Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

MLB pitches to Kikuchi

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Major League Baseball teams are lining up to lure Japanese high school baseball pitcher Yusei Kikuchi across the Pacific to join them in an unprecedented raid on the country’s young talent.

Kikuchi, an 18-year-old left-hander from Hanamaki Higashi High School in northern Japan, would be the most coveted young Japanese player to join an MLB team, but he is equally desired by Japan’s 12 professional teams.BASEBALL-JAPAN/KIKUCHI

His star rose at the national high school baseball tournament this summer as his 155 kph (96mph) fastball dazzled. Japan’s Koshien tournment is a big thing even for non-baseball fans in Japan, as the event catapults high school players into the pro ranks.

Sometimes just one high school star can affect an entire team’s fortunes. Masahiro Tanaka, now a starting pitcher for Japan’s Rakuten Golden Eagles, was a high school phenomenon in the summer of 2006.

Ichiro: Japan’s greatest sporting export

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Japan’s Ichiro Suzuki underlined his position as his country’s greatest sporting export after shattering one of Major League Baseball’s oldest records.

The Seattle Mariners outfielder was described as a “Hercules” by fellow players after becoming the first man to record 200 hits for nine straight seasons.

The Hit Parade

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Ichiro Suzuki has reached 2,000 career hits in 1,402 MLB games — the second-fastest pace ever — while over his nine seasons in MLB the Seattle Mariners star has ended on base once in about every three trips to the plate, based on his career batting average.

Add in his 1,278 Japanese hits, in shorter seasons, and Ichiro at 36 is pointing his bat at very rare professional air, including 3,000 career MLB hits and — on a cumulative basis — Pete Rose’s record 4,256 hits. He already set the MLB season hit record with an amazing 262 in 2004 and will likely be the first player, in a matter of days, to ever record 200 hits in nine consecutive seasons.

Japan baseball still in little league?

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BASEBALL/JAPANI like going to watch baseball games, not just for the refreshments but also the great team-play on the field.

In Japan, you cannot win just with one or two stars, needing a team solid in both defence and offence.

Throwing good money after…

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Daisuke Matsuzaka’s second trip to the disabled list this season is making some forget the Japanese pitcher’s heroics and wonder if he has been worth the investment of his Boston Red Sox team.

The “Dice-K” sweepstakes dominated Japanese baseball in late 2006, as the Boston Red Sox pursued the rights to negotiate with Matsuzaka — who’s now sitting – by commiting over $51 million to his then team, the Seibu Lions, and another $52 million to the pitcher and agent Scott Boras to sign.

Whirling Darvish

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Half-Japanese, half-Iranian, but possibly Major League Baseball’s most coveted Asian prospect, Yu Darvish is pitching the opener of the World Baseball Classic tournament in Tokyo, the main question for many is how long he will continue to be only a local player.

The template for exports was set by Japan teammate Daisuke Matsuzaka, who followed his MVP effort in the 2006 WBC with an eye-popping $103 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, some $50 million of which went to his Seibu LIons, just for letting the right-hander leave Japan.

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