Japanese Ace Pitcher Brings Fans To Spring Training In Peoria

By Casey Kuhn
Published: Wednesday, February 10, 2016 - 8:01am
Updated: Wednesday, February 10, 2016 - 4:33pm
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(Photo by Casey Kuhn - KJZZ)
Fighters' ace Shohei Otani at bat.
(Photo by Casey Kuhn - KJZZ)
A Japanese and American announcer take turns announcing players in Japanese and English.

In Japan, baseball is as much a beloved national sport as it is in America. Two of the most high-profile Asian teams in the sport are bringing that love to the Valley by playing some exhibition games ahead of Spring Training.

Fans speaking English, Japanese and Korean were seated around the Peoria Sports Complex, which the Japan-based Fighters are using this year in a partnership with the San Diego Padres. It's the first in more than ten years that a Japanese team has come to the U.S. for Spring Training.

Three American fans, two from California and one from Boston, sitting behind the Fighters' dugout are decked out in Fighters' gear – jerseys, hats, keychains and even a Fighters' paper fan. They connected via Twitter, and hadn’t met each other in person until they came out to watch the team play.

One of them, Deanna Rubin, says there are a few differences between American and Japanese baseball, one being the fact that the cheering never stops.

“It’s crazy and wonderful, but it’s very organized," Rubin said. "If you don’t know what’s going with those people in the outfield screaming and yelling the whole time, actually there are leaders who come and have badges to lead the cheers and songs."

Japanese Pitcher Garners American Scouts' Attention

For two weeks in early February, all eyes are on young Fighters pitcher Shohei Otani, a 21-year-old whose fastball has clocked over a 100 miles per hour and is a dominant pitcher in Japan. But, he’s catching the attention of some scouts here in the U.S., too.

Otani, through an interpreter, is happy to be practicing in Arizona. "You know I came here to play baseball and I have a perfect environment for it,” Otani said. His goal is to play in the American major leagues.

"I know I've said this before, but my goal has always been to play for the MLB," he continued.

Back in the stands, Rubin says when she lived in Seattle, she saw the Japanese fan base who supported Ichiro Suzuki come out and spend money in droves.

"Japanese tourists would just show up in Seattle and drop like five, six thousand dollars on Ichiro gear," Rubin said. "And I thought that was crazy. But then I went to Japan and the same shirt that would cost $20 in Seattle would be selling for $50.”

You can see Otani and the Fighters in Peoria until their last exhibition game on February 13.

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