NPB reality: Japan’s got bunt

Although rookies have taken part in their “collective voluntary” training for a week or so this month — where they are prohibited from wearing uniforms, working with coaches or receiving pay for the work they are expected to do.

During these voluntary workouts, the volunteer laborers wear vests with their names and uniform numbers so that they are easily identifiable. The coaches and managers, who don’t take part, stand on the sidelines in street clothes and observe.

One of this year’s new faces, Akira Neo, an 18-year-old infielder who was the Chunichi Dragons’ first pick in November, suffered a calf strain during his voluntary workout. When paid labor actually begins on Feb. 1, Neo will be with the Dragon’s farm team camp in Okinawa’s isolated Yomitan Stadium.

Sunday’s news, and people get paid to report this, was that Neo practiced 230 bunts off a pitching machine. Why it might seem extreme, consider this: In the most recent ballot for the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, the position player who received the second highest vote total was Masahiro Kawai, a decent player who is best known for holding NPB’s career sacrifice hit record.

So laugh if you like, but Neo apparently knows how to get to the top in Japan.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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