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Hoshino gets lift from young Swallows

by Jim Allen (Feb 8, 2008)

URASOE, Okinawa--Japan manager Senichi Hoshino went back in time Friday afternoon as a flock of young Swallows hurlers showed their stuff in Tokyo Yakult's camp bullpen.

"It's plenty warm here," Hoshino said when asked about whether the cool temperatures put a damper on the pitchers' stuff. "To see these guys really bring one pitch after another is just great."

Although just six months remain before he leads the national team to Beijing for the Summer Olympics, Hoshino was thinking not of gold medals but future seasons of pitching promise.

"Is it six months away? I hadn't really thought about it," Hoshino said. "I don't really know what players will be ready then, but coming here today was so much fun."

Hoshino and his three coaches spent much of their time swapping stories with Swallows skipper Shigeru Takada, Hoshino's former Meiji University teammate.

"We talked a lot about the old days," said Hoshino, who as a pitcher with the Chunichi Dragons made a religion out of beating Takada's team, the Yomiuri Giants.

"Watching these guys throw today, brought me back to those days. Made me remember how it was when I was 20 years old, give or take a year.

"We all wish we were that age again. And though we can't go back, we can help these young guys develop. That is pretty exciting."

The excitement has been building all winter since Yakult drafted Yoshinori Sato in the autumn draft. The fireballer from Sendai Ikuei Gakuen High School had scouts in States shaking their heads last year when he hit 157 kph in a friendly series in the United States.

On Friday, the 18-year-old did his best to put on a show for Hoshino, but he was all over the place and developed a blister, leading him to say afterward that he had failed to impress.

"You think he failed?" Hoshino asked reporters. "He was trying to make an impression? Great. You need to think that way.

"Every pitcher, even a veteran, has good times and bad times. With a youngster it will be very pronounced. I was watching him really carefully, and I'm telling you he did not fail."

With the departure of a pair of big foreign players this season, everyone may be picking the Swallows to struggle. But Hoshino has high hopes for the franchise's future after watching Sato, 22-year-old rookie Mikinori Kato and 20-year-old Kyohei Muranaka.

"This place is going to be a pitcher's paradise," Hoshino said. "I saw Kato last summer and he has improved a lot. He could be a big starting pitcher if he keeps going the way he is.

"I think the manager here is going to take his youngsters and put them in every situation. That's going to pay dividends as these kids learn and this club's pitching will rival SoftBank's.

"For me, there is no place in spring camp more exciting than the bullpen--although two of my coaches, the hitters, might disagree. To sit and watch these kids throw and see the promise they might show this year or next year, it doesn't get any better than that."

If most of the afternoon was spent with an eye on tomorrow, the skipper also had high hopes for a key international veteran.

When Hoshino arrived with his coaches and his media camp followers in tow, he met briefly with a pair of Swallows, center fielder Norichika Aoki and shortstop Shinya Miyamoto, who helped Japan sweep through the Asian Olympic qualifying round in December.

"Miyamoto believes he is going to make it [to Beijing] and that confidence, that desire is what you want," Hoshino said of the 37-year-old, who was the captain on Japan's last Olympic team in 2004.

"He was in Athens and he is keen to go again. You expect he'll do everything in his power to play at a high level this year and get selected. So I'm looking forward to what he's going to show us."


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