Baseball | BASEBALL BULLET-IN

Veteran announcer Bickard calling NPB games on TV in English

by Wayne Graczyk

Did you know there is English-language coverage (though very limited) of some Pacific League games in Japan?

Veteran radio and public address announcer, Japan resident Bill Bickard, called play-by-play on the Rakuten Eagles-Softbank Hawks game from Sendai’s Kleenex Stadium on Tuesday night, and he will do a few more in English this season.

Bickard broadcast three Eagles games in September of last year and expects to call a total of about 10 Pa League tilts this time around.

The outlet is a station called BS11, not to be confused with NHK’s BS-2, which is sometimes referred to as BS-11 because of its channel number. Got that?

I just found out I have it on my cable system, Park City TV, which serves the municipalities of Musashino (where I live) and Mitaka. Its programming seems to be mostly TV shopping with the occasional baseball night game.

According to Bickard, BS11 is tied up with the chain of Bic Camera stores, and the broadcaster will most likely carry about 30 games (in Japanese), mostly Eagles home encounters from Sendai. But the next game with scheduled English coverage is on April 30, with the Hawks playing the Saitama Seibu Lions at Seibu Dome.

Bickard says he and his partner, Taka Masatsugu, are also in line to do the Lions-Hanshin Tigers interleague games at Tokorozawa on June 10 and 11 and about five more games with dates to be decided.

Bill and Taka are not actually at the ballpark but watch the games on a monitor at a BS11 studio in Tokyo where they add the English commentary live.

If you have the BS11 selection on your cable system and watch one of the games, be sure to let us know what you think. Having known Bickard for more than 20 years and heard his work on JICR radio and over the P.A. at Major League Baseball, National Football League and National Basketball Association games in Japan, I know he is doing a fine job calling Japanese baseball.

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Fans in Japan have been asking, “Is that all we are getting in Japan this season as far as Major League Baseball coverage — the games being shown on NHK’s satellite channel?

Sky PerfecTV which aired two or three games a day for several years through 2008 has not renewed its contract and is not telecasting MLB games in 2009.

What I am hearing through the grapevine is that MLB games will be seen on terrestrial channels of NHK, Fuji, TBS, TV Asahi and TV Tokyo over the air and on NHK-BS and J-SPORTS on satellite.

There should be a similar number of games (about 400) as were shown in Japan in previous seasons.

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Another question I often hear: “Is there anywhere on the Internet where fans can watch Japanese baseball?”

I get this from fans in the United States, Canada and other countries and from American ballplayers in Japan who want their families back home to see how they are doing.

As far as I am aware, there is nothing being streamed but, if anyone knows better, please enlighten us. My suggestion to the relatives of the players or to fans wanting to watch Central and Pacific League games overseas is to look into getting a Slingbox, a device which allows someone in one country to watch what is on TV on the other side of the world through their computer.

Do a Google search for more information about the capabilities of the Sling Box and how to obtain one.

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While we are on the subject of TV programming, let it be known former Japan Times columnist Marty Kuehnert has begun a new sports talk show on the BS-Nippon channel, known for short as “BS Niteli,” a cable affiliate of NTV. “Marty’s Bar” is on from 11:30 p.m. to midnight on Mondays.

The program debuted last Monday, and Marty’s first guest was Itaru Kobayashi, team director of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. That interview will re-run on Monday.

The next scheduled guest is agent Don Nomura, who opened the door for Japanese players to go to the major leagues when he hooked up pitcher Hideo Nomo with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995. The Kuehnert-Nomura chat will appear April 20, and that segment will repeat on April 27.

Yes, Kuehnert is still with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and, if you go to Sendai to see a game, you will most likely see Marty walking through the stands to greet fans. He is also involved teaching sports business courses at Sendai University and has been named a vice president of the institution.

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Finally this week, an e-mail update from Jeremy Powell, former Kintetsu and Orix Buffaloes, Yomiuri Giants and Softbank Hawks pitcher who worked in Japan for eight seasons, 2001-08.

Powell was also the subject of that controversial tug of war last year between Orix and Softbank over a double-contract signing. J.P. went to camp with the Pittsburgh Pirates and is starting the 2009 season in Triple-A.

His message reads, “It is a little weird not being a part of (Japanese baseball) this year. Spring for me was great, and I am in Indianapolis now. I’ll be throwing out of the bullpen. Hopefully I can get back over (to Japan) some time, as I don’t feel I am done over there yet.”

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com