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Game 1: The Kia Tigers

[February 28th] -- Usually, the first game of spring training is against a patsy; a college team or a rag-tag all star team from Dubai. The Nationals chose to play the Kia Tigers, baseball's version of the old "Washington Generals" that played foil to the Harlem Globetrotters for years. You know, fill out the uniforms and don't hurt anyone. And get clobbered.

Memo to Nationals: don't phone it in on Wednesday.

In the first game of spring, The Kia Tigers mauled the Cincinnati Reds 12-4.

Dave Williams, obtained over the winter from the Pirates for Sean Casey, gave up five runs on 35 pitches in the first inning, including a long home run by Lim Sung-min.

The Nationals lineup will be full of rookies and second year players, so the outcome of the game doesn't mean much. What makes this story so interesting is how far baseball in the Pacific Rim has come. ABC's Wide World of Sports first broadcast an American-Japanese all star game [that I remember] following the 1968 season. The Americans pummeled the Japanese game after game after game. As I remember, the Americans won 12 of 13 games in the series. The Japanese players looked like children awed in the presence of their heroes.

I got to see many when I lived in Japan in the late 1970's. I felt at that time that their defense was every bit as good as ours, and the pitching was very good as well. However, Japanese pitchers were all about movement and nibbling on the corners. I don't remember any dominant fast-ball pitchers in the league. The good hitters were in the mold of Ichiro, quick and disciplined. The home runs were fewer even though the fences were on average 20-30 feet closer in than the American ballparks. I had an opportunity to go TDY to Korea [former military personnel knows what that means :)] and saw a professional game during my stay. The stadium wasn't much more than what the Potomac Nationals play in today. Today, the teams play in 35,000 seat concrete facilities that are filled nightly.

Today, there isn't much difference in the quality of the top players in both regions, although we have many more top players than you'll find in Japan or Korea. I will say that fans in Japan are far more rapid then here in the States.

All around the stadiums in Japan are "boosters" who act like cheerleaders. They are each responsible for a section, and they make sure their fans scream and shout the loudest. Most fans bring noisemakers into the stadium, giving the game more of a feel of a college football game.

I'm not sure who I'm going to root for. While I love the Nationals, I did buy two Kia's a couple of months ago. Maybe my purchase bought a few jerseys for the team.

Nah. Go Nats!


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