Marc Kroon was cut just prior to opening day after trying to make the San Francisco Giants. The six-year Japan veteran closer with the Yokohama BayStars and Yomiuri Giants was attempting to return to the majors with the defending World Series champions, and he did not make the team — but why not?
In pre-season exhibition games, Kroon won two games, lost none, saved one, struck out 13 and racked up a 1.69 earned run average in 10 and two-thirds innings of work. Still, he was dropped, and you have to wonder what it would have taken for him to make the San Francisco roster. If those numbers were not good enough, what was it that kept him from making the club?
Age was certainly against him, as he turned 38 on April 2. Also, players with Japan experience-no matter how successful they may have been in the Central or Pacific League-often go into those major league camps with a mark (the Rising Sun?) on them, and it seems to be a handicap.
Remember Leo Gomez, the slugger who played with the Chunichi Dragons from 1997 to 2000? He left Japan and was invited to the Pittsburgh Pirates spring camp in 2001. Though 34 then, Gomez thought he had a great shot at making the Bucs major league club but was in for a rude awakening.
He was actually one of four guys who had played in Japan in 2000 supposedly given a look-see and a fair chance by then Pittsburgh rookie manager Lloyd McClendon. The others were former Chiba Lotte Marines all-star closer Brian Warren, ex-Yomiuri Giants pitcher Balvino Galvez and first baseman Reggie Jefferson who had played with the Seibu Lions.
None of the four survived the Pirates final spring training cut, and Gomez wound up returning to Japan to play another two seasons with Chunichi in 2001-02. He seemed bitter about his experience in Florida 10 years ago.
“I hit a home run one day and really thought I had a chance to make the team,” said Gomez. “I was hot and excited about playing the next day but, when I got to the ball park, I found out I was not in the lineup.”
In fact, Gomez said he sensed McClendon considered the quartet from Japan “a distraction” in camp and, looking back, he thought none of the four really had an opportunity to make the big league roster in the first place.
Kroon, meanwhile, is now set to be the closer for the Fresno Grizzlies, San Francisco’s Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League and, according to Internet website reports, he has an opt-out clause in his minor league contract that would allow him to become a free agent if he does not make it to the majors by June 1.
With him on the Fresno roster are two others with recent Japan playing experience. Second baseman Edgar Gonzalez, Kroon’s 2010 teammate with the Yomiuri Giants, is there as is right-handed pitcher Ryan Vogelsong who threw for the Hanshin Tigers in 2007-08 and the Orix Buffaloes in 2009.
Like Kroon, Gonzalez and Vogelsong were hoping to impress enough in spring camp to make it to the Golden Gate, but they did not.
San Francisco field boss Bruce Bochy has a lot of respect for Japanese baseball, having managed major league all-star teams against the best in Japan twice-in 2004 and 2006. He was also Kroon’s first big league skipper with the San Diego Padres in 1996, so you’ve got to figure Marc was given every chance to succeed.
The situation just goes to prove how difficult it is for players in their mid-to-late 30s coming from Japan to earn a spot on today’s major league rosters.
Finally this week, the 2011 major league season began March 31, and those of us in Japan got to watch an exciting opener between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants on J Sports ESPN with Bobby Valentine providing color commentary on the telecast.
Valentine mentioned he had a lot to do with the shipment of $600,000 worth of relief supplies from his native Connecticut to Japan to help earthquake and tsunami victims. “I’m very proud of that,” said the former Chiba Lotte Marines manager, and we are very proud of you, Bobby.
Another contributor to Japan earthquake and tsunami relief is Tim DeCinces whose father, Doug, is the answer to the trivia question, “Who hit the first official home run in Tokyo Dome?” It was Doug DeCinces, playing for the Yakult Swallows, who first cleared the fence at the Big Egg on April 8, 1988, connecting off Masumi Kuwata of the Yomiuri Giants.
Tim DeCinces lived in Tokyo while his dad played for the Swallows and now operates a chain of barbecue pits on the coast in southern California. He donated 50 percent of sales on March 28 from all six of his Beach Pit BBQ locations to aid the disaster victims in Miyagi Prefecture and worked with the Sendai-based Rakuten Eagles to give the money directly to the community.
If no one has said it, to Bobby Valentine, Tim DeCinces, all the players in Japan and the major leagues and everyone in the world of baseball who has contributed to the disaster funds — thank you.
Gambaro, Tohoku. Gambaro, Nippon.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at Wayne@JapanBall.com
This column is sponsored by Bodyplus Group & Warner Entertainment Japan Inc.