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The hot hibachi league, Japan’s version of the hot stove league, is loaded with kerosene and all fired up for 12 weeks of hot-and-heavy off-field baseball action involving the hiring of new foreign players by the Japanese teams, some trades, free agent movement and other news through the opening of spring training on Feb. 1.

Officially, the 2005 championship season comes to an end with the conclusion of the seven-game Konami Cup Asian Series tournament at Tokyo Dome on Nov. 13.

In the meantime, the 2006 Japan pro baseball schedules will be released this week. The interleague slate will come out Monday, Nov. 7, followed by the Central League calendar on Tuesday, Nov. 8, and the Pacific League itinerary the following day.

Look for a similar interleague format as 2005, with 36 games played in succession by each team against clubs in the other league, beginning just after Golden Week ends on May 5 and continuing through the middle of June.

Opening Day for the Pacific League will be Saturday, March 25, just five days after the scheduled final game of the World Baseball Classic in San Diego.

The Central League season is expected to get under way on Friday, March 31.

It will be interesting to see if Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks catcher Kenji Jojima, now a free agent, gets any offers from major league teams looking for a first-string catcher.

There is no doubt about Jo’s ability, but the question is: Can a Japanese catcher succeed in the American or National League with limited communication skills?

Foreigners who have played the position in Japan were not able to sustain a long-term period of success behind the plate because of language misunderstandings with pitchers.

Adrian “Smoky” Garrett caught briefly for the 1978 Hiroshima Carp and said, “I thought I knew what pitches were coming after I conferred with the pitchers and flashed the signs, but I was constantly getting crossed-up.” He gave up after eight games as the masked man.

Mike Diaz did some catching with the Lotte Orions in 1990 and had a similar experience.

Meanwhile, new Hiroshima manager Marty Brown is observing his team in fall camp at Nichinan, Miyazaki Prefecture.

“I’m excited,” said Brown by phone from south Kyushu. “The Carp obviously want to make some changes, so they brought me in,” he said of his new challenge which will be to escape last place in the Central League and re-gain respectability. Brown will attend the NPB draft meeting next week in Tokyo, looking for college and industrial league talent.

Brown’s coaching staff so far does not include any foreigners, but it is expected his hitting coach will be Jeff Livesey who managed the Pittsburgh Pirates Rookie team at Bradenton, Fla., this past season.

Assuming Bobby Valentine stays on with the Chiba Lotte Marines (Stay, Bobby, please stay!), a quarter of the Japanese teams will have U.S. managers in 2006, with Marty, Bobby and Trey Hillman of the Nippon Ham Fighters.

One Japanese media member said he thinks the hiring of American managers by Japanese teams is becoming a trend, bolstered by Valentine’s success this season, so we’ll see if this continues.

Valentine, by the way, may reveal more about his future plans on Tuesday, Nov. 8, when he is scheduled to speak at a luncheon at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan.

Finally this week, a note regarding Yasushi Tao, now ex-manager of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles: I listened to the radio broadcast of the Lotte-Seibu playoff game on Oct. 8, on which Tao was the color commentator for Nippon Hoso, part of the Fuji Telecommunications Group. Tao left that organization to take the job as the first manager in the history of the Eagles.

You know how bad the expansion team’s record was, but Tao did an excellent job supplying the commentary on that playoff contest, just as he has done for several years on Nippon Hoso and Fuji-TV before putting a uniform back on and returning to the field as the Rakuten skipper.

As sorry as I was to see him get fired, I have to say maybe he’s back where he belongs — behind the mike providing analysis.

Reminds me of Jerry Coleman who was hired to manage the San Diego Padres in 1980 after two decades in the broadcast booth.

I can recall listening to Padres games on Armed Forces Radio late in the 1979 season after Coleman was named the new skipper and hearing him say, “When I take over as manager next year, I’m going to do this . . . ” or “When I’m on the bench next season, I’ll never do that . . . ,” thinking he had all the answers.

He turned out to be less than mediocre as a field boss, posting a 73-89 record and a last place finish in the National League West.

Like Tao, Coleman returned to the play-by-play chair after one season as manager. Now 81, Coleman was still calling San Diego games on radio in 2005 and is in the Hall of Fame in the broadcasters’ wing.

Sometimes you need to try something new to find out the place you left is actually where you belong, and I look forward to hearing Tao’s comments again next year on Fuji TV and Nippon Hoso radio.

Maybe this is the job for which he was really meant.

Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wsgraczyk@yahoo.com

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