With entrance tests around the corner, many students in Japan about to graduate from elementary, junior, and senior high schools are packing their schedules with cram school lessons, or private lessons with tutors. While students are officially on vacation, it’s no time for rest or relaxation; it’s a time to use wisely.
Ballplayers in are starting their new year not with rest but with hours in gyms or ballfields partly covered in snow. Many professional baseball players in Japan are training through the holiday in preparation for the upcoming season. Hanshin Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami trained at Osaka Toin High School, stating that he hoped to improve his impressive rookie season. Japanese newspapers are full of stories like these.
Of course most of these high hopes fade away with the start of the season, as a fan, it’s nice to read about baseball-related news.
At the end of the 2012 season, the Rakuten Golden Eagles ace pitcher Masahiro Tanaka announced his intention to be posted, thus allowing him to “challenge” the major leagues. The baseball press in the U.S., having only limited access to Japanese press accounts and limited knowledge about yakyu, wrote extensively about Tanaka. Many wondered if the Eagles would allow Tanaka to leave following the new agreement between Nippon Professional Baseball and Major League baseball concerning the outdated posting system.
While a team like the New York Yankees spent almost $229 million in salaries in 2013, most Japanese spent about $20 to $25 million on salaries, a sum equal to that of the Houston Astros. $20 million is a lot of money, but not what the Eagles has hoped for. A bit upset about selling Tanaka below market value, they were put in a situation in which refusing to let Tanaka be posted because $20 million was too “cheap” would have resulted in a public relations nightmare. The Eagles fans would like Tanaka to stay but they also understand his feelings and desire to play abroad.
For the U.S. public and major league talent evaluators, Tanaka is a front-end pitcher a notch below Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish. While Darvish is highly respected in Japan, Tanaka holds a special place in the hearts and minds of the Japanese public. His three years with the Tomadai High School baseball club and his legendary performances at the Koshien, and his stellar career with the Eagles puts him in the same conversation with the likes of Shigeo Nagashima and Hideki Matsui. Like Matsui, only playing for a big team will do. So, expect Tanaka to sign with either the Yankees or the Los Angeles Dodgers.