We are taking a look this week at topics covered in this column at various times throughout the 2010 season, and updating them to see what, if any, progress has been made.

The Kansas City Royals without Hillman: On June 13, the Baseball Bullet-In theme was the firing of Trey Hillman as manager of the Royals after more than two years on the job. When Hillman was let go on May 13, and replaced by Ned Yost, the Royals had a record of 12-23 (.343 winning percentage) and were last in the American League Central Division.

After Hillman and through games of Wednesday, Kansas City won 48 and lost 62 for a .436 winning pace, so you can say the team has improved under Yost.

Overall, the Royals are 60-85 (.414) and were in fourth place in the division ahead of the Cleveland Indians. However, they were 11 games under .500 when Trey got the ax. Now they are 25 under the break-even mark.

Kansas City’s Special Assistant for Player Personnel Louie Medina, a former Hiroshima Carp player, was recently back in Japan and said it was a tough decision to fire Hillman, but the future of the team is bright after a series of trades for a slew of promising youngsters ready to develop into star players.

“I am really excited about our farm system,” said Medina, while watching his old team in Japan play the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome. “We traded away (Scott) Podsednik (to the Los Angeles Dodgers) and (Jose) Guillen (to San Francisco), but we are now loaded with young talent, and we expect to be very competitive in our division in the next two-to-three years.”

Among those prospects named by Medina are 20-year-old left-handed pitcher Tim Collins, 21-year-old third baseman Mike Moustakas, 20-year-old first baseman Eric Hosmer and 19-year-old catcher Will Myers. Look for them in the K.C. lineup in the not-too-distant future.

Meanwhile, Hillman, in an e-mail, said he’s fine and expects to be re-employed in baseball soon. “There are several interested parties but still a little early for executives to say for which positions,” he wrote.

BayStars fail to improve: In the Jan. 10 Baseball Bullet-In we noted the efforts by the Yokohama BayStars to build up the team’s chances after a disastrous 2009 season with a record of 51-93, finishing a whopping 42 1/2 games behind the Central League champion Yomiuri Giants.

Yokohama hired former Fukuoka Daiei Hawks and Giants pitching coach Takao Obana as manager, lured slugger Terrmel Sledge away from the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and got free agent pitcher Naoyuki Shimizu to jump from the Chiba Lotte Marines.

The BayStars also made a couple of trades to strengthen the roster, but all has gone for naught. The team record as of Thursday was 44-82-1 and, with a winning percentage of .349, it is worse than last season’s .354.

What happened?

To make matters worse, Yokohama’s two best players, infielder-outfielder Seiichi Uchikawa and third baseman Shuichi Murata, can be free agents at the end of this season and may be looking to play elsewhere in 2011.

Ball-strike count reversal: On Jan. 31, we cited the intention of Japanese pro baseball to change to the internationally accepted way of calling balls and strikes. A full count is 3-2 most anywhere but, in Japan, it has been 2-3.

So, how is this coming along?

Very slowly, it seems.

I don’t see where the umpires and radio-TV announcers have made the switch, and the order of the superimposition of the count on your TV screen is still S-B-O, except for the J-SPORTS channels.

I know of only two ballpark scoreboards that have been converted; the ones at Yokohama Stadium and Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium Hiroshima start with balls on top with strikes and outs below that.

Old habits are hard to break, I guess.

Niigata still waiting for its own team: On May 23 we reviewed the new stadium in Niigata and wrote about how the facility, the city and the surrounding Joetsu area on the Sea of Japan coast are ready for their own franchise team to move in.

Not sure how close or far away Niigata is from getting a Central or Pacific League club, either by expansion or having an existing team relocate, but Hard-Off Eco Stadium is being used by NBP at every opportunity.

There were three CL games — all involving the Yomiuri Giants — and two PL encounters played in Niigata this season, as well as an NPB All-Star Game on July 24. Now the minor league championship game, with the winners of the Eastern and Western Leagues squaring off, will take place there on Oct. 2.

The Giants played the Hiroshima Carp at Hard-Off in a one-night stand Sept. 10, drawing a Friday night paid crowd of 27,605 to the 30,000 stadium.

One fan told me the governor of Niigata Prefecture has said, if they cannot get a team, he would like to see at least nine games played there each season by various NPB teams on a rotating basis.

Ramirez makes it 900 games in a row: Finally this week, congratulations again to Yomiuri slugger Alex Ramirez for playing in his 900th consecutive game. “Rami” reached his latest milestone in the contest against the Carp at Tokyo Dome last Sunday.

Attending that game and adding support was Ramirez’s Venezuelan countryman, race car driver E.J. Viso, competing this weekend at Japan’s Motegi Speedway. Viso asked Ramirez to come to his race but, as much as Ramirez would like to reciprocate, he and the Giants are playing the Hanshin Tigers at Koshien Stadium.

“You’ve played 900 games in a row,” Viso told the Giants left fielder. “You can miss one.”

Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com

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