Foreign ballplayers get chance to shine in Shikoku

by Seiya Suzuki

Kyodo

One of Japan’s four independent baseball leagues has been actively recruiting foreign players since it got off the ground in 2005 and now counts 45 players from 11 nations and regions as veterans of its teams.

The Shikoku Island League Plus consists of four teams from the main island. It currently has seven foreign players from as far afield as the Dominican Republic and China.

Most are from countries where baseball is popular. All, however, share what they call the “Japan dream”: making it to the big leagues.

In June, the Kagawa Olive Guyners hired pitcher Zaw Zaw Oo, a left-hander from Myanmar, which has just 50 baseball players. Oo is possibly the first player from his country to join any professional or independent league. Myanmar was ruled by the military until 2011.

Team officials said Oo still needs to work on his game as his top pitch is only 120 kph, but they think he has made dramatic progress in a very short time.

He came on in relief on June 29 and pitched his first game as a starter on July 15.

Shepherd Sibanda from Zimbabwe played for the Kagawa Olive Guyners for two years from 2006, while Sanfo Lassina from Burkina Faso in West Africa joined the Kochi Fighting Dogs’ practice squad this year.

“We will continue to accept foreign players actively and offer them the chance to take on the challenge,” a league official said.

The Shikoku league has had a number of success stories. Kim Mu Yong of South Korea played on the Fukuoka Red Warblers before being drafted by Nippon Professional Baseball’s Softbank Hawks, a Pacific League team, in 2008. Francisco Caraballo of Venezuela, another Dogs player, joined the Orix Buffaloes in 2010.