Tag Archives: Yurisbel Gracial

Double standards

On Saturday morning, we learned that SoftBank Hawks players Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial will depart Cuba for Japan. This is good news for the Hawks fans, whose team has struggled over the first two weeks of Nippon Professional Baseball’s season.

It also reminds us that Japanese society is not an inclusive or particularly fair one. I suppose that given human nature, asking for a society to be fair is like asking for a government to be honest.

The issue is that people who live, work, pay taxes and contribute to society in a lawful manner are treated differently depending on the group they belong to. If you were born, raised and lived your entire life in Japan, you are a permanent resident, but if you happen to be outside Japan at this moment, you can’t return.

Your family is here? Your work is here? So what? Only Japanese citizens are currently allowed entry. Ostensibly, however, that won’t be a problem if you are a baseball player, whose team’s parent company can pull sufficient strings.

It has been the same way with testing for the coronavirus. Tests are plentiful in Japan, but the government has been miserly about allowing doctors, concerned about their patients health, from having them tested.

Essentially, the only individuals who get tested are:

  • those who have been identified as having close contact with someone outside their family who has tested positive.
  • those with the proper symptoms that are so severe as to necessitate hospitalization
  • professional athletes with or without symptoms

In April, after the government declared a state of emergency, the National Training Center, a facility dedicated to improving Japan’s Olympic performance, was shuttered. But many argued it should be reopened because it is extremely important that Japan achieve its gold medal target for the Tokyo Olympics if they are held.

It was not opened before the state of emergency was lifted, but the very idea that athletes SHOULD get special treatment in the eyes of those in government is striking.

It’s a confirmation to many that who you know and what group you belong to in Japan matter more than anything, and that if you don’t belong to the right group, you really are expendable to a government that for all intents and purposes has worked harder to preserve its Olympic wet dream than it has to protect the lives of its citizens and other less desirable residents.

Japan’s sporting life

There is no smoking-gun evidence that Japan was suppressing its infection counts and limiting testing in February and March in order keep the Tokyo Olympics on track to start on July 23, 2020, but the chart of confirmed infections in Japan is essentially flat until March 24. That’s the day the International Olympic Committee informed Japan that postponement was necessary.

infections in Japan
Confirmed infections in Japan through June 23

There were 39 confirmed infections on March 24. There had been more than that a number of times in preceding weeks. On March 31 there were 87. On April 7 there were 252; on April 12, Japan peaked at 743. In the span of 20 days it had increased roughly 15 times.

Why then and not now?

It’s on the rise again and although testing is slowly becoming more accessible, it is still limited. Since the state of emergency was lifted and professional sports were put back on the table, the number of infections in Tokyo and around the country are doubling every nine to 10 days.

There are no longer daily briefings by the governor of Tokyo, and my wife keeps wondering allowed why nobody seems to care about the steady increase–which is much sharper than the one that forced pro sports to stop letting in crowds in February–although one might suspect that the official flat curve at that time was faked and that the government was looking at scarier data.

This would account for the huge spike after the Olympics were postponed, that the curve was not that steep at all but had been officially under-reported until March 24. That would partly explain why the government felt the need to act much more quickly in February when there were 30 to 50 new cases a day, than it does now, when there are 150 to 200 new cases a day.

Open and shut: March 4, 2020 – Full house in the Casa de PayPay

Steve Martin’s career in stand up comedy picked up as I was finishing high school and starting college, and as such his humor left a mark. One routine was about Americans’ aversion to French’s large number of difficult vowel sounds. In contrast, he presented Spanish, using the sentence: “Where is Pepe’s house? or Donde esta casa de Pepe?”

Thanks to the SoftBank Hawks’ use Fukuoka Dome to advertise SoftBank group companies, it has been Yahoo! Japan Dome, Yafuoku Dome (Yahoo! Auctions Dome). From this year it has been labeled “PayPay Dome” to represent the recently launched online billing company. It’s not identical to Martin’s famous casa, but it’s close enough that I can’t get it out of my pea brain. So for the time being I can’t think of Fukuoka Dome as anything but the Casa de PayPay.

Welcome Matt!

On Wednesday, journeyman major league starting pitcher Matt Moore struck out five of the 10 batters he faced as the SoftBank Hawks showed off their pitching depth in an 8-1 preseason win over the Central League’s Yakult Swallows.

Moore’s fastball sat at 150 kph (93.2 mph) and he complimented that with his slider and a changeup and had generally good command of his pitches, making him a strong candidate for the Hawks’ starting rotation.

The game highlights are HERE.

If Moore executes his secondary pitches, he’s going to be a success in Japan. His outing came in relief of former ace lefty Tsuyoshi Wada, who other than winning the final game of last year’s Japan Series, has not been that fit over the last three seasons.

Wada gave up a solo homer on a mistake but struck out five over four innings. Rick van den Hurk, who appeared in just three games last season, was sharp on Tuesday. That means that while the Hawks appear capable of overcoming season-opening injury to 2019 rookie of the year Rei Takahashi, they are going to have tough decisions to make regarding their import players.

Teams are allowed four active foreign-registered players. New acquisition Wladimir Balentien does not count against the limit by virtue of nine years of service time, but that still leaves the Hawks with van den Hurk, Moore, lefty reliever Livan Moinelo, infielder-outfielder Yurisbel Gracial and designated hitter Alfredo Despaigne. Further complicating things is the return of closer Dennis Sarfate, who has missed most of the last two seasons.

The kotatsu league: Hawks’ Colas quits Cuba for MLB

Left-handed-hitting SoftBank Hawks outfielder Oscar Colas has reportedly fled Cuba in order to pursue a career in MLB.

Colas is currently on the Hawks’ 70-man roster unlike fellow Cuban outfielders Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial, whose status is pending negotiations with Cuban authorities.

