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Documentary subject Valentine sees hope in commissioner

by Jim allen (May 2, 2008)

A new commissioner is just one of the things that gives Marines manager Bobby Valentine optimism for the game here.

Valentine spoke on Thursday in Tokyo at a joint press conference with the makers of the documentary "The Zen of Bobby V.," who took part in New York. The Chiba Lotte skipper explained his passion for the game and his hopes for its long-term success in Japan.

Valentine said the game's future is "definitely an uphill battle."

"Teams are becoming more fan friendly. Teams are working to become what they should be, and that is a global entity...but probably the best news we've had in a long time is that they're appointing a new commissioner," he said.

Ryozo Kato, 66, is currently Japan's ambassador to the United States and an enthusiast of the game here and in the majors.

"He's a diplomat, a very intelligent man and baseball fan. He's not just an appointee," said Valentine, who was asked if he thought he'd have any influence on Nippon Professional Baseball's new leader.

"He's bilingual, so I know he'll hear what I have to say. I don't know if he'll act on anything I say," said Valentine--whose audacious comments on the game are frequently heard in Japanese translation and ridiculed by other team's executives.

"In Japan, the teams have, since 1934, have basically worked independently of each other in any of their efforts to promote their players or promote their game and I believe that's changing."

Although Valentine has a flair for publicity and often becomes the headline himself, he is fond of saying the story not about him, but about the players, about the game and a nation's love for that game.

"I hoped an image of Japanese baseball was portrayed [in the movie], one of professionalism, one of players who cared, of fans that lived and die for the game," Valentine said.

"Baseball is the No. 1 sport in this country. Everyone who cares about baseball, major league baseball, European baseball should be interested in keeping baseball the No. 1 sport in this major industrialized country."

The movie, from its inception, was going to be about Valentine. That enabled director and producer Andrew Jenks to get the funding from sports network ESPN, for whom Valentine once worked.

Jenks and his partners, Jonah Quickmire Pettigrew and Andrew Muscato, followed the Marines from spring training in 2007 until their final playoff defeat. But being immersed for eight months left the trio with a bigger story to tell.

"I think anyone can respect passion," Jenks said.

"And what stuck out to us were the fans. It doesn't take very long to understand how incredible they are. Most incredible to me was that they practice [cheering].

"That sort of passion and dedication we saw across the board. That transcended into the way the game is played itself, into the work ethic."

After shooting roughly 500 hours worth of video--which Valentine joked must have included 100 hours of him eating--Jenks was forced to make some tough decisions.

His toughest cut was leaving out a scene after the Marines eliminated the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks from the playoffs.

"At least three or four of the players from the Hawks bowed after leaving the field," Jenkins said.

"Even though they had lost and were down and there was this whole stadium of people chanting against them, these players found it within themselves to bow to the field, which said so much about the respect for the game."

The movie which will be aired on May 13 in the United States but has not yet found a broadcaster in Japan, prominantly features an orange-haired Marines diehard named Yuta.

"He's a forklift operator. For him it's a passion. It's like nothing he's known before," Jenks said.

"He sees it as almost a religion. He's a perfect example of the passion and dedication the fans have for the sport."

As to how much longer Valentine will be here to savor that passion is anyone's guess.

"I know I'm managing this afternoon," he joked when asked of his plans.

"Everybody always asks me about the length of my contract and I think I have a multiday contract, because a manager's job is always in jeopardy."


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