In April, Softbank Hawks professional scout Kent Blasingame spoke about growing up in Japan’s game, the controversies that attached themselves to his father, a well-respected student and teacher of the game, bringing overseas Amateurs to Japan and the Hawks’ success.
The son of former Nankai Hawks second baseman Don “Blazer” Blasingame, Kent spent much of his childhood in Japan, soaking up the Japanese game at Osaka’s Namba Stadium.
After two years in the Phillies organization as a player, Kent became a Pacific Rim scout for major league teams. When the SoftBank Hawks reorganized their front office after the 2009 season, Blasingame was brought into an outfit that was an ocean away from the franchise he knew from his childhood.
Blazer comes to Japan
I’ve read in different places that Don Blasingame literally wrote the book about how to play Japanese baseball, that a manual he wrote became gospel to coaches around the country, but I’ve yet to ever see a copy of it. Nevertheless, Blasingame, Katsuya Nomura were icons of hard-nose, heads-up baseball despite working for a club long past its glory years.
Raised on Japanese baseball
Blasingame talks about his first experiences in Japan’s game, taking trains as a youngster from his family’s home in Kobe to the Nankai Hawks’ rundown ballpark.
Blazer’s end game
Don Blasingame’s first managing gig with the Hanshin Tigers ended controversially, and was written about in Robert Whiting’s “You Gotta Have Wa.” Kent had a front-row seat to the controversy that ended in his dad quitting the Tigers.
What makes SoftBank special
Blasingame talks about the Hawks’ special advantage. It’s not money, but rather how they’ve used the money to get better, as he spells out, particularly in regards to their domestic scouting. He cites the size of the players in an anecdote about former Giants scout Nate Minchey commenting on how tall the young Hawks players were.
This really got me wondering about the state of the two leagues and researching whether or not the Hawks or other PL teams might just be better at developing bigger and stronger players.
I did a fairly long study on this, which I won’t bore you with, but while new NPB players have gradually been getting younger, taller and heavier over the past 12 years, the PL teams have caught up in terms of the sizes of the players they have drafted, and while they used to lag behind the CL in making their players bigger, they’re about even now.
The Hawks’ new players do tend to be the youngest and taller than most other teams, but there is no clear and obvious evidence that they are getting bigger and stronger than any other teams’ players.
The next wave
What is up with Carter Stewart Jr., and are overseas amateurs turning pro in Japan and being developed by NPB teams the next wave. As much as a lot of us see this as a big potential opportunity for Japanese teams, Blasingame said there are simply too many hurdles in the way of this turning into a thing, yet.
Gita in Puerto Rico
I want to meet the baseball fan who doesn’t love Yuki “Gita” Yanagita. This guy is a treasure. Blasingame talks about the Hawks star and the tutoring he got in Puerto Rico from Alex Cora and Ivan Rodriguez.
At Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park, Masahiro Tanaka (1-1) earned his 100th victory in Japan in his first game back at Rakuten’s home park since saving Game 7 of the 2013 Japan Series. He allowed a run on a walk and three hits while striking out four over six innings.
His postgame hero interview began with the announcer welcoming him back to Sendai, to which he answered, “I’m home.”
A day after homering in his Japan debut, Brandon Dixon drove in the first of two Eagles first-inning runs with a two-out bad-hop infield single, and looked like a Golden Glove winner at first base after a quick-thinking unassisted double play after he dropped a scorching second-inning liner.
That play and a good catch in center to open the game ensured Tanaka would only allow one run. Cory Spangenberg was hit by a pitch in the third, stole second and scored when Wu Nien-Ting did a good job singling on a low splitter. Tanaka allowed another single in the inning, but with the game in the balance, retired the last 10 batters he faced.
Sung Chia-hao, HIromoto Sakai and Yuki Matsui closed it out for the Eagles with one scoreless inning each.
Keisuke Honda (0-1) allowed two runs over 3-2/3 innings in his season debut for Seibu. Reed Garrett contributed a scoreless eighth for the Lions.
Fighters 5, Buffaloes 3
At Sapporo Dome, the Nippon Ham Fighters pounded out five runs against Orix lefty Sachiya Yamasaki (0-3), capped by Haruki Nishikawa’s second homer, a two-run shot.
Masataka Yoshida belted his fifth homer for the Buffaloes to lead off the fifth and came within a hair of making it a 5-4 game in the sixth. With two on and two outs, Yoshida drove one to deep to left field that Nishikawa raced back and made a leaping grab on.
