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Seguignol says being flexible key to success in NPB

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Fernando Seguignol towered over a group of people huddled near one of the batting cages on the field at Tokyo Dome, where the Yomiuri Giants’ Leslie Anderson was getting his work in prior to a game against the Hiroshima Carp earlier this week.

The former NPB slugger looked as fit as ever at 39 years old and even dressed in a simple-button front shirt and slacks he looked like he could step into cage and crank a few over the fence himself.

Seguignol has been retired for a few seasons, so his time in the batter’s box is over. Now he spends his days looking for players like Anderson in his role as an international scout for the Giants, which is why he’s currently back in Japan for a brief visit.

“This is my third year now working with the Yomiuri Giants, who have given me the opportunity to come back to Japan in a different fashion, as a scout instead of a player,” Seguignol told The Japan Times.

Seguignol had his fair share of big hits and played a role in numerous memorable moments during his time in Japan, many coming in his run with the Hokkaiko Nippon Ham Fighters from 2004 to 2007, a period that saw the Pacific League club establish its new base in Sapporo, while winning a pair of league pennants and the 2006 Japan Series title.

Seguignol turned to scouting after retirement as a way to remain in the game in some capacity. He spends his springs in Florida, where 15 MLB teams train, then scouts the (U.S. Triple-A) International League, hitting a few MLB games here or there along the way, during the regular season.

When the season is over in the U.S. and Canada, Seguignol heads south for the winter.

“Right after the season ends, I will go to winter ball,” he said. “I will go to the Dominican Republic, go to Mexico, Venezuela. I keep watching guys all year round.

“I do get a chance to be with my family. I have two kids, 9 and 7, and they’re very athletic. They keep me going, keep me young. I’ve been enjoying that as well. Then, when I have to go on the road, I go on the road.”

Seguignol knows what it takes to succeed in Japan and is constantly on the lookout for players who fit the profile.

“You gotta have talent,” he said. “You at least have to have successful seasons in Triple-A. I think that’s very important. This is a step up, it’s not a step down. A lot of guys get confused, mostly major league guys who don’t appreciate the opportunity that they have to come play at this kind of level. They think it’s a step down. You gotta have an open mind.

“Being able to make adjustments is the biggest key to having success in Japan. Day in and day out, they’re going to explore your weaknesses in every facet of the game. If you don’t know how to make adjustments, you could have a long time here in a bad way.”

Seguignol had eight mostly good years in Japan after playing for the Montreal Expos from 1998-2001.

He began his NPB career in 2002 with the Orix BlueWave, then went back to the U.S. to join the New York Yankees organization, though he made just five appearances for the Bronx Bombers.

Seguignol returned to Japan to play for the Fighters and later had stints with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (2008 and 2009) and Orix Buffaloes (2010). He finished with a .273 average, 172 home runs, 483 RBIs and an .879 on-base plus slugging percentage in eight NPB seasons. He retired in 2011 after a year with the Lancanster Barnstormers in the (U.S.) independent Atlantic League.

“I remember making adjustments on a daily basis,” Seguignol said of his NPB years. “You have to come with an open-minded mentality and take it as what it is: an opportunity to keep doing what you do best and what you love.

“Baseball is my life, so having the opportunity to come over here and keep doing what I wanted to do was one of those things that I enjoyed.”

The Panama native said he cherishes the experiences he had and friendships forged during his time in Japan. Lately, he’s gotten a special kick out of watching two of his former NPB teammates, pitchers Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka, make the move to MLB.

“Just seeing the work ethic and seeing his natural ability to step up, I knew he had it in him,” Seguignol said of Darvish. “It did surprise me a little that he’s taken to it so fast, that he embraced the culture and made the adjustment that fast. I’m just happy for him. To see him having success at the highest level is pretty awesome.

“Another guy is Tanaka, who I think will be really good over there as well. He’s going over at a really, really, good time in his career. It’s amazing. He’s just learning now, but he’s going to be really good over there as well.”