NPB news: Feb. 1, 2023

Spring training starts today, unless you play for the Seibu Lions, who have said their camp will open in Feb. 6 in Miyazaki “because this is a WBC year,” although the logic of that seems to have escaped nearly everyone outside the organization.

Speaking of the WBC, Yu Darvish gave Japan some good news in what has been a spring of uncertainty about when its MLB players will be available. There is also some news about an umpire who decided to make some extra money on the side and who is now out of work, and words from some managers ahead of Japan’s first day of pro baseball training.

Darvish ready to go from Day 1

Yu Darvish, who along with Shohei Ohtani, was expected to be a last-minute arrival in Japan ahead of Samurai Japan’s Pool B games starting on March 9 at Tokyo Dome, tweeted out Tuesday (Japan time) that he would be in Miyazaki for the start of the WBC training camp from Day 1 on Feb. 17.

Umpire fired over stolen baseballs

The umpire who was investigated over the theft of eight dozen official balls last year from Nagoya Dome in June will apparently not be prosecuted, a source within the office of the Aichi Prefectural prosecutors’ office said Tuesday, although Nippon Professional Baseball has opted not to reinstate the umpire for this season.

The unused baseballs stamped with the teams and venue were discovered by a fan on an online auction site, and after he notified the Chunichi Dragons, the Central League club notified the police in Nagoya, and filed a complaint. The umpire’s home was searched in the process of the investigation, and his contract was terminated last year.

What people are saying

Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara, continued to emulate former manager Shigeo Nagashima’s love of indecipherable explanations. “Our rebound from last year’s bitter experience will cause us to explode this season. In a way that has various meanings (Hara’s pet phrase that no statement is complete without), if each player has his own theme for competing this year, our combined strengths will make us a formidable team.”

Hanshin Tigers manager Akinobu Okada, returning to managing for the first time since 2012, and taking over Hanshin for the first time since 2008, promised a battle of the fittest. “I think our camp will be something a little different than what we’ve done up until now. We’re going to do exhaustive work in practice on relays and sign plays. Once we begin live games, it’s going to be about survival. It’s not going to be easy but about evaluation.”

Chunichi Dragons manager Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, whose first season was marked by his old-school themes and abrupt demotions of players whose play offended his sensibilities, said it was up to the those players figure things out on their own. “We had a hard autumn minicamp, and now we’re coming out of the offseason.  I’m looking forward to seeing where players have developed. I’ve given them independence, and I want them to have been thinking about what they need to do to improve. We’re going to practice not allowing individual runs.”

Nippon Ham Fighters manager Tsuyoshi Shinjo, who has ostensibly switched his focus from entertaining stunts to winning baseball, said he will be merciless. “I want you to make a case for yourself in live games. It doesn’t matter what your name is, I’ll be moving players back and forth between the major league and minor league team. In order to win, I’ll be an ogre. The critical time will be from the start of camp till the middle of the preseason. That’s how I viewed it when I was a player.”

Seibu Lions manager Kazuo Matsui, who was promoted from farm manager, said he expected no big problems from starting camp five days later. “We’re going to start camp differently from in the past, but I expect things will be done well. We have a very competitive situation among our young players for jobs, particularly in the outfield. How people go about their work is going to be very important.”

Hiroshima Carp manager Takahiro Arai, who is taking over the helm from Shinji Sasaoka after four seasons without a postseason appearance, said he’s looking at camp differently than he did as a star. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been this nervous on Jan. 31. I think the players will do their best. I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ve got to show me.”

Lotte Marines manager Masato Yoshii will be spending much of his first preseason in charge of the Marines on national team duty as Samurai Japan’s WBC pitching coach – unless disagreements cause him to quit manager Hideki Kuriyama’s coaching staff for a third time. Appropriately, he said he would not put too much weight on how players look in camp. “Because we are pros, winning is a necessity. I want the players to prepare to do that as well as they can and give their best efforts. I’m going to look at the entirety of spring training and the preseason as one thing right until the end. I intend to look at the big picture.”

Yakult Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu, said that after two straight Central League titles, his focus in his staff meeting was on staying healthy, an issue that has plagued Yakult for much of the past decade or so. “I communicated very strongly that the players were not to get hurt. If we’re not healthy it will be pretty hard for us to win this year. That’s the first thing. While it will be hard work, we’ll take good care.”

Rakuten Eagles manager Kazuhisa Ishii, who has been relieved of his general manager’s duties to focus on managing, wants his players to improve their communication skills and his pitchers to feel more sure of themselves. “The themes of executing our sign plays and communicating with each other on defense are going to be constants. Because we walked a lot of hitters last year, I want the pitchers to feel stable. We’re going to have a lot of competition both among the pitchers and the position players.

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