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Japanese fans rally behind Valentine

Japanese fans rally behind Valentine

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The popularity of manager Bobby Valentine has fans of Japan's Chiba Lotte Marines on the verge of a mutiny.

With management of the Pacific League club having declared even before the start of the season that Valentine would not be returning for 2010, his legions of admirers have mobilized on his behalf, according to reports.

They are holding nightly vigils outside Chiba Marine Stadium, claiming to have already collected about 50,000 signatures on a petition. Inside, fans wear "Bobby 2010" T-shirts and hold up signs saying "No Bobby, No Marines" and "Always Behind Bobby."

Valentine, in his seventh season of his second tour of duty in Japan, is blown away by the support, reports The Associated Press.

"It's an amazing thing," he told the wire service. "I find it hard to put into words what this means to me. These fans decided this is what they are going to do and they go out and do it. These are people with jobs: executives, students, housewives. It's an incredible thing."

Chiba Lotte club president Ryuzo Setoyama had announced during the offseason that the team simply could no longer afford Valentine, who is reportedly drawing a salary of $3.9 million this season.

"It's definitely a bizarre situation," said Lotte outfielder Benny Agbayani, who also played for Valentine with the Mets. "I've never seen a situation like this where a manager was told so far in advance that his contract wouldn't be renewed. It's a major distraction for sure, but Bobby is dealing with it well."

Jun Okazaki, one of the fans visible and vocal in his support of Valentine, said, "He gives us exciting baseball and makes us feel like we all have a chance in life."

Does Valentine have a chance in Chiba? Thus far, his offer to negotiate new contract terms has not yet been accepted.

But it won't be easy for team management to stick to its agenda and part ways with Valentine. Besides dealing with fan discontent, it would require some renovations: A section of Chiba Marine Stadium includes "Bobby Seats," and a street nearby is named "Valentine Way."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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