The Yokohama BayStars, the whipping boys of the Central League over the past few years, have a new slogan as hope springs eternal. "Yokohama Revolution" is the new battle cry and, as such, the team has undergone somewhat of a facelift over the offseason.
Last year, manager Akihiko Oya was given a mandatory "rest" halfway through another losing season and Tomio Tashiro was promoted from the farm team to take over the BayStars' helm. Going into the 2010 campaign, the club has brought in former Yomiuri pitching coach Takao Obana to pilot the club, hoping some of that Giants' success rubs off on the sad-sack 'Stars.
Along with Obana, the team also acquired free-agent slugger Terrmel Sledge from the Pacific League champion Nippon-Ham Fighters to add some punch to a lineup that already packed plenty of it in the likes of home-run king Shuichi Murata--who was crushing some balls during BP on Wednesday at Ginowan City Baseball Stadium--big-bopper Yuki Yoshimura and career .312 hitter Seiichi Uchikawa.
American import Dan Johnson was not brought back, but among other offseason acquisitions Yokohama added Fighters infielder Naoto Inada by way of trade and also brought aboard three former Lotte Marines: right-handed starter Naoyuki Shimizu, fleet-footed outfielder Daisuke Hayakawa and veteran catcher Tasuku Hashimoto.
Venezuelan infielder Jose Castillo, a former big-leaguer with Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Houston, was also added to the roster after spending last season in Taiwan.
Outfielder-DH Sledge, whose hot bat fueled the Fighters' run to a Japan Series berth last season, is fitting in well with the BayStars so far.
"He's really having fun here," said his agent Don Nomura, the man who engineered Hideo Nomo's departure to the major leagues in 1995.
* * *
NPB legend Isao Harimoto was in camp Wednesday, analyzing video and giving Yokohama players tips on hitting. To say the man knows what he's talking about when it comes to hitting a baseball is somewhat of an understatement. Harimoto-san is Japanese baseball's all-time hits leader with 3,085. The ethnic Korean star also had over 500 home runs and stole more than 300 bases in his Hall of Fame career.
* * *
Pitching has usually been the BayStars Achilles' heel, and that may be the case again this year. Veteran ace Daisuke Miura is back again with the coolest hairdo in Japanese baseball to lead the staff and, solid as he is, the man is fast closing in on 40. After that, it gets a little thin on the mound. Starter Les Walrond is gone and reliever Chris Bootcheck, a former Angel and Pirate (with the coolest name in Japanese baseball) is with the team.
On Wednesday, two American lefties tried out for the club, pitching a solid inning each in an intrasquad game. Ricky Barrett, who was with the Swallows last season, and Andy Sisco, a towering human being at 6-foot-10 (208 centimeters), each worked a 1-2-3 inning under the watchful eye of Obana.
"I had my elbow scoped in the offseason," Barrett said. "I had the surgery and one month later my arm feels 100 percent, although I am a little tired and jet-lagged as I just got here two nights ago."
Sisco echoed those sentiments in part.
"I only got here on Monday," said the 27-year-old reliever, who spent time in the Cubs, White Sox, A's and Royals systems. "I only had one week's notice (about the tryout), but I was more than happy to come out for this opportunity."