Now that spring camps are only a few days away for NPB teams — some players are already working out “independently” together — the foreign contingent has begun trickling into the country. It was mostly the first-year foreign players the past couple of weeks, but now the veterans have started showing up.
For some, the return to Japan will be brief. The 2017 World Baseball Classic will cause a shakeup in a number of NPB camps, and it won’t only be Japanese players headed off to play for their country.
Some recently arriving foreign stars will be headed right back to the airport in a couple of weeks to join their respective national teams ahead of the fourth edition of the WBC. The tournament begins March 7, with the semifinals and final scheduled for March 20-22 in Los Angeles.
“At the airport heading to Japan. Good bye Florida see you in a month for the WBC,” Giants reliever Scott Mathieson wrote on Twitter on Jan. 26, as he waited on his flight to Japan. Mathieson will be playing for Canada during the WBC.
His Giants teammate Luis Cruz will be heading back out soon as well, as the infielder will represent Mexico and play alongside the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters’ Brandon Laird.
“I want to concentrate on giving my all in camp first,” Cruz told reporters when he arrived in Japan last week.
The Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Wladimir Balentien and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ Rick van den Hurk will play for the Netherlands and will travel to Korea for the first round.
They would return to Japan for the second round and jet off to America for the final rounds, should the Dutch qualify. After that, it would be back to Japan again to prepare for the season, which begins March 31.
Samurai Japan’s players have the advantage of not leaving the country before the final round. The foreign NPB stars participating in the WBC, however, might have a busy schedule ahead of them as they accumulate frequent flyer miles during a spring that will be anything but routine.
U.S. bound: The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters arrived in Arizona on Saturday in the U.S. ahead of the start of their second straight spring camp abroad. The team will train in Arizona from Feb. 1 until Feb. 10, before returning to continue their preparations in Okinawa.
“It starts today,” manager Hideki Kuriyama was quoted as saying by Sankei Sports before leaving Narita airport.
Shohei Otani, last season’s Pacific League MVP, will likely draw the lion’s share of attention from fans in the U.S., as was the case when the team headed stateside last year.
“The goal is to reach the top this year also,” Otani said before leaving.
While most of the regulars made the trip, Sho Nakata and Kensuke Tanaka are among those who will remain in Japan and work out at the team’s ni-gun camp.
Tour guide: Orix Buffaloes right-hander Brandon Dickson is adding tour guide to his resume has he prepares for his fifth season in Japan.
Dickson is doing his part by helping out the Buffaloes’ new foreign players and showing them the ropes as they adjust to life in Japan.
One of his first tasks was making sure they were fed well, reportedly taking his new teammates to Steakhouse Zen, a popular restaurant in Kobe.
Dickson, who has posted three consecutive nine-win seasons, said one his personal goals for the season was to improve on last year’s numbers. He’ll also be trying to reach double-digit wins for the first time in Japan.