After being crowned kings of Japanese baseball for the first time in 53 years, the Chunichi Dragons will try to uphold recent tradition by adding the Konami Cup to their trophy case.
The Konami Cup Asia Series, which features the league champions from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China's national team, gets under way Thursday with two games at Tokyo Dome.
The Dragons, who downed defending Japan Series and Konami Cup champions the Nippon-Ham Fighters in five games in the NPB championship series, are hoping to emulate both the Fighters and the Chiba Lotte Marines.
In 2005, Bobby Valentine's Marines won the Japan Series then cruised to the Asia Series title by winning four straight. The following year, Trey Hillman's Hammies did exactly the same thing.
"The Japanese teams have won this event the past two years," Chunichi manager Hiromitsu Ochiai said Tuesday at a Tokyo hotel. "This is a great stage for us and our players will do their utmost to win, and that's all I ask of them. A lot depends on luck when it comes to winning or losing. This will be our last series of the year so we want to leave it all on the field."
The Dragons will be without cleanup hitter Tyrone Woods, who has returned to the United States, but they should still have more than enough firepower to take care of business.
And speaking of business, Ochiai said it would be business as usual when they play their first game Thursday against South Korea's SK Wyverns, even though they know little about their opponents.
"Our team is based on defense and we'll play our usual style," said Ochiai. "We're not very aware of our opponents so we'll try to stay neck-and-neck with them and just win by a run. Since we don't have any real data on the other teams and managers, it could come down to a duel between pitchers."
SK Wyverns manager Kim Sung Kun, a coach on Valentine's staff with Lotte in 2005, has a couple of former Hiroshima Carp players on his roster: American pitchers Mike Romano and Kenny Rayborn.
China is managed by former National League Rookie of the Year Jim Lefebvre (Los Angeles Dodgers, 1965), who also played and coached in Japan with the Lotte Orions in the 1970s.
"Our No. 1 goal here is to play solid, hard baseball," said Lefebvre, who also coached and managed in the major leagues and who has been tasked with raising the level of Chinese baseball ahead of next summer's Beijing Olympics.
"Our team just came from the U.S. where we played in the fall league for six weeks," added Lefebvre, whose colorful resume also includes 1960s stints as a TV villain on the original "Batman" series and a small role on "Gilligan's Island." "At times we played well and hopefully we can continue that here. If we play fundamentally sound baseball, hopefully our pitching will give us a chance to win."
If not, it could be a case of "Curses--foiled again!"
Things kick off Thursday afternoon when China takes on Taiwan's Uni-President Lions at 12 noon, followed by the Dragons-SK Wyverns tilt at 6 pm.
Friday features SK Wyverns vs. China at 12:30 with the Lions and Dragons locking horns at 6:30 pm.
(IHT/Asahi: November 7,2007)