Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Warren Cromartie still eager to pitch in to help Giants, Expos

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Warren Cromartie says he’s always been a team player.

So when his former Yomiuri Giants teammate Tatsunori Hara, currently the club’s manager, asked for his help, there was no way the 1989 Central League MVP was going to turn him down.

Cromartie was already in Japan, working some things with MLB Japan in addition to other projects, when Hara reached out recently to ask him to impart some of his wisdom to Giants players as a guest hitting instructor. He’s currently on the team’s road trip to Nagoya, where he was seen giving All-Star Kazuma Okamoto some hitting advice during batting practice on Tuesday.

“Hara and I are very close,” Cromartie told The Japan Times. “The media has tried to make us rivals. We found that very funny. Me and Hara, we’re very close friends. I’m very proud of him for what he’s done in his career. He’s given me this opportunity here to help him.”

Cromartie is joining a club mired in a slump.

“They’ve got a good ball club,” Cromartie said. “Everybody has their ups and downs. Right now, they’re in the middle of trying to stay on top of the Central League. I’m going as a teacher, speaker, motivator, depending on what cap I’m wearing. I’m going to try and help out one these ballplayers, Christian Villanueva, and see if we can get him on the right track to help this ball club.

“I think with his bat in that lineup, it’ll make a difference.”

Villanueva, a former San Diego Padres slugger, is off to a rocky start in his first year. He was hitting .232 with eight home runs in 68 games entering Wednesday.

Cromartie played in NPB from 1984-90 — he finished with a .321 average and 171 homers — and knows a thing or two about thriving in Japan.

“Not only do you have to make the adjustments in the game itself, but in the surroundings of the game, the mannerisms of the game,” Cromartie said. “The tempo of Japanese baseball is different from Major League Baseball. The rhythm is different, the mental aspect, communication. So it’s a lot of things that you have to consider. Then you have to get up there and try to hit that little white ball coming at you 90 miles-an-hour and be expected to perform.

“Hopefully I can settle him down a little bit, so he can trust himself. I’m not a miracle worker, I’m not a magic man. All that I can offer is my experience.”

The three-time NPB All-Star would like to offer his experience on a more full-time basis to an NPB club.

“My desire to manage is stronger than ever,” he said. “I’d really like to be a manager (in Japan).

“Help market the game, teach the game try to make the game better, make a team better. That type of thing. Hopefully my experience will help increase Japanese baseball and hopefully can help a ball club.”

The Giants aren’t the only one of his former teams Cromartie is trying to revive.

Part of the reason he’s in Japan is to build relationships that can help in his mission to restore the Montreal Expos, the NL club that relocated to Washington D.C. and became the Washington Nationals for the 2005 season.

“I want that Japanese connection,” he said.

There have been fans calling for MLB to return to Montreal ever since the team left, and the drumbeat has gotten louder in recent years.

In June, MLB gave the Tampa Bay Rays permission to look into splitting their home games between Tampa and Montreal in the future.

Writing in the Montreal Gazette in June, columnist Jack Todd said that was “the strongest possible signal that baseball considers Montreal (which had to lose a team in order to regain its passion for the sport) an entirely viable 21st century venue.”

That’s what Cromartie has been shouting for years.

He’s spent nearly a decade trying to bring MLB back to Montreal, where he made his pro debut and played from 1974-1983. In 2012, he founded the Montreal Baseball Project to aid those efforts, which includes trying to secure funding to build a stadium.

“I just started gathering up alumni and having special events, bringing guys back to Montreal and promoting the awareness of how important it is to have baseball back in Montreal,” he said. “It’s an institution, it’s history.

“I’m not a Canadian. But it was the very first professional uniform I put on, so I felt like it was the right thing to do and I took it on.”

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