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Foreign players for 2003: Who’s who?

Spring training for the 12 Japanese pro baseball teams began on Saturday with an interesting mix of 56 foreign players, one manager and four coaches. As of Feb. 3, all teams had at least four gaikokujin registered, save for the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes who have but three.

There are 21 players who will be making their debut in Japan, counting Chunichi Dragons outfielder Kevin Millar who is listed on the team roster but is in the middle of a tug-of-war between the Dragons and the Boston Red Sox who want to acquire his contract from Chunichi.

Three men will be returning after having played here in 2001 or prior, then having sat out the 2002 season or played elsewhere. Second baseman Bobby Rose has joined the Chiba Lotte Marines after an eight-year career (1993-2000) with the Yokohama BayStars and two years on the sidelines. Rose, playing his ninth year in Japan at age 36, can re-claim the title “doyen of the gaijin corps” from Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes outfielder Tuffy Rhodes, entering his eighth season in Japan.

Also re-emerging are Chunichi Dragons first baseman Ivan Cruz who played with the Hanshin Tigers in 2001, and Yomiuri Giants pitcher Matt Randel, a member of the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks two years ago. Besides Rose, Cruz and Randel, four more familiar faces will be wearing new uniforms here: Yomiuri Giants first baseman Roberto Petagine (switching from the Yakult Swallows) and pitcher Rodney Pedraza (jumping from the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks), Chunichi pitcher Marc Valdes (transferring from Hanshin) and Hiroshima Carp hurler Alan Newman (moving after two years with Yakult).

Two players are coming from Korean Pro Baseball: Yokohama infielder Tyrone Woods and Giants pitcher Gary Rath. Orix BlueWave batting coach Leon Lee returns to Japanese baseball after an absence of 16 years. Slugger Lee enjoyed a stellar 10-year career (1978-1987) with the Lotte Orions, Yokohama Taiyo Whales and Yakult Swallows.

The spotlight will be on Nippon Ham Fighters’ manager Trey Hillman, the first American to lead a Japanese team since Bobby Valentine took the Marines to a second-place finish in 1995. Hillman will guide the F’s as they play their final season as a Tokyo-based club, preparing for the move to Sapporo in 2004.

Following is a list of the non-Japanese on the Central and Pacific League registers for 2003:

Chunichi Dragons (6): 1B Ivan Cruz, P Eddie Gaillard, 3B Omar Linares,OF Kevin Millar, P Marc Valdes, P Martin Vargas.

Hanshin Tigers (4+1): 1B George Arias, P Trey Moore, P Lou Pote, P Jeff Williams, Co. Tom O’Malley.

Hiroshima Carp (5): OF Jimmy Hurst, P Dave Lundquist, P Alan Newman, P Ramon Ramirez, IF Andy Sheets.

Yakult Swallows (5): 1B Todd Betts, P Kevin Hodges, OF Daniel Matsumoto(Brazil), OF Alex Ramirez, 1B Leonardo Sato (Brazil).

Yokohama BayStars (5+1): 1B Steve Cox, P Domingo Guzman, P Chris Holt,P Matt Whiteside, 3B Tyrone Woods, Co. John Turney.

Yomiuri Giants (5): P Cory Bailey, P Rodney Pedraza, 1B Roberto Petagine, P Matt Randel, P Gary Rath.

Chiba Lotte Marines (5): OF Derrick May, P Nate Minchey, 2B Bobby Rose,IF Rick Short, P Brian Sikorski.

Fukuoka Daiei Hawks (6): P Anderson Gomez, P Brandon Knight, OF Bryant Nelson, P Matt Skrmetta, OF Pedro Valdes, OF Chen Wen-bin (Taiwan).

Nippon Ham Fighters (4+2): OF D.T. Cromer, OF Angel Echevarria, P Carlos Mirabal, P Chris Seelbach, MGR Trey Hillman, Co. Gary Denbo.

Orix BlueWave (4+1): OF Roosevelt Brown, 1B Jose Ortiz, P Koo Dae Sung (Korea), 3B Scott Sheldon, Co. Leon Lee.

Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes (3): P Kevin Beirne, P Jeremy Powell, OF Tuffy Rhodes.

Seibu Lions (4): 1B Alex Cabrera, P Chang Chi-chia (Taiwan), 3B Scott McClain, P Hsu Ming-chieh (Taiwan).

Diamond Dust: Thanks to all who entered the Hideki Matsui All-Star break statistics prediction sweepstakes introduced here in our last column. More than 50 entries were received with fans’ guesses as to what Matsui’s home run, runs batted in and batting average stats will be with the New York Yankees on July 14 at the MLB All-Star break.

The estimates ranged from a high of 29 homers, 68 RBIs and .337 (Triple Crown numbers) to a low of 9, 28, .237 (triple disaster figures). The deadline is March 15 so, if you have not already entered, you may send your idea of what Matsui’s stats will be at the mid-summer break to me by e-mail to wayne@weekender.co.jp or by fax to (0422) 21-9342. The contestant who comes closest will win a Yankees jersey, though one Yankee-hater fan has requested a New York Mets jersey if he wins.

Gridiron Dust: Remember in my column of Jan. 8 when I criticized the National Football League for dropping SKY PerfecTV! as a broadcaster in Japan and putting the live games on Gaora? I especially protested Gaora’s selection of timeout interlude music, an acid rock number with obscene language, among other differences between the excellent NFL package formerly offered by SKY PerfecTV! and the disappointing coverage on Gaora.

No one listened here, as Gaora came right back with the same tasteless format for the playoff games on the following weekend. But Bill Abbate,a former Japan resident who now works in TV in Boston and covers Patriots’ games, saw the column on the Internet and forwarded a copy to the NFL office in New York, attention TV Committee.

Hopefully, live telecasts of NFL games in Japan next season will revert to the high standard the league has always maintained in the past.

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