Scout Diary: Jan. 27, 2020 –interviews

If one is going to scout, one should be a scout and find out what’s involved.

One course requirement for my scouting class is to conduct two “informational interviews,” where we contact people in the sports business, in this case general managers and scouts to learn about the business but also to build a network and get used to making cold calls — an invaluable skill it seems for a baseball scout.

I’ve contacted a small number of people about the interviews — but no real cold calls — since I already have a smallish network in baseball, and finally did my first two. On Sunday, I met with Waseda University baseball manager and former New York Mets pitcher Satoru Komiyama, and on Monday I chatted for about half an hour with the Nippon Ham Fighters scouting director, Takashi Ofuchi.

Practice day

The Komiyama interview took place at the team’s indoor practice facility on a cold, rainy day in Tokyo’s western suburbs. To be honest, it didn’t do much toward meeting my course requirement, but I did learn a lot about his views on the value of college baseball and his educational philosophy.

I connect with Komiyama now and then on Facebook, having interviewed him once about 16 years ago before he went to the majors. I ran into him a few weeks ago at the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, where he spoke on behalf of his former Waseda manager Renzo Ishii.

He turned down a job as a coach and likely future manager of Nippon Professional Baseball’s Lotte Marines to coach university kids. He said the two biggest influences in his baseball life were Ishii and his Mets — and Marines — manager Bobby Valentine.

As a writer, I have to promise the interview subjects that things I learn will not be published. And though I didn’t learn much about scouting, it was enlightening about a side of the Japanese baseball world I rarely have contact with.

Fighters being Fighters

Mr. Ofuchi is an engaging person, and explained a great deal about how amateur scouting works in Japan — or at least works with the Nippon Ham Fighters.

One of the more interesting things I learned and shouldn’t have been surprised by is that Ofuchi’s background is very representative of the Fighters’ organization in that he had no connection with the club until he was hired.

I would be surprised if more than a handful of scouts for NPB never played pro baseball, and Ofuchi is one of them. The Fighters, whose previous chief executive started out as the club’s interpreter, and whose current GM is a former sportswriter, are a team that frequently looks where other teams don’t for talent. When Nippon Ham called, he was coaching high school ball.

–The hardest thing about starting out as a scout?

“Getting used to sitting behind home plate rather than watching players on TV. The vantage point is so different.”

One of the big differences between scouting amateurs in Japan and the United States is that building relationships with players and their families is problematic for NPB scouts because of the historic animosity between professional clubs and amateur bodies.

In addition to signing players during their amateur team’s season — as happened in the days before NPB’s draft — there is also the numerous instances of NPB clubs handing out cash to amateurs and their coaches.

Next up

I still have interviews to do with a Japanese corporate league manager, one MLB scout and one NPB GM and am formulating a plan of attack for a few in MLB (better sooner than later, but better late than never).

These latter ones are somewhat terrifying, since they will be cold calls, and I have natural aversion to asking people I don’t know really well for favors of any kind. So far, I’ve been using the logistical side — the time difference between Japan and the U.S. as an excuse, although I know it is a serious hassle, having spent a lot of time on the phone a year ago trying to set up spring training interviews before I left Japan.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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