The start of the season may be four weeks away, but there’s one player everyone should keep an eye on.

Ready for stardom is 22-year-old Yokohama BayStars third baseman Katsuaki Furuki. A fifth-year pro, Furuki will be playing his first full season after “finding himself” in 2002.

Listed as an outfielder in 2001, Furuki got to play at third after American Mike Gulan was injured, and he hit .320 and belted nine homers with 22 RBI in just 34 games.

Over a full season, those stats project to 37 homers and 91 runs batted in, and the BayStars sure need some firepower after hitting a team total of only 97 home runs in 2002 and 94 in 2001. By comparison, the Yomiuri Giants hit 186 in 2002 and 196 in 2001.

The ‘Stars should hit triple figures this year with Furuki and American (by way of Korea) Tyrone Woods leading the way. Furuki (uniform No. 33) is ready; watch out.

* * * * *

Spring camps have closed for the year, and it appears the days of training in Kochi, Shikoku, may be ending.

The Seibu Lions, Fukuoka Daiei Hawks and Hanshin Tigers have each been warming up there for several years, but the weather is not exactly like Florida or Arizona where the major leaguers work out in comparatively balmy and reasonably warm temperatures.

Fellow Japan Times columnist Marty Kuehnert and I visited Kochi Feb. 20-22 and had two sunny days and one freezing, rainy one that forced the Hanshin players into their indoor facility. Absolutely awful weather that Saturday at Tiger Town in Aki, a 50-minute train ride from central Kochi.

The Lions have trained at Haruno, a 25-minute bus ride from downtown Kochi, since 1980 but are moving to Miyazaki next season.

The Hawks have been limbering up in Kochi since 1991 but, according to reports, are about to follow Seibu and leave Kochi for southeast Kyushu.

Hanshin already staged the first two weeks of this year’s camp in Okinawa, and it’s possible that, two or three years from now, the Tigers will also abandon Kochi, and all 12 Japanese teams will be doing their season’s preparation in the Ryukyus, Miyazaki or Kagoshima. Sorry for Kochi.

Great town, nice people, but it appears the end of the road may be near for the city hosting pro baseball camps.

* * * * *

I will run my annual pre-season fans prediction column on Wednesday, March 19. If you would like to participate, please send me your predictions for the order of finish of all six teams in each of the Central and Pacific Leagues for the 2003 season.

Be sure to include your name and the town where you live, and you can send them by fax to (0422) 21-9342 or e-mail to wayne@weekender.co.jp Deadline is Friday, March 14. Thanks.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.