Adjust Font Size: A A       Guest settings   Register

Jim Allen

Jim Allen's Homepage at JapaneseBaseball.com

Matsusaka out to make name for self

by Jim Allen (Mar 11, 2008)

Kenta Matsusaka has had trouble being noticed in his brief pro career. About the only time the outfielder seemed to get attention was when someone confused him with a teammate whose family name used the same two Chinese characters: former Lions ace Daisuke Matsuzaka.

But with the 22-year-old Matsusaka burning up the preseason for Saitama Seibu, those days may be drawing to a close.

"I'm Kenta Matsusaka," he said proudly in English on Sunday with the emphasis on his final "s."

After joking to Japanese reporters at Jingu Stadium that he could speak a lot of English after a week in Hawaii, Matsusaka demonstrated by saying, "Today, center field!"

While his English vocabulary has plenty of room for improvement, it is hard to find fault with his play this spring--the first time he joined the Lions' first-team camp.

"I've never had a chance like this before," Matsusaka said. "I didn't know what to expect, except I knew I had to keep working hard."

On Sunday, he went 2-for-4 to raise his spring batting average to .357, while the Lions improved to 5-1 in pre-season play.

"The difference this year has been in my work. I made sure nobody worked more than me in camp," Matsusaka said.

Of course, unheralded minor leaguers don't get invites to the first-team camp unless they show some promise the previous autumn. At that time, Matsusaka got to work with new batting coach Hiromoto "Dave" Ohkubo, who knows all about being stuck in the minors.

Ohkubo spent a large chunk of his pro career as a big-hitting minor league catcher for the Lions. Only a trade to the Yomiuri Giants brought the portly Ohkubo three years of playing time.

"Since last autumn, he's had a big influence on me," Matsusaka said. "We have worked so well together. I am really lucky."

While Ohkubo was kept on the farm because the Lions manager at the time, Masaaki Mori, wanted no weak fielders on his team, Matsuzaka's handicap was his penchant for a good time.

Since 2004, he has alternated uninspiring seasons with more promising ones. Although his power numbers were down in 2007, he hit .291 with lots of walks.

"I turned pro out of high school, and all of a sudden I have all this money," he said. "I really enjoyed myself and I didn't realize [it might be a problem].

"I just figured I was a pro, that if I followed along, I would automatically get better. It doesn't work that way, however. I wasn't really going anywhere. But now I have a chance to change."

Coming next week: Get ready for the season with the Daily Yomiuri's annual Pro Baseball Special, filled with in-depth team analysis, features and interviews.


Back to the works of Jim Allen
Search for Pro Yakyu news and information
Copyright (c) 1995-2017 JapaneseBaseball.com.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Some rights reserved.