract is set to terminate, the San Francisco Giants decided to pick up Aoki’s contract. In January 29 of this year, Aoki was able to finalize the deal with the giants.

Nori

Nori

Image from Wikipedia

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So Taguchi

So Taguchi is a legendary Japanese baseball player. Taguchi played ten seasons in the Japanese Baseball League, and then had the privilege to play in the Major League Baseball. In MLB, he was able to play for teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Chicago Cubs.

So Taguchi can be remembered as the first Japanese National League player to win a world series. He was able to do this with two different teams, with the Cardinals and the Phillies in 2006 and 2008, respectively.

Taguchi

Taguchi

Taguchi was born and raised in Nishinomiya, Hyogo, Japan. With a degree in Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration, he was able to graduate in the Kwansei Gakuin University.

In 2002, Taguchi received one of the biggest news of his life. He was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals as a free agent in 2002 at the age of 33, a year in which he rose through the minor league system, playing for the New Haven Ravens and the Memphis Redbirds, compiling a .262 batting average, with 6 home runs and 51 RBI. He eventually earned a call-up on September 7, and recorded the first hit of his major league career in the second inning against the Chicago Cubs.

Taguchi got another brief call-up in 2003, then got more playing time with the Cardinals in 2004, appearing in 109 games. He was included on the ’04 Cardinals postseason roster, and appeared in two games of the 2004 World Series, which the Cardinals lost to the Boston Red Sox in a four-game sweep. In 2005, injuries to outfielders Larry Walker and Reggie Sanders opened up manager Tony LaRussa’s lineup card, and Taguchi became an everyday player. He responded with his best season, batting .288 in 396 at-bats with eight home runs and fifty-three RBI, and contributing with his stellar defense at all three outfield positions as the Cardinals won 100 games and had the best record in the National League.

In 2007, the Cardinals decided not to resign Taguchi. After a year, the Philadelphia Phillies signed him into a one year deal. Taguchi’s numbers fell off sharply, his batting average dropping from .290 in 2007 to .220 in 2008, and he got only 91 at-bats for the whole season. However, he was included on Philadelphia’s postseason roster and won his second championship ring when the Phillies won the 2008 World Series.

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Matsuzaka Daisuke- The Japanese Baseball Star

Matsuzaka Daisuke is a Japanese Baseball player. He was born in the year 1980 making him currently 34 years old. Unlike other baseball players, Matsuzaka did not dream of becoming a professional player at a young age. However, an unexpected but fortunate thing happened to him one day.

In the spring of 1998, Daisuke Matsuzaka was only a simple high school player. He played baseball and was part of his high school’s team. However, his primary focus then was his studies. But in the summer of the same year, everything changed for him.

Baseball

Baseball

At Koshien, with practically the whole country tuned in on TV or the radio, Matsuzaka’s pitching for Yokohama High School was nothing short of sensational. In one game, he threw 250 pitches in 17 innings to beat powerhouse P.L. Gakuen. In the final, he threw a no-hitter – the first ever in a Koshien final – to win both the tournament and the admiration of the nation.

After that tournament, baseball scouts all over Japan were interested with Matsuzaka. This is only when he realized that he would want to pursue a career in professional baseball.

With a big love for hometown, he reiterated that he would want to join the Yokohoma Bay Stars. However, it was the Seibu Lions of the Pacific League who won the first pick. Eventually, the Lions acquired Matsuzaka.

The idea of playing for the Lions was not favorable for Matsuzaka at the start. But with the gesture of Higashio Osamu, then manager of the Lions and a legendary pitcher of the league, Matsuzaka suddenly changed his mind. What Osamu did was no other than giving Matsuzaka the baseball ball that was used in his 200th win as a pro.

Matsuzaka Daisuke had a colorful career since then. In his rookie season, Matsuzaka notched 14 wins, leading his team to a second place finish. Fans loved him and adored his greatness. With this, media men took advantage making sure that TV audiences almost doubled when he pitched. The media really made sure that hype was around him.

But just like any other story that was made bigger by media, the hype on Matsuzaka Daisuke suddenly wore off. However, his inclusion as one of the professionals in the Olympic team in Sydney and again in Athens put him in the limelight again.

Matsuzaka Daisuke eventually was recruited by world famous Boston Red Sox of the Major League Baseball in America. Now, he is back in Japan playing for the Softbank Hawks

Image from Wikipdia

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Tokyo Yomiuri Giants

There are twelve teams in Japan that compete in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, its two sub-leagues to be exact. All twelve teams have their individual histories and backgrounds, fanbases and triumphs as well as defeats. The oldest, and most popular team in the league, are the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants. Established in 1936, the Giants are the most publically examined and exposed team, which makes the team a dream for many up and coming players to strive and one day play for.

