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Turney breaks ground as first foreign coach in history of Giants

by Wayne Graczyk

Cheers to the Yomiuri Giants for hiring strength and conditioning coach John Turney, recently let go by the Yokohama BayStars after leading the players on that team through stretching and calisthenics during pre-game drills for nine seasons.

The 37-year-old Turney is apparently the first foreigner to be listed as a coach on the Giants varsity staff in the 75-year history of the team, though Yomiuri employed Korean Kim Ki Ite as a batting coach on its farm team for three seasons, 2007-09.

In 2004, then-Giants manager Tsuneo Horiuchi asked his former Yomiuri teammate and ex-Los Angeles Dodgers star player Reggie Smith — they played together in 1983 — to join the first team as a hitting coach, but a member of Smith’s family was seriously ill at the time, and he declined the offer.

Turney, a British-Japanese who has lived most of his life in Japan and attended Yokohama International School before going to a university in the United States, says he is looking forward to going from a last-place team to the Japan champions and can’t wait for spring training to start.

“I am very excited, as this will be a new challenge for me to be on a competitive team expected to win, but it’s a challenge I accept and will do whatever I can (to prepare the Giants players to get ready for the season and their games). I look at it as a fresh start,” he said.

He was told a week prior to the end of the 2009 season his contract with the BayStars would not be renewed.

“The Yokohama team just said they wanted to make some changes, and they just let me go, along with another strength coach,” he said.

Asked if he would be moving from his hometown of Yokohama to Tokyo, Turney said, “Not right away. I will commute for the first year. It takes about an hour each way.”

Of course, when the Giants play the BayStars at Yokohama Stadium, he will be right there.

He is familiar with a few players he trained with the ‘Stars who are now on the Giants roster. There’s closer Marc Kroon, backup catcher Kazunari Tsuruoka and reserve infielder Masakuni Odajima.

“I called them all after I was hired by the Giants,” said Turney who is looking forward to being reunited with them. All were happy to hear the news, as Turney was known to be well-liked by the Yokohama players.

Good move by the Giants, and congratulations to a real class guy.

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Here they come — back.

Recall in the column of July 26, I wrote that maybe, for Japanese players in America not quite able to make their major league dream come true, it is time to come home and play out their pro careers.

Former Chiba Lotte Marines pitchers Yasuhiko Yabuta and Masahide Kobayashi are doing just that.

Yabuta, unable to find success with the Kansas City Royals, is returning to Lotte.

Kobayashi, following two less-than-spectacular seasons with the Cleveland Indians, has signed with the Yomiuri Giants.

With Kobayashi joining the Kyojin, the staff actually has four right-handed closers, including Kroon, former Seibu Lions bullpen ace Kiyoshi Toyoda and ex-Nippon Ham Fighters closer Micheal Nakamura.

How is it the Giants have four guys who could effectively fill the closer role, when several Central and Pacific League clubs have no reliable closer?

A Japanese position player who might be returning from the MLB wars is So Taguchi. The outfielder is looking to join the Orix Buffaloes after a mixed U.S. career that saw him play in the World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004 and 2006.

Taguchi was also a member of the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies World Series championship team, though he did not play in the Fall Classic that year.

In 2009, he spent most of the season with the Chicago Cubs’ Triple-A farm team in Des Moines, Iowa, where he hit only .248 with four home runs and 29 RBIs.

A former Orix BlueWave player, Taguchi, at 40 years of age, may play a season or two with the Buffaloes, who have released 41-year-old outfielder/DH Tuffy Rhodes.

Rhodes’ agent, Jim Turner of Turner-Gary Sports, said of Tuffy, “He is very open-minded about playing one more year,” so we’ll see if the 13-year Japan baseball veteran can attract attention from another club here.

Other foreign player moves: The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters are not re-signing pitcher Brian Sweeney but are talking to outfielder Terrmel Sledge about renewing his contract. Sledge has been rumored to be bound for Yokohama.

The Rakuten Eagles have released Rick Short, who led the Pacific League in batting in 2008 with a .332 average. If the foreign player recycling trend continues, look for Sweeney, Short and Sledge, if he is not re-signed by the Fighters, to hook on with other Japanese teams.

Other foreigners on the “free contract” (released) list include first baseman Fernando Seguignol by the Eagles, pitcher Adrian Burnside and infielder Edgardo Alfonzo of the Giants and infielder Aarom Baldiris (the 2009 Western League batting champion) and outfielder Kevin Mench of the Hanshin Tigers.

Surprisingly, the Hiroshima Carp released infielder/outfielder Andy Phillips, who put up great half-season numbers of 15 homers and 50 RBIs with a .265 batting average. The Carp also dropped third basemen Scott McClain and Scott Seabol and pitcher Ben Kozlowski.

The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks said sayonara to pitchers Justin Germano and Kameron Loe and outfielder Chris Aguila, and the Chiba Lotte Marines have canned utility players Chase Lambin and Gary Burnham Jr.

Coming this way, Puerto Rican pitcher Giancarlo Alvarado has been signed by the Carp. The right-hander was 13-10 with a 3.49 ERA in 2009 with the Albuquerque Isotopes, the top farm club of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com