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New stadium in Hiroshima looking good for 2009 season

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The city of Hiroshima recently unveiled plans and an artist’s conception image of a new baseball stadium to be built for the Carp. The facility is expected to open in time for the 2009 season, and it promises to be one of the best ballparks in Japan — or anywhere else, for that matter.

News photoAn artist’s conception image of the new baseball stadium set to open in Hiroshima for the 2009
season.
HIROSHIMA CITY PHOTO

Located alongside Japan Railways tracks near JR Hiroshima Station, the park will have a seating capacity of 30,350 spectators, and the asymmetrical (rare in Japan) playing field will comprise a 12,675-square meter area.

Home run dimensions are to be 101 meters (331 feet) down the left-field line, 100 meters (328 feet) to the right-field foul pole and 122 meters (400 feet) to straightaway center.

You should be able to see the construction as the building of the double-decker stadium goes on, if you ride the Sanyo Shinkansen bullet trains into or out of Hiroshima. It will be on your left as you pull into Hiroshima from Tokyo on the way to Hakata.

The new ballpark will replace Hiroshima Municipal Stadium, used by the Carp since 1957, and its completion will leave the Hanshin Tigers’ Koshien Stadium and Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, home of the Yakult Swallows, as the only “old” ballparks regularly used by the Japanese teams.

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Diamond Dust: The pitcher wearing Pittsburgh Pirates uniform No. 52 at the team’s camp in Bradenton, Florida, is getting a lot of attention here in Japan.

Former Yomiuri Giants pitcher Masumi Kuwata has gotten coverage on the front pages of several daily sports newspapers throughout the country.

The soon-to-be 39-year-old “rookie” has been featured prominently in his black-and-yellow cap and Bucs jersey, sometimes pictured with Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield who has had interest in Japan and Japanese baseball even before his days as assistant GM with the Florida Marlins, the job he held before moving to Pittsburgh in 2001.

As I wrote in a recent column, it ain’t easy for a player to break into the majors at that age but, if it can be done on heart, Kuwata (born April 1, 1968) is the guy who can make it.

“That’s what we’re counting on,” wrote Littlefield in a recent e-mail.

I was trying to determine if Kuwata, if he plays in a Pirates game this season, would be the oldest rookie ever to appear in the majors.

But, according to the Baseball Almanac, that distinction goes to Satchel Paige who made his debut with the St. Louis Browns on July 9, 1948, a date very familiar to yours truly. That is the day I was born.

The oldest National League rookie is said to be Diomedes Olivo (born Jan. 22, 1919), a Dominican left-handed pitcher who was 41 when he broke in with the Pirates on Sept. 5, 1960.

Also of note, Jim Morris was 35 when he pitched as a first-year player for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999. His story was documented in the 2002 Disney movie “The Rookie.”

If Kuwata makes it, his saga would be a great topic for a motion picture, too. “The Shinjin,” maybe?

One thing in Kuwata’s favor is that his manager and pitching coach have Japan experience.

Pittsburgh skipper Jim Tracy played for the Yokohama Taiyo Whales in 1983-84, and Pirates mound mentor Jim Colborn tutored pitchers with the Orix Braves in 1990 and the BlueWave in Kobe from 1991 to 1993.

Colborn has retained his Japanese language skills, and Kuwata speaks pretty good English, so communication should not be a problem.

Remember Lee Tunnell, a pitcher with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks in 1991-93?

He is back with the club — now the Softbank Hawks — as a scout. His official title is U.S. Scouting Supervisor, and he is based in Oklahoma City.

I ran into Lee at the Hawks training ground at Ivy Stadium in Miyazaki last week. He’s 46 now but looks as though he could still go out there and whiff some batters as in the old days.

Last season, Tunnell was the pitching coach at Louisville, the Triple-A farm team of the Cincinnati Reds, and worked with another Louisville coach and former NPB player, Alonzo Powell.

‘Zo played with the Chunichi Dragons from 1992 to 1997 and a final season with the Hanshin Tigers in 1998.

He won three consecutive Central League batting titles (1994-1996) and has managed or coached in the Reds organization in recent years.

Should the trend continue for Japanese teams to hire American managers, Powell would be an excellent choice to join Bobby Valentine, Trey Hillman, Marty Brown and Terry Collins as field boss of a Pacific or Central League club.

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Finally this week, are the fans in Fukuoka excited about the coming season — or what?

The attendance at the first exhibition game this year at Fukuoka Yahoo JAPAN Dome was 29,201, and it wasn’t even March yet.

The Softbank Hawks whitewashed the Seibu Lions, 2-0, in an “open” night game Feb. 27.

The following evening, the Hawks lost to the Chiba Lotte Marines, 5-1, but there was another great crowd of 28,044 in the stands.

Who says fans are losing interest in Japanese baseball?

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com