The slugger played in seven Pacific League games this season, homering in his first plate appearance on Aug. 18 in Fukuoka.

Oscar Colas goes deep in his first-team debut in Japan on Aug. 18, 2019.

After failing to get any kind of memorable results in his first two minor league seasons with the Hawks, Colas slashed .302/.350/.516 last year in the WL, a notorious pitchers’ league. A left-handed pitcher, he did appear on the mound for the Hawks’ third team, where younger players compete against amateur sides — this is the level where first-year Hawks pitcher Carter Stewart Jr competed in 2019.

Colas pitching against an independent minor league side.

Colas becomes the third player to defect after signing a professional contract to play in Japan, following Yuli Gurriel, who played in 62 games for the DeNA BayStars. His brother Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was to join him in Yokohama for 2015, but neither reported and were eventually released.

The kotatsu league: Hawks poised to sign Balentien–report

A collection of Wladimir Balentien’s 2013 season home runs.

Hochi Shimbun reported Thursday that Wladimir Balentien was on the verge of an agreement with the SoftBank Hawks on a two-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $10 million. Because of his nine years of service, Balentien no longer counts against a team’s limit of four active foreign registered players.

The Hawks are three-time defending Japan Series champions. Despite missing their best power hitter, Yuki Yanagita, for most of the season and another slugger, Yurisbel Gracial, for over a month, they finished tied for the NPB lead in home runs with 183.

Here’s Balentien’s NPB page in English.

Fighters agree on contract terms with Villanueva

The Nippon Ham Fighters announced Thursday they have reached an agreement to sign third baseman Christian Villanueva, who was released by the Yomiuri Giants after one season.

In a comment released by the team, manager Hideki Kuriyama said, “I believe the addition of Villanueva perfectly dovetails with the Fighters principle needs this offseason. His results this season were not indicative of his real ability, and we believe we can assist him in making the jump. We’ve had our eye on him since he was in the majors, and the power is real. He’s also a reliable glove at third base and believe we can leave it in his hands.”

Here’s Villanueva’s NPB page.

The Giants signed Villanueva to provide power but he failed to do so at one of Japan’s best home run parks. He was benched from May 5 and did not show much more when given further trials in June and July. He was sent down to the farm for good in the middle of August and not recalled for the postseason.

Japan Series 2019 Game 1

The Hawks and Giants kicked off a revival of their formerly long-running rivalry, meeting in the autumn’s season-ending series for the first time in 19 years. So before the game all the focus was on something that had absolutely nothing to do with the proceedings: reminiscing about former Hall of Fame Giants teammates, Sadaharu Oh and Shigeo Nagashima, who managed against each other in 2000.

If they wanted to reminisce about the “ON” series, perhaps they should have mentioned the neural surgeons, which I’ll get to later.

Senga gets the job done

Making his third straight Game 1 start, Kodai Senga allowed a run — on a second-inning homer by future Hall of Famer Shinnosuke Abe — over seven innings. He earned the wins as SoftBank pulled away against the Giants’ bullpen in a 7-2 win.

The Hawks have now won 13 straight Japan Series home games. On Sunday, the Giants will be going for their first series road win since they beat Masahiro Tanaka in Game 6 in 2013, the only loss Tanaka would suffer in that calendar year.

After Abe’s home run, Yurisbel Gracial turned on a high-but-straight fastball from Shun Yamaguchi and lined it into the field seats just inside the permanent wall at Yafuoku Dome, the Home Run Terrace to put SoftBank up by one.

Senga lacked control, but he could get batters out in the strike zone, while Yamaguchi got hitters to chase out of the zone and flail at a superb splitter. When his control sputtered in the sixth, he surrendered another run. The Hawks might have scored more, but Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo was determined to play small ball.

Hard-hitting shortstop Kenta Imamiya sacrificed to give Yamaguchi the only he could manage until Akira Nakamura‘s bases-loaded sacrifice fly made it 3-1, and helped the Hawks strand two.

In the bottom of the seventh, Kudo pulled pinch-hitter Yuya Hasegawa for pinch-hitter Keizo Kawashima to get a platoon advantage when the Giants flipped to a lefty to face Hasegawa. Both of these hitters are terrific, so there’s really nothing to be gained here, but the guys in the broadcasting booth were going nuts about how actively Hawks skipper Kimiyasu Kudo was pushing buttons.

“We have home run power, but we also can execute a small-ball attack,” Kudo said with pride of a team that tied the Giants for the NPB lead in home runs during the regular season with 183.

Being stupid means being serious

Those of you who watch a lot of Japanese ball have probably caught on to this, but managers who let their players play or who try to be efficient with their resources, can be perceived as not trying hard enough to win. Thus, using one’s best hitters to sacrifice against a bunt shift, when a “successful” sacrifice will cost you runs, is perceived as showing fighting spirit.

Thus Kudo bunted with two-time batting champion Seiichi Uchikawa in the eighth inning, and brought in his ace reliever in the ninth with a six-run leave. There was no advantage to either move except to show you mean business.

And then there were the doctors

The 2000 Japan Series was known for something other than just the first postseason meeting between Oh and Nagashima. It was also the first Japan Series where the first three games were played on consecutive days, with the off day to allow for travel from Tokyo to Fukuoka taking place after the teams played Game 3 in Fukuoka.

This proves that not all Japan Series stupidity actually takes place during the series. NPB rules require all teams to secure their home stadium in case they play in the Japan Series, but some unnamed Daiei Hawks executive decided prior to the team’s pennant in 1999 that there was no chance the PL doormats would be in the 2000 series, and rented out Fukuoka Dome one day for a neural surgeon convention — the day when Game 3 was supposed to take place.