Saying Sayonara to a Superstar

The defection of a Boston- bound pitcher is just the latest challenge facing the moribund Japanese pro baseball league.

PANA; Eliot J. Schechter—MLB / GETTY

Daisuke Matsuzaka as a Seibu Lion in Japan, left, and as a member of the Boston Red Sox.

It's a certain kind of baseball fan who comes to a meaningless exhibition game on a frigid Thursday afternoon in March, and Akira Koike, 33, is that kind of fan.

The salaryman has followed the Seibu Lions since he was 8, back when his family lived near the team's stadium in Tokorozawa, a sleepy suburb 40 minutes west of Tokyo by train. Clad in a powder blue Lions jacket, with a Lions towel wrapped around his neck, Koike spends the entire game bobbing like a prizefighter in Seibu's official cheering section, where well-drilled fans in blue and white drum and sing...

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