Thursday, October 19, 2006

It's a Small World After All

Completely unrelated to the Yankees today. My high school just completed it's "sports day" on wednesday. In Japan, schools are organized by homeroom. Teachers rotate to homerooms from period to period while students stay put. The homeroom is a very very important collective in the lives of the Japanese. It is a very intimate circle of peers that, while often quite divergent in character, is a family of sorts. The homeroom teacher is a kind of surrogate parent and really devotes more than their fair share of their own life to the class. "Sports Day" is a kind of fun way for the students to enjoy a day free of study to bond with their homerooms. Various races and events are held to foster this connection, and everyone has a blast.

I have a particularly close relationship with the English Course students in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades (there are 3 grades in Japanese HS) and I spent the day bouncing between the homerooms to cheer and lend my support. In the 2nd year group there is a young man who runs track. He's damn fast. I see him practicing in the winter in the hallways of the school after hours. He sets up a few hurdles down the long corridor and flies. It's amazing. He doesn't look the part of the star track athlete. He, in fact, "retired" from the team for some reason recently. Perhaps he's going to study abroad next year. I always thought this guy was kind of a brooder, who avoided talking to me. He looks perpetually frustrated and has a natural scowl that he wears, whether he intends to or not. I've tried to reach out to him a few times in class, or in the hall, and get a polite brush off.

On this day, under the sun, we stood next to the track and watched the classes play around with an entertaining relay of sorts. I noticed on the back of his homeroom t-shirt that he'd chosen the name "Biggio" for himself. The students often take crazy names of one kind or another as an expression of their controlled individuality, and it's not unusual to see random English words as personal monickers. I had to wonder, "Why Biggio?" I asked the student's friends what the deal was with "Biggio" and they told me that it was his favorite player. I struggled to understand how a kid growing up in semi-rural Japan would latch onto a Houston Astros player from a young age.

It was enough of a mystery that I approached him and asked him directly. It was the first time I'd ever seen his face light up. He was excited to talk about it. In the end, I'm not sure I'm much closer to figuring out how he found Craig Biggio. It's just one of those things, but it opened a door for us to talk about baseball, and I got to see the kid smile and relax a bit. He talked about his favorite team with me as well. The Cleveland Indians. Yeah. The Tribe. Again, huh?

The Indians briefly had Japanese pitcher Kazuhito Tadano on their roster, but he was released and now plays for the A's. In the future, I'm going to have to dig deeper to find out why the Indians are his favorite team, but in the meantime we had a nice talk about Travis Hafner and the disappointing 2006 team. We laughed about Aaron Boone and the fact that one moment defined his career. The most interesting point to come out of our talk was the excitement he felt at the prospect of having Akinori Iwamura of the Yakult Swallows on the club next year. Yakult announced 2 days ago that they would post him, and the Indians are interested. He would fit in nicely at 3rd, pushing the useless Boone into no man's land. Iwamura will be a similarly effective third baseman, as Iguchi is a second baseman. Better than average, but not a big star. I have my fingers crossed for my student that the Tribe pulls it off, because it would make his face light up more often and that has to be a good thing.

I love it when baseball brings people together. It helps keep me from being cynical in the face of all the "Trade A-Rod" rumors, and so on. Catch you later....


mars2001 said...

Dude -

I hate to say it, but I really doubt that the Indians pursue Iwamura... they're already really jammed at 3B.

Currently, they have lined up at 3B: Andy Marte (who still hasn't fufilled his potential), Kevin Kouzmanoff (who just had one of the most spectacular seasons imaginable), as well as Ryan Garko (though, he's much more likely to land at 1B)... With V. Mar splitting time between C & 1B, a platoon may be arranged between he and Garko (a former catcher). DH is not an option for any of these bats, as it's well anchored with Hafner... so the only movement I could see is the ousting of Luna (but this is unlikely as he's only 26) - leaving only the OF to move one of these big bats... Sizemore is only getting better anchors CF (or could move to a corner if he bulks up), Choo I think will enter Spring Training with a job (likely a corner spot), leaving coaches to decide if they want to play Guiterrez if CF or a corner. If he falters early there could be a slot available, but none of the guys mentioned (Marte, Kouzmanoff, Garko or Iwamura) are good bets to play OF in Cleveland next year. (Blake and Michaels are free agents, likely not to be re-signed)...

Of course, this is only my projections , but I would assume that the following would be the 2007 Opening day lineup for the Tribe:

C - V. Martinez
1B - R. Garko
2B - H. Luna
SS - J. Peralta
3B - K. Kouzmanoff
OF - G. Sizemore
OF - S. Choo
OF - ?
DH - T. Hafner

Mind you, that's sticking Marte back in the minors... if he proves himself, he could end up bumping Luna or Kouzmanoff off the roster - still there wouldn't be space for Iwamura. I'll see if I can't flip through rosters and make a few guesses as to where he may end up soon.

mars2001 said...

Here's what I've come up with as possible homes for Iwamura (somewhat in order of likelyhood)...

* Padres (empty slot)
* Phillies (pretty open)
* Orioles (play him 1B/3B)
* Houston (superior to Huff, Lamb, Ensburg)
* Twins (superior to Punto, Rodriguez)
* Rangers (Blalock trade?)

In my mind, everthing else is filled already... (I've listed the other clubs below, including the less obvious players that have locked up 3B jobs):

Red Sox - Youkilis/Lowell *
Yankees - ARod *
D-Rays - Upton/Longoria
Toronto - Glaus
WhiteSox- Crede */Fields
Indians - Kouz/Marte *
Detroit - Inge
Royals - Alex Gordon
Angels - Figgins/Wood/McPherson
A's - Chavez
Mariners- A. Beltre *

Braves - Chipper/Aybar
Marlins - Cabrera
Mets - Wright
Nationls- Zimmerman
Cubs - A. Ramirez
Reds - Encarnacion
Brewers - Ryan Braun
Pirates - F. Sanchez
Cardinls- Rolen
Dbacks - C. Tracy
Rockies - Atkins
Dodgers - Andy LaRoche
Giants - P. Feliz

I could see a few players that could get traded this winter (I've marked them with a *)... but I'd consider these teams set through the end of 2007...

mars2001 said...

I wanted to put here that I've read several conflicting reports that Iwamura may (or may not) be willing to move to 2B if/when he comes over to the US. Of course, if he does - many teams (including the Orioles) may be interested in his services.

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