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Koshien Stadium gets face lift

OSAKA (TR) – The venerable home of the Central League’s Hanshin Tigers will this season unveil the second phase of its ongoing four-year improvement plan, which blends old-style baseball aesthetics with modern conveniences, according to the team’s Web site.

Koshien Stadium, which opened in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture in 1924, is adding a 250-meter by 1.2-meter LED “Koshien Liner Vision” display board; seventeen special izakaya box seating sections for parties of 4 or 5 people to enjoy the action from behind third base; “Royal” corporate suites that extend out onto a balcony; and bag storage spaces for the steeply aligned outfield bleachers, or “Alps” seats.

Renovations include an expansion of Ginsan, the sun roof over the infield seating, by 40 meters on both sides to a total coverage of 7,500 square meters. The umbrella, also elevated by 5 meters, will now function as a mount for light standards, whose old positions in the stands have been removed to enhance the spectator’s view. The team’s Web page indicates that the new lighting arrangement was tested over two evenings last week.

Koshien Stadium
Koshien Stadium

Reborn on the stadium’s outer brick wall will be seven sections of ivy. Similar to Wrigley Field, the greenery has been a hallmark of the field. Heavily damaged by the U.S. bombing raids of World War II, the ivy in the area near home plate was removed during the stadium’s renovation process. Seedlings, raised by 233 schools within the Japan High School Baseball Federation, were planted earlier this year. It is expected that it will require 10 years before full coverage will be achieved.

It has also been revealed that the field’s dimensions are slightly less than had been previously posted. The distance from home plate to center field had been listed at 120 meters, but in fact it is two meters shorter. Distances to both foul poles will be revised to 95 meters, one less than before. This year’s markers will reflect these new measurements.

Shinya Sakai, the 61-year-old president of Hanshin Electric Railway, the team’s owner, is quoted in the Mainichi Shimbun as saying that the stadium is still a suitable ground for baseball. “Home runs at the stadium are real home runs,” Sakai said.

The 81st National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament begins today, the first time the improvements will be on display to the general public.

For the Tigers, which last season finished two games behind the rival Yomiuri Giants, new managerial and roster additions include skipper Akinobu Mayumi, a member of Hanshin’s last Japan Series’ winner (1985), outfielder Kevin Mench and pitcher Cheng Kai-wen from Taiwan.

Certainly, all teams head into opening day with a degree of optimism, believing that their offseason tweaks will make a difference. Yet with the Tigers’ cursed Colonel Sanders statue having been rescued earlier this month from the depths of the Dotonbori Canal now accompanying the fresh look of its home ground, perhaps the team and its fans have good reason to think this will indeed be the year.