The win was the Fighters’ first of the season at Sapporo Dome.
Marines 11, Hawks 9
At Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium, four walks derailed Carter Stewart Jr.’s second outing for the SoftBank Hawks, as he allowed two of the Lotte Marines last six runs when he retired just two of the seven batters he faced in the fifth inning.
Hawks starter Rei Takahashi allowed five runs over 3-1/3 innings, but the Hawks retook the lead in the top of the fifth and sent Stewart out to pitch with a 6-5 lead. He allowed a leadoff double and left after issuing back-to-back bases-loaded two-out walks. SoftBank re-tied it in the top of the sixth, only for Katsuya Kakunaka to put the hosts ahead for good in the home half with an RBI single.
Frank Herrman put a stop to the Hawks’ comeback in the seventh, and Leonys Martin, who singled and scored in Lotte’s three-run third, helped put the game away in the home half with his eighth home run, a two-run shot.
Yurisbel Gracial had four hits and a walk, scored a run and drove one in for SoftBank, while Marines rookie Akito Takabe hit a two-run homer in the fourth to give the Marines a 5-4 lead and pushed across the tying run in the fifth.
Marines starter Manabu Mima got shelled for six runs over 4-1/3 innings. Closer Naoya Masuda entered with the tying runners on with no outs in the ninth and worked around a walk to earn his fourth save.
Carp 6, Giants 3
At Tokyo Dome, Seiya Suzuki’s fifth homer and his second in two nights put Hiroshima in front for good against Yomiuri’s Shosei Togo (2-2), who allowed four runs in four-plus innings.
Rookie Carp lefty Koya Takahashi (1-0) gave up three runs, two earned in 4-1/3, and matched Togo’s RBI from a second-inning squeeze by singling in a run with two outs in the fourth.
Hiroshima’s bullpen, which has made great strides this year with the inclusion of two rookies, middle man Haruki Omichi and closer Ryoji Kuribayashi, looked fragile on Saturday, allowing four walks and two hits over the last 3-2/3 innings but stranded six runners. Kuribayashi worked around two ninth-inning walks to record his seventh save.
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Yakult’s Jose Osuna followed his two-hit Japan debut on Friday with two more on Saturday, including a two-out line single into the gap in right off Chunichi closer Raidel Martinez (0-1) to clinch a walk-off win.
Tetsuto Yamada put Yakult in front with his seventh home run and third in two nights, a two-run, third-inning shot into the first row in left field off Yuya Yanagi, who worked six innings. Yakult’s Hirotoshi Takanashi surrendered Takuya Kinoshita’s second home run that made it 2-1 in the fifth, and left with the game tied in the sixth with two on and none out.
Hiroki Kondo, signed after being released last winter by the Rakuten Eagles, prevented either runner from scoring. Noboru Shimizu worked a 1-2-3 seventh before Yota Kyoda hammered Scott McGough’s fifth pitch in the eighth for his first homer of the season. The right-hander, however, retired the three toughest outs in Chunichi’s lineup.
Rookie lefty Koshiro Sakamoto (1-0) worked a 1-2-3 ninth for the Swallows and earned his first pro win. Yamada and Munetaka Murakami set the table in the ninth with no-out walks, before Osuna ended it.
Tigers 13, BayStars 1
At Koshien Stadium, Hanshin rookie lefty Masashi Ito (2-0) allowed a run on a walk and five hits over the distance, preventing the DeNA BayStars from posting their second winning streak of the season and contributed with one of the Tigers’ seven first-inning hits off Taiga Kamichatani (0-3).
Koji Chikamoto doubled to open Hanshin’s first inning and scored from third when Jefry Marte chopped one threw the drawn-in infield for al one-out single. Three straight hits followed with rookie Teruaki Sato singling in two. After a fielder’s choice, Seiya Kinami cleared the bags with a three-run double.
Sato singled in two more runs in the second, while Jerry Sands, who singled in the first and second, had an RBI double in Hanshin’s three-run fourth. Right-hander Kevin Shackelford, who joined DeNA on a non-roster developmental contract in December and was added to the 70-man roster on Friday, was called up Saturday and struck out one batter in a 1-2-3 seventh.
Fighters vs Buffaloes: Sapporo Dome 2 pm, 1 am EDT