Much has been written and said about the reasons two Asian teams played in the recent World Baseball Classic final and why Japan came out on top against South Korea.
Practice, preparation and the proper execution of fundamentals, with a lot of heart added, allowed the Asian rivals to knock off the United States and Cuba.
Conversely, says a baseball guy experienced in Asia as well as America, teams such as Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the U.S., all stocked with major league talent, lost because their work ethic may not have been as intense as the boys from the Far East.
“It’s actually not about baseball. It’s about cultures that still value hard work, education and the family unit, and have pride in what they produce,” said Tim Ireland, currently a scout and base running coach for the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays.
Ireland knows well the much stricter training regimen of teams in the Orient and how it pays off. The major leaguers show up at camp in Florida or Arizona, weeks later than the Japanese reporting date of Feb. 1, and the program is not nearly as rigorous.
He got his first taste of Japanese baseball in 1981 as a playing member of the postseason touring Kansas City Royals, and he later played second base for the Hiroshima Carp in 1983-84. He also coached in the spring camp of the then-Fukuoka Daiei Hawks in 1997 and managed a team in Taiwan in 1999.
In addition, Ireland has had extensive scouting experience in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, working for several major league clubs, and he’s managed at all the minor league levels in North America and in the Hawaii Winter League where he had a young Ichiro Suzuki on his team in 1993.
“It was no surprise to see Japan and Korea in the World Baseball Classic championship game,” said Ireland, who favors the hard-nosed style of play and follows the “practice-makes-perfect” theory. He predicts Asian teams will continue to win international competitions — not necessarily because they are better, but because they know what it takes to achieve victory.
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week I wrote about how excited Hiroshima Carp manager Marty Brown is about his team’s chances in this year’s Central League pennant race. The American skipper is also thrilled about his club’s new stadium, which opens on April 10, when the Carp host the Chunichi Dragons.
At 101 meters (331 feet) down the left-field line, 122 meters (400 feet) to straightaway center and 100 meters (328 feet) to the right-field pole, “It’s going to be a legitimate ballpark,” Brown said.
That is, the batters will have to make good contact to hit the ball out, unlike Hiroshima Civic Stadium, where the fence in center field was a mere 116 meters (380 feet) from home.
“There are some seats behind glass at ground level in the outfield, and there is not really a bad seat in the stadium. Wherever you sit, you’ll be able to see everything. It’s huge, really tall, but not steep,” is the way Brown described the new park which, according to the team’s international division, will be called Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium.
“They have a gap in the stands, like a big alley way, in left-center, and through it you can see the shinkansen bullet trains going by. So it has an open look. You can walk all the way around the stadium on an outside walkway,” said Brown, who has taken the tour.
Brown mentioned the facilities for himself, his coaches and players will also be a lot nicer than at the 50-year-old Civic Stadium where his “office” was not much bigger than a broom closet.
“The inside is going to be real nice,” he said. “The clubhouse is one huge room, as compared with Shimin Kyujo where there were four smaller locker rooms and guys were spread out everywhere; older guys here, younger guys over there. Smokers over there, non-smokers back here.
“It’s going to be an upgrade, with TVs and couches and all, and it’s going to be a lot more big league-ish. I’m excited about working there.”
I am keyed up about it too and can’t wait to see a Carp game in what sounds like a beautiful place to play ball or watch a game.
See you there?
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Friends & Fans: The 2009 edition of my Japan Pro Baseball Fan Handbook & Media Guide is available now. It is the complete English-language guide to Japanese baseball and includes league and team directories, team rosters, league schedules, profiles of the foreign managers, coaches and players, statistics from past seasons, directions to the stadiums, ticket prices and much more, packed into 128 pages.
The quickest way to get your copy is to order directly from me. Please send ¥1,000 in cash, Japanese postage stamps or postal check “kawase,” along with your name and address, to: Wayne Graczyk, 1-12-18 Kichijoji Higashi-cho, Musashino-shi, Tokyo-to 180-0002.
Fans outside Japan can order through the JapanBall.com Web site.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com