Dear Wayne: I read what you posted from Melvin Bunch’s e-mail (Feb. 23).

Seems to me I remember he did the same thing last year — saying he was ready to play again.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding his departure in 2002, he will always be looked at as someone who walked out on his team. If he has anything left, he should play minor league ball, and maybe a Japanese team will offer a new contract during the season if he looks dependable.

Will Daniel “Yuuichi” Matsumoto (of the Yakult Swallows) still be counted as a foreign-registered player this year?

I think he deserves a chance to play more for the top team, but the foreign player limit hurt him last season.

What kind of year do you think Kazuhiro Kiyohara will have?

I think he’ll get hurt early in the season, as he has each of the past few years.

With NPB saying it’s going to report attendance figures accurately this year, I’m curious as to what the Giants are going to do.

Robert Whiting has said in a couple of his books the Tokyo Dome doesn’t have anywhere near 55,000 seats for baseball. Because they can’t just suddenly start reporting a sellout as 45,000, I suspect this year we will see 53,000-54,000 sometimes and, in successive seasons, they’ll gradually lower the attendance figures.

Finally, with the Giants able to use five foreign players this year, do you think the four foreign player limit will be relaxed in the near future?

I have to believe the new teams, and the new ownership in Fukuoka, would like this.


Dear Patrick: Wow, lots to respond to here.

First of all, Bunch did not walk out on his team, the Chunichi Dragons.

Although his problems were mental rather than physical, he did want to leave but had no choice. He had to get checked out at home.

But your point about him playing minor league ball to prove he is indeed OK, and could be an effective pitcher again, is a good one. I agree that is what he should do, so the Japanese teams have something to see.

As for Yuuichi, the Brazilian-Japanese outfielder, he will be registered as a Japan national, so the foreign player quota will not be an obstacle for him.

He should be given a chance to win a spot in the Swallows’ starting outfield this season, especially after Yakult lost right-fielder Atsunori Inaba, who signed with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters after giving up on his bid to try the major leagues through the free-agency route.

Yuuichi’s career average for the Swallows varsity, albeit in only 42 games, is .318.

About the injury-prone Kiyohara, the Giants have apparently decided to take the chance he will not be hurt too often this season.

Yomiuri expects to exploit the hoopla and build-up prior to the slugger hitting his 500th career home run. He has 492 going into the season.

Defensively, the Giants plan to play newcomer Gabe Kapler in center field, moving Tuffy Rhodes (no longer considered a foreigner as a 10-year player) to left and putting Takayuki Shimizu on the bench — until Kiyohara suffers that first broken finger, hand or wrist from being dead-balled by an inside-tailing fast ball.

Then Shimizu would supposedly be the starting first baseman.

But Kiyohara will get that dinger No. 500, you can be sure.

Concerning the phantom attendance figures, I am not sure what the Giants plan to do, but I was told to change the capacity figure of Fukuoka Dome — now Fukuoka Yahoo! Japan Dome — from 48,000 to 35,157.

Finally, I do not believe the four foreign player limit will be changed any time soon, but you are right in saying some teams could benefit from having more non-Japanese registered on the varsity roster.

Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles general manager Marty Kuehnert says field manager Yasushi Tao is going to have a difficult decision to make prior to Opening Day.

“All five of our foreign players looked great in camp,” said Marty in reference to pitchers Kevin Hodges, Aaron Myette and Gary Rath, first baseman Damon Minor and third sacker Luis Lopez.

Also, a fourth hurler, Matt Skrmetta, will soon report to the Rakuten farm team, intensifying the competition for first-team slots.

Dear Wayne: As a longtime fan of the AAA Pacific Coast League (having lived in several PCL cities), I’m a big follower of minor league baseball in the U.S.

I know there are a couple of minor leagues here in Japan, and I would like to see a few of the games this year, but I haven’t been able to find much information about them, at least in English.

What advice or information could you give?

John McKay

Dear John: You probably know each of the 12 Central and Pacific League teams has a ni-gun or second team under its wing. This season, there will be seven teams in the Eastern League and five in the Western League.

There are no class levels such as AAA, AA, A or Rookie in Japan.

Most of the farm clubs have the same name and the players wear the same uniforms as the main team, but some have been given their own identity.

For example, the Yokohama BayStars farm outlet is the Shonan Searex, based in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Yokohama.

The minors here play a 90- or 100-game season of mostly day games played for convenience and player development at small stadiums or grounds around the country.

However, the farm teams sometimes play at the home stadiums of their parent team.

The Yomiuri Giants second unit will play some home night games at Tokyo Dome, and the Rakuten Eagles farm club, based in Yamagata, will host some contests at the main team’s Fullcast Miyagi Stadium in Sendai.

Contact the Central or Pacific League offices for a complete schedule.

The Fresh Star Game, an All-Star contest between the best players in the Eastern and Western Leagues, will be played on July 24 at Sun Marine Stadium in Miyazaki, and a postseason playoff will take place to determine the minor league champion of Japan pro baseball.

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