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01/21/2004 Archived Entry: "Japanese Baseball News: Yomiuri May Come to Tampa, But Hate Seeing Sasaki Again"

Yomiuri May Play Exhibitions in Tampa

According to Sports Nippon, the New York Yankees and the Yomiuri Giants are in talks that would bring the Japanese squad to Tampa Florida in March, 2005 for an exhibition game or games. It will be the first time that the Yankees will have played a Japanese team on U.S. soil while it will be since 1981 when the Giants have visited American shores to faceoff against MLB nines. During that 1981 tour, they knocked heads with the Dodgers and Atlanta.

About the Tampa Bay-Yankees series in Tokyo that will open the MLB regular schedule, Godzilla Matsui called it "an honor" and pronounced himself "so excited I can't believe it."

Sasaki May Join Japan Olympic Team

According to Sports Nippon, Japanese national baseball team manager Shigeo Nagashima expressed interest in considering former Seattle Mariners closer Kazuhiro Sasaki for the Japanese olympic baseball team. Nagashima was cautious in choosing his words, but the Japanese press is treating Sasaki's addition as a fait accompli and his giving up his MLB career as "a gift" that will benefit Japan's chances at a gold medal at Athens.

Nevertheless, whether Sasaki plays in Athens or not, one team that is not looking forward to seeing him again is the Yomiuri Giants. In 88 games against the kyojin, Sasaki went 13-5 with 50 saves and a 2.01 ERA in 129.2 innings. 183 Giants hitters went down on strikes in that time and the Yomiuri order managed a wan .147 average against him. Moreover, they took him deep just nine times.

However, Yomiuri has two big new additions do their lineup this winter in third baseman Hiroki Kokubo and leftfielder Tuffy Rhodes, not to mention Roberto Petagine, who came over after the end of the 2002 season. But all three can also be struckout.

Indeed, with ace Koji Uehara stating that he wants to make it so that Sasaki won't be coming in from the bullpen indicates a mindset that will put the Giants behind before the game even starts. The obverse of that, though, is that if it turns out that the Mariners all time saves leader is washed up, the depression it creates in Yokohama will almost certainly ensure another last place showing.

For now, though, Yokohama's ownership is excited and it is rumored that they are preparing to make Sasaki the highest paid current Japanese player with a more than $5 million deal. The highest paid player right now is Petagine, who makes upwards of $8 million with Rhodes not far behind. Kintetsu third baseman Norihiro Nakamura is tops among Japanese at in excess of $4.5 million.

In addition to Yokohama, the Nippon Ham Fighters said that they would like to acquire Sasaki, but that they are waiting to see how this shakes out ruleswise, especially with how MLB will process him out.

Six teams, though, said that they aren't interested: Hiroshima, Yakult, Daiei, Hanshin, Orix and Chunichi. Hanshin is pitching stacked and doesn't need him while the others can't, or won't, afford him. Furthermore, a Chunichi official asserted that fans "won't stand for" Sasaki ending up with Yomiuri after they have already gotten their hands on Rhodes, Petagine and Kokubo.

Boy, this has been some offseason, hasn't it?

Team Reports

Hanshin Shortstop Takashi Toritani had his first real batting practice session for the Tigers Tuesday, hitting off a machine and peppering about a hundred pitches all over the field. This little exhibition drew the interest of about 50 press folks, including hall of famers Yutaka Fukumoto and Keishi Suzuki, and a couple of tv cameras since it was the first time they had a chance to see the prized rookie swing the bat in person. Toritani also took some infield and Hanshin coaches were reportedly pleased with how smooth he was turning the double play.

Yomiuri First baseman Kazuhiro Kiyohara will indeed stay home during the team's Guam training camp and will workout with their minor leaguers....Reliever Takashi Kashiwada was the victim of a head on collision Tuesday, as he was stopped in traffic to enter the parking lot of a Giants practice facility when a taxi collided with him. Kashiwada's bumper was dented, but that was about it and Kashiwada was able to perform his practice routine unimpeded by injury....Reliever Kamoshida is working on a cutter, learning the basics of it by watching video of Seibu ace Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Yakult Southpaw reliever Hirotoshi Ishii re-signed for in the neighborhood of $650,000, a $19,000 paycut from what he made in 2002. The reason cited for the salary slash was Ishii's coming down with an oblique strain that limited him to 36 games. Ishii will also have another $95,000 in incentives available in ERA and appearance targets. Negotiations for Ishii and fellow reliever Ryota Igarashi had been expected to be held up until Shingo Takatsu's MLB negotiation status was cleared up since the pair would maybe be due more money if they ended up as dueling closers. However, the Swallows front office appears to have decuded to forge ahead anyway....Shugo Fujii, recovering from elbow surgery, and Yataro Sakamoto will train with Yakult's minor league team.

Daiei Tsuyoshi Wada may give hitters a little different look this coming season, a slider with more dive on it than the one he featured so effectively to win Rookie of the Year. He used it frequently in college, but it would cause him to fall into the habit of dropping his elbow as he delivered the ball, so he abandoned it when he turned pro....The Hawks announced that they have locked up both Lindsay Gulin and Hector Mercado, with Mercado perhaps becoming the team's closer going into spring training. Gulin will make about $200,000 and wear number 63.

SeibuPitcher Hayato Aoki got married in Hawaii on the sixth to wife Takako, who is the grandchild of Japanese singer Dick Mine. The two met in January of last year through mutual friends.

Lotte Team officials are looking at the possibility of creating a bento box meal around Korean slugger Seung-yeop Lee that may feature Korean-style items. Given how weak-kneed the Japanese version of kimchi is, one doubts that the offering will taste all that authentic, but they want to talk to Lee about it before making any concrete decisions....If there can be such a thing as a second honeymoon, this is it for manager Bobby Valentine. According to Sankei Sports, club bigwigs are considering building a shrine to the former Mets and Texas helmsman at a shopping mall not far from Chiba Marine Stadium analogous to the one near Yokohama station that features Kazuhiro Sasaki. Yep, no pressure Bobby, no pressure at all.

Orix Outfielder Ryota Aikawa, 27, tied the knot with 35 year old housekeeper Kaori Aiko, a farmer's daughter, last March. Apparently, they kept it from the press all this time. Also saying their vows were outfielder Ryutaro Tsuji, 27, and 23 year old Hiromi Kurobane, who is a housekeeper, too. They were married Christmas Eve.

Sasaki Defection Makes Big Splash in U.S. Baseball Press

See story at: Seattle Times Article

Something of a little different take at: Japan Today Article

See press conference story at: ESPN Article

See another related story at: Seattle Post-Intelligencer Article

Yet another related story at: Associated Press Article

A slightly different take by Jim Armstrong at: Associated Press Article

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