Nippon Ham Fighters

Having for years shared the Tokyo Dome with the more popular Yomiuri Giants, Nippon Ham games were seldom crowded and the team has often looked for ways to boost attendance. Once a year, the Fighters give away free tickets for “Diamondbacks Day” to the foreign community in Tokyo, because of their partnership with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Since the 2004 season, the team has called the Sapporo Dome, on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan , its home field, though the Fighters continue to play a number of games in the Tokyo Dome.

During the 1980’s the Fighters wore bright orange-and-yellow uniforms in an attempt to attract fans. The team eventually opted for blue pinstripes but kept their fluorescent pink mascot, Fighty, who resembles a fuzzy pterodactyl and rides a bicycle.

While most major league teams offer a seventh inning stretch, the Fighters play the Village People classic “YMCA” over the sound system as cheerleaders and groundskeepers dance on the field during the fifth inning infield sweep.

They opened the 2004 season sporting new uniforms, logo and look in the their new ballpark.

The Fighters had good reason for trying to hard to attract fans. There were five other teams in the Tokyo-area also competing for fans, and the Fighters have never been as popular as the Yomiuri Giants, with whom they shared Tokyo Dome.

Although the Fighters, who have earned only one pennant in the last 24 years, usually start the season strong, they tend to stumble as the pennant race heats up.

In 2004, the transplanted Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters finished in third place and made the Pacific League playoffs but lost in the first round to the eventual champion Seibu Lions. Owned by Nippon Ham, a meat packing company, the Fighters were originally known as the Senators (1946) and Flyers (1947-73).

A bottom-feeding team for most of the last five decades, the Fighters have produced few high quality domestic stars. One exception, seven-time batting champion Isao Harimoto, played the first 17 years of his career (1959-75) with the team and collected a record 3,085 hits while compiling a lifetime .319 batting average with 504 home runs. For the last two decades, however, the Fighters have had to heavily rely on imported sluggers.

Acknowledgment: Dan Latham and Wayne Graczyk