How Five Former Mets Players Ended Up Managing in Japan

When Kodai Senga delivered a 99-mile-per-hour fastball to Luis Arraez of the Miami Marlins on April 2, he turned the 14th Japanese participant to seem in a recreation for the Mets, essentially the most of any staff in the main leagues. The Seattle Mariners are subsequent with 11.

It is a connection fostered over time, with enthusiastic help from Bobby Valentine, the previous Mets supervisor, who has led groups in each the United States and Japan. And the pipeline, it seems, goes each methods: This season, 5 of the 12 managers in Nippon Professional Baseball spent at the least a part of their enjoying careers with the Mets.

The rookie managers Masato Yoshii of the Chiba Lotte Marines and Kazuo Matsui of the Seibu Lions, together with Tsuyoshi Shinjo, the second-year supervisor of the Nippon Ham Fighters, all made their main league debuts with the Mets. Shingo Takatsu of the Yakult Swallows and Kazuhisa Ishii of the Rakuten Golden Eagles performed in Queens after beginning elsewhere.

The distinctive nature of the Mets connection shouldn’t be misplaced upon Yoshii.

“Each of us performed for the Mets,” he mentioned just lately in Japanese when requested to call the NPB managers with main league enjoying expertise. “That’s actually attention-grabbing. I ponder if it is coincidental or one thing extra?”

Yoshii’s tenure with the Mets got here first, with him leaping straight to the majors in 1998 after a powerful season pitching for the Swallows. Some of the Mets’ Japanese gamers had brief stints, like Takatsu, a right-handed reliever who made solely 9 appearances for the staff in 2005. Others had extra substantial runs, like Matsui, who had 949 plate appearances for the staff between 2004 and 2006.

The 5 males performed for 3 completely different managers — Valentine, Art Howe and Willie Randolph — and have been overseen by three normal managers — Steve Phillips, Jim Duquette and Omar Minaya.

The lack of organizational continuity makes it arduous to pin down the precise root of the connection, however Yoshii has a idea on why NPB would look to managers who’ve expertise in the US main leagues.

“Japan tends to observe the tendencies began in America,” he mentioned. “Data has turn into a giant a part of technique in Japan and coaching has advanced. Teams believing in infinite, boot camp-like drills are far fewer and spring coaching exercises have turn into shorter and extra environment friendly. As our strategy turns into extra American, entrance workplaces place a worth on expertise in the US main leagues.”

The management model Yoshii craves was evident from the primary day of spring coaching as he roamed Lotte’s advanced, going from station to station to watch his gamers. As he made his rounds by the bullpen, the Marines’ phenom of a beginning pitcher, Roki Sasaki, was throwing. Yoshii unobtrusively requested just a few questions and moved on. During his each day media briefing, Yoshii was peppered with questions on what recommendation he gave Sasaki, a sensational right-hander who pitched an ideal recreation final season and really practically was excellent once more in his subsequent begin.

“I did not give him any recommendation,” mentioned Yoshii, who had 121 profession wins between Japan and the United States. “He would not want me messing together with his mechanics as a result of he understands them much better than I do. I merely needed to ensure he was comfy and had the whole lot he must do the work he feels is important to be prepared for the season. That’s all I can ask.”

Japanese managers have traditionally been recognized for being much more demanding. Rarely content material to depart issues to their gamers, they have a tendency to nitpick the type of their pitchers and demand issues be performed by a time-honored guide.

Asked if he was emulating a communication model he noticed in the United States, Yoshii shortly attributed his strategy to one thing he gained from his Mets expertise with Valentine.

“I’ll always remember Bobby coming to me as soon as to say {that a} rehabbing pitcher was about to rejoin the rotation, so how would I really feel about pitching out of the bullpen,” Yoshii mentioned. “I mentioned, ‘I’m not comfy there and like the rotation.’ He went with a six-man rotation after that. I used to be endlessly appreciative. That’s the type of openness I try for right here.”

Yoshii was 32 on the time and mentioned he had not but thought-about a future in teaching or managing. The openness that he skilled from Valentine, nonetheless, has stayed with him for 25 years.

In 2000, the Mets signed Shinjo, an outfielder, making him Major League Baseball’s second place participant from Japan — the deal was finalized lower than two weeks after Seattle signed Ichiro Suzuki. Shinjo credit an unlikely a part of his Mets expertise with influencing him in his second season as supervisor of the Fighters.

He spent a part of 2003 toiling at Norfolk, then the Mets’ Class AAA affiliate. He discovered the circumstances much more harsh than the minor leagues of Japan, the place groups are extra like a junior varsity squad based mostly in the identical metropolis as the highest membership.

Shingo Takatsu made 9 appearances for the Mets in 2005. He is now supervisor of the Yakult Swallows.Credit…John Dunn for The New York Times

“For lunch we smeared peanut butter and jelly over two items of bread and referred to as {that a} meal,” he mentioned in Japanese. “For showering, we bought these ragged towels that hardly dried us. It made me understand that the fellows who really make it to the large leagues should have such a will to combat by surviving that surroundings to emerge from it after so lengthy.”

When he came upon that Gosuke Katoh, a participant who had fought his manner by 9 seasons in such circumstances, was accessible, Shinjo urged the Fighters to signal him. He thought that Katoh’s starvation might be an awesome motivator for his younger, growing staff.

Katoh was born in Japan however raised in the United States, and he was drafted by the Yankees in the second spherical in 2013. After signing with Toronto as a minor league free agent in 2022, he lastly made it to the majors, showing in eight video games for the Blue Jays. But he was subsequently waived and signed with, in fact, the Mets, spending the rest of the season with Class AAA Syracuse earlier than becoming a member of the Fighters over the low season.

Shinjo’s Fighters completed final in Japan’s Pacific League in his managerial debut season final yr and are languishing as soon as once more in 2023. Yoshii’s Marines have been main the Pacific League by Sunday, Matsui’s Lions have been in fifth and Ishii’s Golden Eagles have been final.

Takatsu is the one one of many former Mets who’s managing in Japan’s Central League. Although his Swallows have been in fifth place by Sunday, he has already completed one thing the Mets haven’t performed since 1986: He received the NPB championship in 2021.

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