No matter how often the Chunichi Dragons finish among the Central League's top three, change seems to be business as usual.
This year the Central League champions' road to victory required them to overcome a major shakeup in the middle of the infield. After eight years as Chunichi's regular at second base and six Golden Gloves, Masahiro Araki moved his shingle to shortstop this spring, swapping places with six-time Golden Glove-winner Hirokazu Ibata.
"It was hard," he told The Daily Yomiuri on Friday. "I thought that I would be used to it after spring training and the exhibition season, but even now, after a full season, I feel I'm not completely there yet."
And while Araki was still at the bottom of the learner's curve in the field, his batting struggled.
"For a long time, I had so many sleepless nights and my physical condition suffered," he said. "I didn't hit until July or August, I guess about the time it [my fielding] began to feel natural."
Araki said learning shortstop reminded him of trying to learn a foreign language.
"I had to think, think, think. It is kind of like learning English," he said. "Things kind of fell into place. Sometimes, I'd think back on a play and realize I had reacted without thinking."
About the time Araki located his comfort zone in the plate and at the field, so did the Dragons. They were one game over .500 through June 30, but went 42-26-2 the rest of the way to clinch the pennant.
While batting averages and ERAs rose around the league starting in July, Chunichi's ERA dropped by more than a full run from July 1, the batting averages of their opponents dropped from .258 to .254.
But there are still rough spots that need further work, even as the Dragons are embroiled in the Japan Series.
"Recently there was a double play grounder to second and the runner was on me before I could make the throw to first," he said. "Afterward, I thought that if I had gotten there just a little more quickly, I could have made the throw and we would have had a double play.
"You have to think to play baseball, but it's really about reacting, about being able to move the way you think you can."
Even if he is not yet reacting the way he wants at his new position, that's where he finds himself in his fourth Japan Series.
"I have to just gut it out, although perhaps now rather than 'gut it out,' it's more like 'let's get it done,'" Araki said.
Penn happy to be in Chiba
Chiba Lotte Marines right-hander Hayden Penn, a good candidate to start either Game 5 tonight or Game 6 on Thursday, said Tuesday the fans here more than make up for the November chill.
Asked if he was concerned about the cold weather and wind at Chiba Marine Stadium, Penn said: "I'm more happy to pitch in front of the home fans in this atmosphere over the next three days."