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Universal count, use of one ball will boost status of NPB

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How about that?

The Japanese umpires are going to call the ball-strike count like every other country?

And Nippon Professional Baseball is planning to use the same baseball for all games from next year?

Whoa!

Do I hear them ordering natural grass seed to sprinkle on the infield at Koshien Stadium?

A full count in Japan is going to be 3-2 instead of 2-3 this year, and NPB is looking to eliminate the use of different baseballs from the 2011 season.

A Kyodo News report from Jan. 26 stated balls made by four manufacturers may be used in 2010, but at one time, there were as many as nine approved baseballs, ranging in consistency from the “rabbit” home run ball favoring hitters to the “dead” ball loved by pitchers, chosen by home teams.

It will be interesting to see which ball is selected as “the one,” and how long will it take for everyone to get used to the count reversal.

The scoreboard lamps at all the stadiums in Japan post the strikes first, then balls and outs. Will they need to be converted?

In any event, these two developments are welcomed and will serve to further elevate the status of Japanese baseball as a major league.

Remember when fans had to return foul balls hit into the stands?

When every TV game was cut off the air abruptly in about the seventh inning?

There was no interleague play?

We’ve come a long way, baby.

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Reader Tom Flaherty from the U.S. checked in about our column of Jan. 17 regarding MLB commissioner Bud Selig proposing to NPB commissioner Ryozo Kato that a “True World Series” be played between the major league and Japanese champions.

Tom wrote in an e-mail:

“Wouldn’t this ‘world’ series have to include the Latin American and Caribbean countries also — Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Venezuela?

My suggestion would be for MLB to play the usual two rounds of playoffs — the wild card and the (championship series) — during the first two weeks in October.

“The American and National League champions would then enter a six-team pool/playoff in mid-October, including the top two Latin American and Caribbean teams and top two Asian teams. These are the three major baseball ‘hot spots’ in the world. The winner would be the true World Series winner.”

Tom, what you are proposing would be the “Real True World Series,” but I think the closest we are going to get to that is the World Baseball Classic. For now, let’s stick to the MLB-NPB championship series — or game, as Bobby Valentine has suggested. We don’t need to use the word “World” in the title if that would make you feel more comfortable.

The point is we might be seeing something that was a dream of the late Yomiuri Giants owner Matsutaro Shoriki since he founded Japan’s first professional baseball team in 1934. The closest we ever came to this was the pre-scheduled postseason Nichi bei (Japan-U.S.) exhibition tours that saw World Series losing teams play Japan Series-winning teams (the Giants) four times.

These included the October-November trips to Japan by the 1955 New York Yankees, 1966 Los Angeles Dodgers, 1968 St. Louis Cardinals and 1971 Baltimore Orioles.

In 1984, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Giants’ founding, a preseason agreement designated the first five games of a postseason tour by the 1983 World Series champion Baltimore Orioles against the 1984 Japan Series winner as a “world series,” with the hope the Orioles would repeat as WS champs and Yomiuri would come out on top in Japan.

It did not work out that way, though, as Baltimore, even with Cal Ripken Jr., slumped and finished in fifth place in the American League East, and the Giants also failed to win the Central League pennant.

The Hiroshima Carp took the flag, beat the Hankyu Braves in the JS and hosted the Orioles.

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Spring camps open Feb. 1 and, at this time of year, I always look at the just-released schedules for the upcoming Japan pro baseball season to see what oddities appear and in which non-franchise cities official games will be played.

The Pacific League begins its 2010 campaign while it is still officially winter again, opening on March 20, with three three-game series. Then there is a three-day gap (March 23-25) when no games are scheduled.

The PL resumes play on March 26, opening night for the Central Leaguers.

The Giants will be playing as a home and visiting team in Niigata’s Hard-Off Stadium this season, being hosted by the Yokohama BayStars May 8-9. Yomiuri will play again in Niigata as the home club on Sept. 10 against the Hiroshima Carp.

The Giants will also play a home game in Kyoto’s ancient Nishikyogoku Stadium on April 21 against the BayStars, and Yokohama and the Yakult Swallows will meet in Naha, Okinawa, June 29-30.