FUKUOKA – Eight years after Cuba’s international baseball legend Omar Linares played his last game for the Chunichi Dragons, that nation’s manager said Thursday it was about time more of his countrymen came to Japan to play in Nippon Professional Baseball.
Speaking ahead of Friday’s World Baseball Classic tune-up against Japan at Yahoo Dome, Cuba manager Victor Mesa said he would be delighted if players were able to play in Japan’s leagues.
“There is a lot of discussion behind the scenes about that possibility,” Mesa said. “There are no specifics, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happening in the very near future.”
“I would support our players experiencing different leagues abroad — anywhere except the United States, because of that country’s ongoing economic sanctions against Cuba. The best place would be Japan.”
Linares, a tremendous power-hitting third baseman who dominated international competition for years, ended his career with three seasons for the Central League’s Dragons from 2002 to 2004.
“We understand what Japanese baseball is about,” Mesa said. “There is a fundamental difference in the approach. We in Cuba see how the game is played in the United States, where the ability to score a lot of runs is emphasized and we (in Cuba) have moved to that style.”
“Sometimes people see Japan’s game, with its emphasis on sacrificing to get one run and they laugh. But you can’t laugh at their success in the WBC, and I really think Japan can learn to flip that switch and play for a lot of runs.”
“I don’t see players moving next year, but we have an invitation to play next year in Taiwan again. If we keep coming to play in Taiwan, South Korea and Japan — countries where they play very good baseball — you’ll know our players, we’ll know your countries and things might start moving.”