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Clock may be ticking for foreign managers in Japan

by Wayne Graczyk

Hiroshima Carp manager Marty Brown is set for a return to Japan and his fourth season at the helm in what could be the final year for American managers here.

Two years ago, we had four U.S. field bosses with Brown, Bobby Valentine, Trey Hillman and Terry Collins, but is this an era that came along and is about to fade away?

Hillman left the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2007 after five seasons, two Pacific League pennants and a Japan Series championship to manage the Kansas City Royals, and Collins quit the Orix Buffaloes after a season and a quarter in May of 2008.

It has been reported the Chiba Lotte Marines will not extend Valentine’s contract beyond this coming season, and Brown will be under pressure to finish in the Central League’s top three and qualify for the postseason Climax Series, or it may be sayonara for him as well. He is confident though.

Brown leaves Rolla, Mo., his winter home, for Japan on Sunday and will lead his club through spring training workouts in Okinawa beginning Feb. 1 and in Nichinan, Miyazaki Prefecture, from mid-February until the end of the month.

“I am looking forward to getting back and getting on the field again,” Brown wrote in an e-mail. “It seems every year about this time I get that itch, and I guess when that itch goes away, I need to find something else to do.”

The Baseball Bullet-In plans a visit to the Nichinan camp next month, and we’ll make sure Marty is still scratching. We wish Brown and Valentine good luck during this pivotal season.

Meanwhile, eight-year Japan veteran Jeremy Powell will apparently not be coming back for season No. 9. He went through that bizarre contract dispute and tug of war between the Orix Buffaloes and Softbank Hawks about this time last year, and then had a less-than-spectacular season with Fukuoka.

Instead, J.P. will be giving the major leagues one more shot at age 32. The 2002 Pacific League wins and strikeouts leader with the Kintetsu Buffaloes last pitched in the majors in 2000 with the Montreal Expos, but hopes to appear this year with another National League club.

From Arizona, Powell sent an e-mail message that said, “I think all that happened with my (2008) contract really screwed me in the end. I’m the one who got the short end of the stick and don’t think any of the teams (in Japan) will deal with me now; they certainly don’t want to look bad in front of the other teams.

“Anyway, it is their loss. I’m in great shape and will continue to get ready for my spring training in the camp of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I have signed with them and will be going to Bradenton, Fla., at the end of February and looking forward to a healthy and fulfilling season.”

While J.P. may not be returning to Japan, another foreign player whose status was in doubt will be back for a third season. Canadian reader Ken Gardiner e-mailed to ask if there is any update on his countryman Aaron Guiel, mentioned in this column on Nov. 9.

Guiel hit 35 home runs for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in 2007 but went through an injury-plagued season in 2008, and it appeared Yakult might drop him. However, he will be with the Swallows in 2009 along with three foreign newcomers: infielder Jamie D’Antona and pitchers Lee Hye Chun and Ricky Barrett, and holdover Lim Chang Yong, the team’s closer.

Former Hiroshima Carp and Chiba Lotte Marines pitcher Nate Minchey scouted Japan for the Cleveland Indians the past two years but has now taken a job as a “reverse scout” with the Yomiuri Giants and will be coming to watch his new team go through some warmups at its spring camp in Miyazaki next month.

About his new gig, Minchey wrote in an online message from Texas, “I’m excited about my new position with the Giants, an organization that takes the business of winning very seriously, and I look forward to contributing in any way I can to help them win a championship.”

He is the latest American who previously played in Japan to become a reverse scout, checking out the major leagues and their minor league affiliates for players who might do well in Japan.

Others in this apparently growing occupation are former Fukuoka Daiei Hawks pitcher Lee Tunnell, working for the Softbank Hawks, ex-Nippon Ham Fighters and Hiroshima Carp hurler Eric Schullstrom, scouting for the Carp, and one-time Fighters slugger Matt Winters, helping Nippon Ham.

Also, former Hiroshima and Daiei first baseman Luis Lopez and ex-Hanshin Tigers pitcher Greg Hansell scout North America for the Rakuten Eagles.

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Finally this week, the Baseball Bullet-In offers a belated sayonara and arigato to recently departed U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer.

I first met the “baseball ambassador” when he was team president of the Texas Rangers, at their Ballpark in Arlington in 1997, and we became reacquainted in 2005 when he assumed his post in Tokyo. I saw him at a Nippon Ham Fighters-Rakuten Eagles game at Tokyo Dome in April of that year, keeping score and enjoying his first taste of Japanese baseball.

He later hosted receptions at the American Embassy for the visiting major league post-season All-Star team in 2006 and the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics when those teams came to open the American League season at Tokyo Dome this past March.

His Fourth of July celebrations at the Tokyo embassy also included baseball themes, and he is always talking about the mutual love of the game shared by fans in the United States and Japan.

Thanks, Mr. Ambassador, and good luck in your next endeavor.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com