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Kato showed strong leadership in introducing new ball, Mizuno says

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Kim Yu Na played a huge role in securing the 2018 Winter Olympics for Pyeongchang, South Korea, last year. Prior to that, David Beckham helped do the same for London, which will host this year’s Summer Games.

Ichiro Suzuki, however, may not be following in their footsteps.

Ichiro is undoubtedly one of Japan’s most famous — if not the most famous — athletic stars, and it seems natural the bid committee working to bring the 2020 Games to Tokyo would use his star power to further its efforts.

Masato Mizuno, the CEO of the Tokyo 2020 Bid Committee, says while he would appreciate Ichiro’s support, it may be hard for the Seattle Mariners star to have an impact similar to that of Kim and Beckham.

“At this moment baseball is not a sport of the Olympics,” Mizuno said at a meeting of the Foreign Sportswriters Association of Japan on Wednesday. “In order to raise public support, his comments might be very helpful. But internationally, it’s not really effective to use his comments. I can’t say anything right now, but his support would be good domestically.”

Things may have been different had baseball, which is hugely popular in Japan, and softball not been voted out of the upcoming London Olympics at an IOC meeting on July 7, 2005. It was decided in 2009 the sports would also not be on the program for the 2016 Games.

The governing bodies of the two sports are considering a joint campaign in hopes of gaining reinstatement for the 2020 Olympics, which will take place in either Tokyo, Madrid or Istanbul.

“This is the only chance to be back,” said Mizuno, who is also the former chairman of Mizuno Corporation, his family-run global sportswear corporation. “As the VP of JOC (Japan Olympic Committee), we have so many affiliated organizations and sports national federations, including karate, squash and other candidate sports. Officially, I cannot support any sport, to be fair.”

One man backing baseball’s return is NPB commissioner Ryozo Kato, who told The Japan Times during an April interview in his office that, “we promised and committed ourselves to helping them fully by forming a united front by Japan’s baseball to support their effort so that baseball can be back in the Olympic Games.”

Mizuno and Kato are good friends. While Kato was the Japanese Ambassador to the United States (2001-2008), Mizuno recalled talking baseball with him in his office.

“He loves baseball,” Mizuno said. “I visited Washington once, the embassy of Japan in Washington. We talked about baseball. I say one word …10 words back.”

Mizuno said, Kato’s love of the sport is what spurred his decision to introduce a standardized baseball into NPB play last season.

The ball, made by Mizuno Corporation, doesn’t fly as far as previous balls, which has helped send offensive numbers tumbling. This has caused controversy in the game as many have voiced their displeasure.

“In the history of Japan, the baseball teams ordered their own balls,” Mizuno said. “There was a difference in the quality, the durability. This makes a difference in the number of home runs.

“He (Kato) said U.S. professional baseball, (has) one standard ball. Japan, quite many. If there are too many home runs, that’s not really fair for the pitchers, so maybe it’s better to have one standard baseball.”

While Mizuno is no longer a part of his family business (he had to give up that role in order to serve in his current position) he feels the commissioner’s choice was a good one.

“Now there is one standard baseball, fair for everyone, batter or pitcher,” he said. “So I feel (there are) not as many home runs as before, but fair enough. If you have a really good hit, the ball goes. I think this is a really fair decision by Commissioner Kato.”