When you’ve been in the game a long time, you learn a thing or two.
Longtime Mariners head athletic trainer Rick Griffin shared his thoughts on Japanese players in the Major League Baseball and their physical traits before Thursday’s game between Seattle and the Oakland Athletics at Tokyo Dome.
Griffin, whose Mariners have had eight Japanese players, including their current three men, started off by saying every player is different and it’s difficult to summarize the characters of the Japanese players because every Japanese’s got a different type of body.
“I had (former closer) Kazuhiro Sasaki, very big pitcher, very strong,” said Griffin, who’s been with the American League club since 1983. “Then I had Shiggy (pitcher Shigetoshi Hasegawa). Shiggy is small. So all baseball players are different.”
But Griffin believes that there’s one common characteristic among Japanese players: high work ethic.
“One thing I’ve always noticed is, the Japanese players are very hardworking, very respectful,” Griffin said. “And they have a very good program, they stay on their program. They have very good routine, and they stay on their routine. Whether they have a good day or a bad day, they stay on their routine. This is very important.”
For the Japanese, another thing, especially for position players, that may be an advantage is their speed. Exhibit A: Ichiro, who’s stolen 423 bases in the majors through Wednesday’s game.
Yet some have begun by saying that Ichiro’s gotten a little slower and lost a step, and it has taken some infield hits away from him starting last year (though he had two infield hits on Wednesday).
Griffin, whose athletic trainer team earned the Major League Athletic Training Staff of the Year Award in 1999, didn’t reject the idea of Ichiro’s decline in speed, because the longtime star is no spring chicken and, well, nobody stays the same forever.
“Well, he’s 38 years old, he’s played a long time,” Griffin said. “He’s played in the outfield a long time, and that takes a tremendous amount of tear on your body. If he’s a little slower, that’s OK, because he’s 38 years old. He’s not going to stay the same as when he was 21, 25.
“Players get older, but he still is one of the fastest guys in the American League. So every time infielders get the ball, they get nervous because they have to throw the ball hard to first quickly. But he’ll beat (them) out for infield hits. He’s a little bit slower than when he first came (to Seattle), but he’s still very fast.”
Finally, asked whether he has any advice for Japanese players who are willing to come to the United States to play in the majors in the near future, Griffin said that especially starting pitchers might faces some challenges to adjust to MLB’s style of play.
“It’s a big adjustment if you’re a starter,” said Griffin, who has toured Japan with MLB All-Stars and provided invaluable advice to players since 1994 through his work with Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society. “Because they don’t get an extra day, they don’t get a day off (as the NPB has Mondays off). So that’s a big adjustment. So my advice would be, to work real hard on your strength, on your rotator cuff and your shoulder strength. And work hard on your endurance.”