Bringing the right shoes to the dance

Remember. When beginning a career in Japan, bring your running shoes.





New Yomiuri Giants first baseman Garret Jones talked on Sunday at Tokyo Dome about the many adjustments he’s had to make since arriving in Japan at the end of January —  many of them learning an approach to a different kind of spring training.

“Just getting used to the daily routine here, getting a flow with everybody, knowing what I have to do, how I should pace myself, what things I need to work on. When to ask for extra work, when to say, ‘I’m good,'” he said.

Jones, 34, got lots of helpful advice from veteran teammates Scott Mathieson and Luis Cruz and from Giants scouts Josh Fields and Adrian Gonzalez.

“Very valuable, those guys helped a lot, just giving tips, and pointers, things to do, what not to do, just prepare more than anything for spring training, mentally more than anything. ‘Hey this is what we’re going to do and don’t be shocked when we do a lot of extra work.’ They prepared me just by letting me know what to expect more than anything.”

“I talked to Josh Fields and Edgar (Gonzalez). They definitely said, ‘Be prepared and bring your running shoes. You’re going to be running a lot.’ It’s good. I don’t mind the work and the running because I know it benefits me in the long run.”

So remember new guys. Bring the running shoes.

On Sunday, the SoftBank Hawks got some good news. Yuki Yanagita, who won last year’s Pacific League MVP and should have won in 2014 as well, was in the lineup for the first time this season following elbow surgery last autumn and tripled.

The Hawks also got three crisp innings out of 25 pitches from former ace Tsuyoshi Wada.

The old boys of spring

Hurt pride requires extra ice

On Saturday, Hiroki Kuroda and Takahiro Arai resumed their preseason, simulated-game, WWF-style rivalry. A year to the day after he vowed to break teammate Arai’s bat in a simulated game — only to be taken deep the next day, Kuroda gave up a liner back through the box off Arai’s bat. The right-hander spoke the media with an outrageous amount of ice on his glove hand.

“It’s being iced for now, but we’ll just have to wait and see,” Kuroda said with a straight face.

“I was worried there,” Arai said. “If it was my ball that hit him and he got hurt, people would all be blaming me.”

Kuroda, who turned 41-years-old this month, showed amazing reflexes to spear the ball with his glove and explained that he was trying to cut the 39-year-old Arai some slack

“It’s not good to hit guys with pitches, so I threw something fat down the middle. Who’d have thought his bat control was that good?” Kuroda said.

A year earlier, when Arai homered off him on Feb. 28, Kuroda feigned disdain for his teammate’s antics.

“He held his fist pump too long. Do that in the majors and the next pitch you see will come at you.”

A day after saying that Daisuke Matsuzaka will not be in their season-opening five-man rotation, the SoftBank Hawks have revealed that Tadashi Settsu will start on Opening Day for the fifth straight time.

Speaking of starters, Scott Mathieson, who hasn’t started a regular season game since he starting 12 in 2011 for the Triple-A Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, is being stretched out to start this season and gave the Yomiuri Giants five innings in their preseason home debut against the Swallows.

Samurai Japan? More like the NPB indentured servants

Junichi Tazawa, the man without a national team

We’re a a little more than a year from the start of the 2017 World Baseball Classic group stages, and Japan is beginning its final year of preparations with games against Taiwan on March 5 and 6. Yet, the team doesn’t deserve to wear Japan’s emblem, the hinomaru, on their uniforms.

As long as manager Hiroki Kokubo is not allowed to choose stars who exercise their individual right NOT to play in Nippon Professional Baseball, then the team can’t truly represent Japan. The example is Junichi Tazawa. While Kokubo has said he’d like to have him on the team, Tazawa can’t be picked because NPB won’t let him.

Tazawa is banned from playing in Japan or for Kokubo’s NPB Indentured Samurai. The pitcher broke no law or contract. He failed no drug test. But he’s an outsider because he chose a career path NPB didn’t approve of. We’re not talking about organized crime or some other group that will get you banned from NPB, but rather a major league team. Before Tazawa signed with the Red Sox as an amateur, there were no rules against it. But after he signed, NPB’s teams agreed to ban him. Should Tazawa desire for any reason to return to Japan he would have to wait three years after he stops playing abroad.

Since Tazawa is currently ineligible to play for an NPB team, he is ineligible to play for NPB’s facsimile of a national team.

It wasn’t long after Tazawa was banned that Shohei Otani said he wanted no part of indentured servitude in NPB. Otani stayed in Japan, but only after the Nippon Ham Fighters drafted him persuaded him that NPB was his best option. But Toshimasa Shimada, the Fighters’ top executive said Otani’s asking teams not to draft him was proof that the Tazawa rule had failed and is now only hurting the teams as they pursue a path of segregation — who will not be able to sign players who don’t put NPB’s wishes ahead of their own.

What’s wrong with this picture?

For the second straight spring, Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo opted to take a group of middle rotation starters to what he calls his “best team” ahead of March’s spring internationals.

“Looking ahead one year from now (to the World Baseball Classic), these are the top players at this moment,” Kokubo told a press conference in Naha on Monday, when he announced his squad for two games against Taiwan on March 5 and 6.

Right. The reason for leaving Shohei Otani, Shintaro Fujinami and a few others off the team is that they are candidates to start the season for their teams on March 25 and selecting them for national team duty 10 days before that could hinder their preparations.

Huh? The best pitchers in Japan can’t figure out how to start on Opening Day after pitching a few innings 10 or 11 days earlier. Something is definitely wrong with that.

The rationale makes as much sense as Kokubo’s explanation for the timing of his pitching changes in the ninth inning of Japan’s Premier 12 semifinal in November.