After batting practice prior to a game against the Hiroshima Carp, Yokohama BayStars manager Kiyoshi Nakahata walked past a throng of fan club members on his way to the clubhouse.
For any other NPB manager, this would mean little more than a wave or cursory hat tip — without breaking stride — before disappearing into the clubhouse. Nakahata turned it into a event. He shook hands, signed autographs, and more, wearing a large smile while tossing out platitudes in his big, booming voice. Nakahata was a man among the people, and they loved him.
It would’ve been interesting to gauge the opinions of those same fans later that night, with the embers of an 8-3 loss still burning. The BayStars had lost 12-4 the previous night and would lose 7-1 the day after. Entering Monday’s game against Yakult, the team had lost nine of its last 12.
Nakahata has brought good vibrations to Yokohama, but sooner or later, he’ll need to make them last beyond the first pitch.
Yokohama began this season with a new manager, new uniforms and new owners. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the sight of the team bringing up the rear in the standings.
No one expected a complete turnaround a half-season into the team’s new era, but it’s not too early to ask to see some signs of improvement.
Entering Monday, the BayStars had the worst record in Japan at 23-48-6 and were the only NPB team yet to reach at least 31 wins. Yokohama was tied with two other teams for the worst batting average (.236) in Japan and their 3.88 ERA was easily NPB’s highest. The climb out of the cellar also looked daunting, with the fifth-place Hanshin Tigers 8½ games away.
“You can’t become the best team over night, but we want to keep our heads up throughout the season,” said veteran pitcher Daisuke Miura. “Our manager’s motto since before the season was, ‘be cheerful and energetic,’ and he’s been displaying that himself in order to lead us. I think it’s fine to do so when we’re winning, but tough when we’re losing.
“Yet the skipper still shows this attitude in front of us, and we should follow that throughout the season, no matter what. By doing so, I believe we can step up at the end of the season. We can’t hang our heads, even though we’re in a bad situation, otherwise we’ll repeat it. So we need to keep our heads up all year and by the end we’ll be better. Of course we need to work harder and harder, because simply we are the team that needs to improve the most.”
Nakahata has done a great job of dispersing the funk that has hung over the team, brought on by years of losing, with the sheer force of his personality, but eventually he’ll need tangible results to fall back on if he hopes to foster a culture of winning.
Especially at a time when fans can cast an envious eye at the Pacific League, where the Chiba Lotte Marines, last season’s PL cellar-dwellers, are sitting pretty in first place.
Veteran players like Miura, Alex Ramirez and Norihiro Nakamura have played well, but the manager has to figure out how to get the younger BayStars, the future of the team, to fall in behind them.
Nakahata’s attitude can go a long way, but the team needs to show improvement. No one is asking for a pennant, or even an above .500 record, just a move in the right direction.
Otherwise, the Nakahata Hour will continue from the confines of last place, where even the most entertaining acts tend to get stale quickly.