A fan in the U.S. asked me the other day, “When do the pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Japan?”
In North America, the major league teams begin official workouts for battery players in the middle of February, while infielders and outfielders check in a few days later. The individual teams choose their own starting dates.
By contrast, the 12 Japanese clubs all open their camps on the same day; Feb. 1, and everybody (except for a few veteran foreign players on certain teams) shows up when the January page is ripped from the calendar.
In fact, Japanese teams will be playing preseason games in Kyushu and Okinawa before some major leaguers even appear at camp. The Yomiuri Giants and Hiroshima Carp will kick off the official “open games” schedule Feb. 19 at Sun Marine Stadium in Miyazaki.
So, with only two days until spring camps begin here, let’s take a moment to welcome back the returning foreign players and offer a friendly greeting to the newcomers challenging Japanese baseball for the first time.
Meanwhile, several veteran foreigners will not be returning this year, and where do they go after they are released by Japanese clubs?
It depends on the individual, of course, and factors such as who they know, health and age. The Nikkan Sports paper annually runs a “Sayonara Pro Yakyu” list of all players — foreign and Japanese — who have retired or been cut by their respective teams.
For many of the Japanese, they get jobs with their former teams, and the positions can be in or out of uniform as coaches, batting practice pitchers, bullpen catchers, scouts, scorers, public relations staffers or caretakers of the team’s farm team dormitory.
Most of the foreigners are still young enough to play, though, and many look to remain active elsewhere in Asia or at the highest level they can reach in organized baseball in North America.
According to the Nikkan, former Hiroshima Carp pitcher Eric Stults will be going to major league spring camp with the Colorado Rockies. However, he will be carrying a minor league contract. The same goes for his ex-Hiroshima teammates John Bale and Justin Huber, though with different teams.
Left-handed pitcher Bale will be trying to make the Detroit Tigers major league roster, while first baseman Huber, a native of Australia, will be returning to the Minnesota Twins organization from where he came to the Carp a year ago with high expectations of Hiroshima manager Kenjiro Nomura. Huber was simply not able to make the adjustments necessary to succeed in Japanese baseball.
Right-handed pitchers Bryan Corey and Buddy Carlyle, cut by Pacific League teams, will also be trying to extend their careers.
Corey, let go by the Japan Series champion Chiba Lotte Marines, will be staying in Asia at age 37 with the Lotte Giants of the Korean Baseball Organization, while Carlyle will join the New York Yankees chain at the Double-A level.
Bale, Corey and Carlyle all had two separate tours of duty in Japan.
Then there is Marc Kroon, going from the Giants to the Giants, Tokyo to San Francisco.
It was reported Jan. 25 the former Kyojin closer has signed a minor league contract with the 2010 World Series champions but will be invited to the top club’s spring training workouts. Marc turns 38 on April 2.
Kroon’s agent, Tony Cabral, said his client wanted badly to wind up his career in Japan where he racked up 177 saves but, if San Francisco makes it to the World Series again this season, the agent expects Kroon will be there.
Cabral wrote in an e-mail, “Marc was very much interested in finishing his career in Japan and was hopeful he would have the opportunity to get to 200 saves. For reasons I cannot understand, we were not approached by any teams in Japan regarding Marc and the 2011 season.
“Marc had more than 10 teams in the U.S. that showed interest, and he chose the San Francisco Giants for a number of reasons, including the fact they won the World Series in 2010, he will be reunited with the manager (Bruce Bochy) who first brought him to the major leagues (San Diego Padres, 1996), and the Giants hold spring training in his hometown of Phoenix, which will give his boys the opportunity to spend some quality time at the ballpark with their dad.”
“Some teams thought he would be too expensive but would not even give him an offer to consider.
“Others told us they were going with youth, and one team actually told me their ownership did not believe Marc wanted to continue to play based on something he had said during last spring training about his future in Japan. Others simply did not respond.
“Marc is very happy for the opportunity with San Francisco and looks forward to resuming his career in the States. I guess the teams in Japan will believe it when they see it.”
The Baseball Bullet-In will review Kroon’s six-year career in Japan with the Yokohama BayStars and Yomiuri in a column coming up in a few weeks.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com