OK. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Paul Simon’s iconic line from “Mrs. Robinson,” but how often does one come across a baseball player connected with hair cuts and shaves?
Maglie, of course, was known as “the barber” because he gave threw up and in, giving batters close shaves. In that respect, Maglie’s closest NPB comp was Hall of Famer Masaji “razor” Hiramatsu, known for buzzing batters with his “shoot” — a four-seam fastball that’s thrown slightly off center to give it arm-side run.
But from this year, NPB has a real barber, former Minnesota Twin Kennys Vargas, has joined the Lotte Marines and is open for business. In a story that ran in Sankei Sports, Vargas said he’s been cutting hair since he was 13 and has given haircuts to Puerto Rico compatriot Neftali Soto of the DeNA BayStars. In a video shared by the Marines, we get a look at the big man in action, giving Marines communications director Kajiwara a trim.
Vargas said he’d been trying to get to Japan for three years, and only got his opportunity after spending all of 2018 with the Twins’ Triple-A club. With his wife and two young children, a five-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son, set to join him, Vargas is keen to learn the game here so he can stick.
“Three years ago, they (Japanese teams) started looking for me. I was playing for the Minnesota Twins,” he said. “But the Twins wouldn’t let me go. Last year, I spent the whole year in Triple-A, so I decided to go to Japan because I didn’t want to spend be in Triple-A. I knew I had the talent to make some money in Japan for my family. That’s when the decision was made.”
It will not be easy making the grade in a six-team league for a player who struck out in nearly a third of his Triple-A at-bats. Few players have succeeded here having done that, with Wily Mo Pena being about the best, and even then it was a tough slog.
“You have to forget about the United States,” Vargas said. “You’re in Japan. You have to deal with the situation in Japan. Forget about the States. As soon as my family gets here, I’ll concentrate 100 percent on what I’m doing. I’ll see America in October.”
“They study a lot, the hitters, the pitching, so you need to be mentally strong to try and produce at this level. ‘He can’t hit inside, so let’s throw him inside. Or throw him offspeed. They’re always trying to figure out, and you figure them out.”
In addition to having a few friends playing ball in Japan and an experienced teammate in Brandon Laird, Vargas admitted to having a mentor in former Hawks outfielder and Puerto Rican compatriot Pedro Valdes.
“My friend,” Vargas said of Valdes. “He helped me a lot. He’s like my secret hitting coach. When he saw me, and he saw me doing something wrong, he called me right away. He said, ‘Don’t lower your hands too much.’ He’s always there for me.”
“There are a lot of opportunities for guys here. There used to be just two foreigners on the major league level, but it’s way better. This is a great show in Japan. The stadiums are good. The fans are great. Coming to Japan is going to be a good decision, as soon as you start hitting.”