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Quake-shaken Eagles, Marines set to start season

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Quake-shaken Eagles, Marines set to start season

by Jim Allen (Apr 12, 2011)

The focus, at least for the players, is returning to the field today as Nippon Professional Baseball begins it's belated season.

The Chiba Lotte Marines and Rakuten Golden Eagles will be at Chiba's QVC Marines Field with Marines lefty Yoshihisa Naruse scheduled to throw the season's first pitch at 1 p.m.

The start time was switched from 6 p.m. because of a government request not to play night games while the Tohoku and Kanto regions are short of electricity.

Opposing Naruse will be Eagles ace Hisashi Iwakuma, who makes his second Opening Day start at the park formerly known as Chiba Marine Stadium. Iwakuma started and won Rakuten's first game here on March 26, 2005.

"[That game] doesn't really matter now," Iwakuma said. "That game is still meaningful in several ways, but the meaning is different from this one."

Over the weekend, both teams met with people in disaster-hit areas. While the Eagles were visiting Sendai for the first time this season, Marines players visited schools in two Chiba cities that suffered in last month's earthquake and tsunami.

"We are all in the same boat," Iwakuma said. "It's not just us and Lotte, this [issue] is for all 12 teams.

"Of course, going to the disaster area and seeing it for yourself makes you want to win that much more for those people. We all want to win for them."

Because both teams will be motivated, Naruse anticipated a hard-fought game.

"We want to win for the people of Chiba," he said. "We know they [the Eagles] are in a unique position, but that doesn't mean we are going to take it easy. We expect they will do the same. It should be good. It should be fun."

Naruse will be making his second Opening Day start. He allowed two runs in eight innings last year in a loss at Seibu Dome.

"I haven't won on Opening Day, so that's my goal," he said. "I am going to try some new things. I have high expectations."

The Marines, who last year became the first team to finish third in the regular season and win the Japan Series, are in their second season under manager Norifumi Nishimura.

"Basically, we have the same approach as last year," he said. "Not exactly, but fundamentally the same.

"We lost our season series against them [the Eagles], so obviously they match up well against us. We have to have a good plan because we haven't hit Iwakuma well in the past.

"But everyone is relaxed, and we are not going to try to do too much."

Although both teams are focused on the game, there is no escaping the sense that today's opener is not just another game and that this is not just another season.

"We're finally ready to start," Iwakuma said. "I'm trying my best. I have a very special feeling about this. I think everyone thinks it's very special."

Eagles manager Senichi Hoshino, who, apart from a stint with the national team, is managing for the first time since 2003, said his guys are ready to play ball.

"We're moving well," he said. "Our practice today was really sharp.

"I heard tomorrow is Iwakuma's [30th] birthday and I expect him to win it for us."

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