With size and a large fanbase come many resources at the disposal of the team and it shows – of all the teams that are currently competing (or have formerly competed) in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, the Giants have netted by far the most trophies and pennants over the years, especially in the Japan Series, which determines the overall winner of the NPB league as the winners of both the Central and Pacific leagues face off in order to determine the best team in Japan.

 

However, despite being the most successful team in the league, the Giants are far from flawless. One of the pitfalls the team has found itself in regularly is the mistake of giving out too many expensive contracts to too many players which often turned out to be paid far more than they were actually worth in terms of actually achieving results. However, this has allowed the Giants to be a dominant force during the annual amateur draft phase when teams are allowed to acquire new talent, normally rising from colleges of high schools.

 

One benefit the team gains from its widespread resources is the fact that all its games are nationally televised, a feat no other team can claim. Media outlets have to partner with teams individually instead of the league as whole, however not all media partners, or all teams, have the capacity to air all their games. Their games are also covered by three major newspapers, adding more exposure, especially in the Tokyo region and its surrounding areas. Unfortunately, the current line up of the Giants is not as strong as its predecessors, as the team has a lot of young talent but appears to lack coordination.

Image by highlife.ba.com

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Yokohama Baystars

In the past few times, I’ve gone over the prominent professional baseball teams in Japan, I’ve mainly covered the teams that compete in the Pacific League of the Nippon Professional Baseball league, with the occasional Central League team here and there. One of the teams I have not covered are the Yokohama BayStars, one of the well-known names among the fans of the sport.

The BayStars have a long history as a professional team that dates back to the foundation of the sport in Japan, all the way back in 1950 when Japan redefined itself as a culture following the devastations of the second World War. Prior to that, the team had already existed as Taiyo Fishing Company, competing in amatheur tournaments and showing up to national-level competitions around the 1930s. The name BayStars would not come about until the early 90s.

It wasn’t until the late 70s that the team started seeing success, managing their highest ever placement in the league in 1979 when they managed to place second behind the Hiroshima Carps.

Four decades after joining the Central League, the BayStars finally got their first league victory in 1998. It had been their first major feat and the team’s future looked bright with many analysts claiming them to be a contender for back to back victories in the coming years – only to fall short in the following season with a 3rd place finish.

The team, as the name suggests, hails from Yokohama, the second largest city in the Land of the Rising Sun after Tokyo. The team has been playing in the Yokohama Stadium since 1978, which offers one of the most scenic locations in the sport as it is just a few blocks away from the Yokohama bay. Fans love watching the team play in their home stadium because there is much to do around it, including many shopping and food locations which make a baseball filled weekend much more satisfying and can be a nice consolation prize if the team loses. The stadium has recent undergone some renovations to bring it up to modern standards and make it a more enjoyable and scenic experience for viewers and players alike.

Image by japanball.com

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Nagoya Chunichi Dragons

The dream of most amatuer baseball players in Japan is to make it to the big leagues and play as a pro – which in Japan happens in the Nippon Professional Baseball League, which in turn is divided into the Central and Pacific leagues. Each league is made up of six teams, allowing there to be a total of 12 professional teams playing at the highest level.

One of the teams participating in the Central League are the Nagoya Chunichi Dragons. As their name implies, the team hails from Nagoya, which is the chief city of Chubu, the center-most region of Japan. The Chunichi Dragons are one of the oldest teams in the league, with their origins going back to 1936 under the name of Nagoya Club. The club changed names five times within 20 years after foundation before becoming the Dragons they are known as today. Coincidentally, the team won their first Japan Series Championship in the year they chose the name, cementing it for permanent use.

The Japan Series Championship is the single most coveted title in the scope of professional Japanese baseball, as in order to qualify it one must first win their respective Pacific or Central leagues. The two winners of said leagues compete in a best of 7 competition to determine the All Japan champion. The Dragons won this the first time in 1954 and it took them just over 50 years to repeat that feat, managing to do so once more in 2007. Prior to that they did manage to win the Central league on six occasions, but in the instances they did, they fell short in beating the winning team of the Pacific circuit. In taking 53 years to win the All Japan title again, the Dragons actually managed to set a record of longest time in between such victories – perhaps not the most crowning achievement of such a club. Their 2007 win was actually even more impressive due to new play-off rules, meaning the Dragons first had to beat the second or third place of the Pacific League prior to facing the Central League winners.

Image by kosukefukudomefan.blogspot.com