The Rakuten Eagles may not have wrapped up their first pennant since 2013 with the signing of their former ace Masahiro Tanaka, but they are reaping a windfall just two weeks into camp Kyodo News (Japanese) reported Monday.
Since Tanaka returned last month for the first time since he closed out Game 7 of the 2013 Japan Series with a save, the Pacific League team has sold 5,000 No. 18 Tanaka replica shirts in 10 days, for a total retail value of 70 million yen, or roughly 6.3 percent of the right-hander’s contract reported at 900 million yen ($8.7 million
Rakuten’s director of goods and merchandising, Takashi Watanabe, said, “It exceeds our expectations. There’s no sign it’s stopping yet. It’s the same kind of momentum from when we won the championship in 2013.”
Tanaka, by the way, has been scheduled to take the mound for the first time in a practice game on Feb. 20.
Okinawa gets its 1st women’s team
Although Japan’s baseball-playing population is dwindling, women are flocking to the game. Okinawa Prefecture, which hosts spring training camps for most of NPB’s 12 teams, is getting into the act, writes Nikkan Sports columnist Hirokazu Terao.
Kumiko Nakayama, a vice chairman of the prefectural high school baseball federation, will officially start the team in April. Nakayama is the principal of Nambu Shogyo (Commercial) High School, and for 10 years served as the director of baseball for both Chubu Shogyo and Urasoe Shogyo high schools.
The manager of those schools at the time said he invited her since high school baseball was education and he wanted her to assist in developing the youngsters. It’s typical in high school games to see the school’s baseball director sitting on the bench near the manager, but Nakayama rarely did so, but the manager recalled her saying, “People would say, ‘What’s a woman doing there?’ I don’t want to be seen as just a decoration.”
Nakayama made use of her education specialty to set up an analytics team that racked pitch location and the flight of batted balls, and a support team so students other than players could contribute.
According to Terao, the national women’s high school hardball federation reported 36 member schools in 2020, up from seven in 2010, while Japan’s national women’s team has won six straight world championships. Two of NPB’s 12 teams, the Pacific League’s Seibu Lions and the Central League’s Hanshin Tigers, have established women’s club teams.
“So many women want to play, but as they progress from junior high to high school and graduate or leave the prefecture, it becomes economically unfeasible to keep at it,” Nakayama said. “I love baseball and felt I had to do something about it.”
Nakayama has held two events to show what the team is about ande expects the team, based on the main island’s southern Shimajiri District, to start with 12 to 13 members. To make it easier for women from other islands or from the main island’s northern districts to participate she’s rented space in a nearby home.
In a month when Japan’s deep-rooted misogyny was highlighted by the sexist remarks of a former prime minister, Nakayama’s words as an educator give Japan something positive to look forward to.
“We can’t foresee the future,” she said. “But women, too, can play an active role nationwide. School club activities are part of education, and if you challenge yourself through baseball and become a leader, it will improve your school. Building roots in the community is important, too. If this contributes to students finding jobs or getting into universities, I want to support that.”