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Okubo puts weight behind Seibu's power surge

by John E. Gibson (May 9, 2008)

It looks like Saitama Seibu batting coach Hiromoto "Dave" Okubo has already had a heavy impact on the Lions' lineup.

The former Yomiuri Giants catcher is a hidden power source behind Seibu's Japan-best 54 home runs. That figure is not just the result of the production from new slugger Craig Brazell and his team-high 11 big blasts, but reflects how insight by the Round Mound of Lion Town has made a difference.

Nicknamed Dave because it sounds similar to debu, or heavyset, Okubo was only a .249 hitter in 10 pro seasons--six with Seibu before finishing his career with Yomiuri.

The Lions, who finished fifth last season despite leading the Pacific League with 126 homers, recently tied a record held by a trio of teams when they hit at least three homers per contest over a five-game stretch.

Takeya Nakamura, a hard-hitting Okubo-built third baseman, illustrated just how the new batting coach is making an impact.

"Coach Okubo told me to go for a home run, and that's what I set out to do," Nakamura said after a game last week. "He told me to look for a fastball outside and drive it center or right-center field, and that's what happened."

It's that kind of approach that Okubo brings as a former backstop. He thinks along the lines of the opposing pitchers and catchers and offers advice.

"All I try to do is tell the players what the other team's battery is going to try to do to them in certain situations," the 41-year-old Okubo said before a recent game at Seibu Dome.

"I just talk about game plans every day. So if you ask me if I'm really making a difference, I can't say that I am," said the modest Okubo, who went on to define what it means to tutor young players.

"As coaches, our role is take responsibility when things don't go right. And that's a big job. The players aren't the ones at fault," he said.

"There are things that they have to [in practice] and things that they want to do. I just ask that they do what I want them to do every day, and hopefully we can be a championship team in two or three years."

Okubo wasn't looking for this responsibility. He could be playing pro golf, which he did temporarily, but his links to baseball were stronger than his love for the links.

Okubo took the job at the behest of new skipper Hisanobu Watanabe, and the Lions are certainly glad he gave the sport another swing.

"We've known each other for about 24 years, and he asked me to come aboard and help him out," Okubo said about Watanabe.

"I said, 'There's nothing I can do to help you. It would be meaningless to have me coaching,'" said Okubo, who thought he lacked the necessary background to be an asset.

"I'd never done it before and it would be unfair to the team and to the fans to put someone like me in that position. Usually a coach gains some experience on some level, like the farm club. But I've never had any experience at any level."

Okubo had actually spent his 13 years of retirement from the game having a blast. He appeared on TV variety shows for a number of years before becoming a baseball analyst. But his work as a commentator allowed him to take a step back from the game, and he felt compelled to come back.

"I struggled with the decision for about two weeks," Okubo said.

"I woke up one morning and I was planning to turn the offer down, but I changed my mind about the situation. I thought that if he [Watanabe] wanted me so much, then I should give it a shot."

And now the Lions look like they have a shot to make the playoffs. Not too heavy a concept.


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