The Yomiuri Giants announced Dec. 24 the signing of former Arizona Diamondbacks infielder Rusty Ryal, son of Mark Ryal who played in 1991 and 1992 with the Chunichi Dragons.

On Jan. 8, the Giants also signed pitcher Brian Bannister, a five-year major league veteran with the Mets and Royals and son of ex-Yakult Swallows (1990) hurler Floyd Bannister.

Mark and Rusty and Floyd and Brian will join Marty and Matt Keough as the second and third father-son foreigners in Japanese baseball history.

Dad Marty Keough was an outfielder with the Nankai Hawks of Osaka in 1968, and his son Matt pitched for the Hanshin Tigers over four seasons, 1987-90.

One other U.S. father-son combination has worked in Japanese baseball. Vernon Law served as pitching coach with the Seibu Lions in 1979, and his boy, Vance, was an infielder with Chunichi in 1990.

Eight sets of foreign brothers have played here, beginning with Harvey and Howard Zenimura in the 1950s. They were followed in subsequent decades by Leron and Leon Lee, Adrian and Wayne Garrett, Tommy and Hector Cruz, Dave and Gary Rajsich, Jerald and Phil Clark, Hector and Erick Almonte and Kevin and Trey Hodges.

Mark Ryal, speaking by phone from his parents’ home in Oklahoma, said he recalls fondly his two seasons in Nagoya and is excited about his son joining the high-profile Tokyo Giants.

“I’m tickled Rusty is going to Japan and hope he has as good an experience as I had. They were two of the best years of my life playing baseball, and I would not trade them for anything,” Mark Ryal said, despite the fact his second season with the Dragons was cut short due to injury. “If I had been healthy, I would have stayed as long as I could.”

The elder Ryal, now 50 and still working in baseball as hitting coach at Auburn University in Alabama, enjoyed a pretty good season as an outfielder with the Dragons in 1991, batting .285 with 24 home runs and 87 RBIs. Though he hit .300 in ’92, he played in only seven games, going 6-for-20 and spending most of the season on the disabled list. He was released in August of that year.

Before joining Chunichi, he had played in parts of six major league seasons with the Royals, White Sox, Angels, Phillies and Pirates.

“I will be always grateful to the Dragons and the fans in Nagoya for the chance to play in Japan,” Mark Ryal said. “Over the years I have kept in touch with my interpreter (Toyoharu Kunimitsu), and I remember my manager, (Senichi) Hoshino. I always got along well with him and look forward to seeing him when I go to Japan to watch Rusty play.”

Hoshino will be managing the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles during the coming season.

Mark Ryal said he was somewhat surprised when he heard Rusty would be leaving the Diamondbacks for Japan after only two seasons in the big leagues.

“He had a good year, but new people came into the Arizona management,” Mark said, pointing out front office changes often lead to unexpected player transactions.

Rusty hit .261 for the D-Backs, playing in 104 games during the 2010 season. He is 27, a right-handed batter and will most likely see a lot of action at second base for the Giants and their manager, another guy with whom Mark Ryal hopes to be re-acquainted.

Yomiuri skipper Tatsunori Hara was a Giants star when the senior Ryal played in the Central League 20 years ago.

“He will be managing my son, and I want to meet him again,” said Mark of his former rival.

Though Rusty Ryal has never actually been to Japan, his old man says he will be well prepared and is looking forward to the challenge of playing in Tokyo and the demands of the popular Yomiuri club.

“Rusty was in school when I played in Japan, so I couldn’t bring him over,” said Mark. “I was going to bring him to Nagoya during my second year, but I was injured and not playing, and he never made it.”

Mark knows his kid will face many of the same barriers as he did two decades ago, including language, the tougher spring training camp workouts and coping mentally with the differences between baseball and yakyu.

“Once you get into the trenches, the psychological aspect of it starts hitting you,” Mark recalled from his experience. However, he expects Rusty to go with the flow and, “I hope he learns as much of the Japanese language as he can.”

Rusty Ryal is scheduled to arrive in Japan on Jan. 26, and there will most likely be a news conference in Tokyo a day or two after that, to introduce him and the three other newcomers to the Yomiuri team: pitchers Carlos Torres, Jonathan Albaladejo and Brian Bannister.

Then it will be off to that first Japanese spring training camp which the Giants will split this year between their traditional site in Miyazaki in southeast Kyushu, and Naha, Okinawa.

Mark Ryal said he expects to return to Japan some time during the summer for a nostalgic trip down memory lane and to watch Rusty in action.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com

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