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TOKYO -- Amid the plethora of U.S. and Japanese Web sites covering baseball, the Seattle Mariners' Japanese-language Web site, the only non-English language site available from a U.S. major league team, is proving to be the overwhelming favorite.

Following its launch last year, the site got less than 3,000 hits a week. Now, thanks to reliever Kazuhrio Sasaki, who leads the American league in saves, and the addition of Ichiro Suzuki, who immensely popular with fans back home, visits to the site have jumped to 34,000 in just the first few weeks of 2001 season.

The Mariners are majority-owned by Nintendo, the Japanese computer game manufacturer. All the team's games -- at home on on the road -- are braodcast on Japanese TV.

Back home, media coverage is also given to the Red Sox, where Hideo Nomo now pitches and Tomo Ohka plays; to the Montreal Expos, where Hideki Irabu is on the mound; to the Anaheim Angels for their relief pitcher Shigetoshi Hasegawa; to the Colorado Rockies pitcher Yoshi Masato; and the Kansas City Royals, where Mac Suzuki is a starting pitcher. Another fast up-and-coming pop star is Tsuyoshi Shinjo, a position player with the New York Mets who left the Hanshin Tigers last year.

These nine ex-Japan league players are now covered by more than 160 Japanese reporters to fill the intense demand for sports news. The media has immense control over all kinds of sports. For example, Tokyo's Yomiuri Giants have all their games televised on the station owned by their parent company, which also owns a major nationwide newspaper as well as two separate Yomiuri papers that exclusively cover the team. -- Campbell Gray

Copyright April 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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