Japan Series 2007 Showcases the Best in Japanese Baseball

Baseball in Japan is, well, different. Not in the fundamentals, of course - the success of Japan League stars like Daisuke "Dice K" Matsuzaka and Ichiro Suzuki in the US proves beyond a doubt that a star is a star no matter where he plays. It's the details that show the difference, both on the field and off. The crowd really gets into the spirit of the game, for example. Supporters and cheerleaders inspire their team in ritually choreographed set-piece theatre that would be the envy of any top-ranked US college.

One of the teams set to face off in the 2007 Japan Series is the Nippon Ham Fighters. Yes, it's an odd name for a professional sports team... the Fighters are owned by Nippon Ham, a large Japanese meat packing company (other teams are owned by companies like Yakult, Rakuten, Seibu and Yomiuri - a yogurt maker, an internet retailer, a department store and a newspaper, respectively).

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The Fighters hail from Sapporo on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido. Managed by soon-to-be KC Royals manager Trey Hillman, the Fighters won the 2006 Japan Series for the first time in 44 years and hope to make it back-to-back championships with a win in '07. It won't be easy though... losing star pitcher Hideki Okajima to the Boston Red Sox in the off season left half-Iranian pitcher and media darling Yu Darvish to carry the load.

Facing Nippon Ham will be the Chunichi Dragons, making the 2007 series a rematch of '06 and a chance for the Dragons to take revenge. Based in the city of Nagoya, the Dragons have kept their loyal fans waiting 53 years for another championship title, having last won the Japan Series in 1954. Since that golden year, Chunichi has made six trips to the final series - and lost all six times!

Unlike many Japanese teams, the Dragons have very few non-Japanese players on their roster. Tyrone Woods is the only American, joined by Korean outfielder Byung-Gyu Lee and a couple of Dominican pitchers. Former "gaijin" Dragons include Willie Davis, Larry Doby, Mel Hall and Matt Stairs.

The 2007 Japan Series should a hard-fought battle likened to a classic grudge match between two teams desperate to prove themselves. The Chunichi Dragons are known for their defensive style while the Nippon Ham Fighters are smarting under the label "overachievers", having led the league in NO categories this season. Will the series hinge on one certain player's heroics? Will the chill air of Hokkaido cool down hot tempers? Can Trey Hillman's managerial style translate into victory on Japanese soil? Tune in if you can... the 2007 Japan Series will surely be a sight to see!

Steve Levenstein
Japanese Innovations Writer