23-year-old pitcher from Myanmar to play for team in Kagawa Prefecture

Kyodo

A pitcher from Myanmar has been signed by a baseball team in Kagawa Prefecture, possibly making him the first player from the Southeast Asian country to join a foreign baseball league.

“I want to throw a pitch in front of all of you as soon as possible. I want to make baseball a major sport in Myanmar,” Zaw Zaw Oo, 23, who has joined the Kagawa Olive Guyners team in the independent Shikoku Island League Plus, said Thursday in freshly learned Japanese.

Oo, who hails from Yangon, showed up for news conference Thursday wearing his country’s formal “taikpon” jacket.

The 173-cm-tall left-hander is known for his slider and unique curve ball called the “Zaw Zaw ball,” according to the team.

Myanmar has about 50 baseball players, and Oo is the first to join a professional or independent league outside the country, said Toru Iwasaki, 57, a former United Nations employee promoting baseball in Myanmar. He also attended the news conference.

Oo started playing baseball at age 12 under the influence of his older brother, who was a member of Myanmar’s national team. While working in a kindergarten run by Iwasaki, he competed in the 2007 Southeast Asian Games as a starting pitcher. Training to strengthen his lower body included playing soccer on a professional team for about a year and a half starting in 2011.

Oo aims to boost the speed of his fastball, which tops out at around 120 kph, and says he looks up to Toshiya Sugiuchi of the Yomiuri Giants, also a southpaw, as his model.

“He is devoted to training — he will run 13 laps when he is told to run 10. I want him to become a hero for Myanmar,” Iwasaki said.

“We have some players who are draft candidates. First of all, I want (Oo) to watch and learn,” said the team’s manager Shinji Nishida, 52. “It is going to be challenging,” Nishida told Oo.