Japanese baseball has been dominated for years by the likes of “old school” teams, such as the Yomiuri Giants, Chiunichi Dragons, Hanshin Tigers and Seibu Lions. These teams all play in the older Central Division, but they have not fared well in recent years. For American comparisons, please consider recent National versus American League results.
This year the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters (whose roster includes Jose Macias) have claimed the title. The Fighters have been ably managed by Trey Hillman (pictured at right, rather upside down,) a former AAA Columbus Clippers manager. My gut instinct is that Trey will be announced soon as the new manager of the Texas Rangers. Trey is potentially a younger version of Cubs manager Lou Piniella. The big star for the Fighters (named after the Japanese meatpacking conglomerate Nippon Ham) is pitcher Yu Darvish (pictured to the left;) Yu shares both Iranian and Japanese ancestry – American Major League fans will start to hear about Yu in about six years when he nears free agent eligibility. Their victory was iced by a former Montreal Expo player named Fernando Seguignol, seen in the picture to the right hitting a two-run homer off of Chuinichi Dragons pitcher Kenshin Kawakami.
Hokkaido used to be one of the three “Tokyo” teams and could not survive in a market that included Yomiuri. In bad games they had less than a thousand fans, so the team headed to the northern island when Sapporo built a domed stadium. Nippon players insist that their championship could not have happened without the urgent support of the Hokkaido faithful – compare and contrast that with the egotistical “me-ism” of their American equivalents!
For American baseball fans this is the equivalent of the Seattle Mariners winning a championship – best of luck to the Fighters’ players and congratulations to their fans!