It’s safe to say that the game day experience of regular season professional baseball on Okinawa is limited to televised games. Although the prefecture hosts spring training for many teams, there are only a few official games played on the island once the season kicks off. Despite being a home for all the regular-season prep, Okinawa is left behind once all the official fun begins.
In its 2014 proposal titled “Japan Revival Vision,” the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP), the present ruling party of the county, touched on a possibility of expanding the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization (NPB) to 16 teams by adding four teams to the current 12.
Along with Shizuoka Prefecture, northern Shinetsu region, Shikoku, Okinawa was named as a candidate to host a new team. The proposal to change the 50-year-old 12-team format was met with mixed responses.
The Huffington Post reported in 2014 that while people such as Senichi Hoshino, a former manager of Tohoku Rakuten Eagles, gave a thumbs up to the expansion, there were voices concerned about the huge running cost for hosting a professional team and a possible drop in quality of the game by bringing in more players to the market.
Three years after the plan to bring a team to Okinawa surfaced, not much has materialized. Despite the lack of development, another possibility of launching a pro-baseball team on the island has emerged.
In 2015, Ryukyu Shimpo reported a project by a Taiwanese business group to build a shopping complex in Okinawa that would include sports facilities. This plan is thought to be part of the group’s plan to set up a professional baseball team in Okinawa and allow it to join the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL), a pro league in Taiwan. The article touched on the economic ties between Taiwan and Okinawa as a background by quoting the fact that Taiwanese account for 30 percent of tourists that come to Okinawa.
Recently, not much has been heard of the idea, but the plan appears to be legitimate given the ever-growing number of Taiwanese tourists headed to Okinawa. According to the Okinawa Prefectural Government, 607,300 Taiwanese tourists visited Okinawa in 2016 - a 27 percent increase from the previous year. In February, the Lamigo Monkeys of the CPBL visited Ishigaki island for exhibition games with the Chiba Lotte Marines of the NPB, another clear baseball tie with Okinawa and Taiwan.
Baseball in itself is a very popular sport in Okinawa. The prefecture has sent many players to the NPB, and local high school baseball teams get rockstar treatment when they play in national tournaments. But Okinawans have long had to settle for games on TV – mostly Yomiuri Giants games - as their game day experience. However, given the success of NPB teams such as Nippon-Ham Fighters and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in connecting with fans in local cities, or the rise of non-NPB independent leagues such as the Shikoku Island League Plus or ROUTE INN BCL league, having a professional baseball team in Okinawa may not be a far-fetched idea.
2017 NPB Regular season games on Okinawa
Saitama Seibu Lions vs. Chiba Lotte Marines
Date: Tues. June 27, Wed. June 28
Where: Okinawa Cellular Stadium Naha (near Naha Military Port, 42-1 Oonoyama-cho, Naha city, Okinawa 900-0026)
Tickets: (Day-of-tickets): reserved seat infield for 3,500 yen; S-seat infield for 5,500 yen; field level seat behind dugout for 6,000 yen; field level seat infield for 4,500 yen; bleacher for 2,500 yen (adult) and 1,000 yen (minor);