Well it’s been some time since I have written as there has been much work to be done. With the turn of events with my son’s 2- faced coach at his school, we have had a real tough time moving to limit the effects on his baseball career. If they expected us to react like other players they have had a rude awaking.
Yet the tough choices have been made, with some of the unexpected curve balls being used to our advantage. We searched for another team that was not part of a school program to play at the junior high level level, and found one in the West Tokyo Dodgers.
The team was named after Hideki Nomo’s time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which started the departure of many top players from the Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPB) to the MLB. Nomo’s problems in the NPB started with the previous owners of the Orix Buffalos, as he had his favorite coach dumped with the new management and they demanded he change his pitching style -as an adult no less. A little late one would imagine, but here in Japan the need to give top down orders hangs around much longer than back in North America. The rest is history as Nomo kept his style and went on to fantastic career in the MLB.
So my son and I joined a very solidly named team, who are part of Pony League system run out of the US. The team had even travelled to the US for some exchange tournaments, and so it was a nice fit with its team culture. Then in addition the GM for the team, a Mr. Matsumoto, set a better mix of discipline and maturity for his players. Despite being a very old gentleman he had not warmed to the obsessive discipline in his lifetime. I have talked about such things on this site before with other teams. His junior high team is still not like a western team, but by Japanese standards they are more layback at times, and then demand players click into a discipline mindset at certain points, instead of never ending orders. This is a much more secure approach on the part of the coaches, as opposed to being insecure adults who demands everyone act like automatons.
Lastly we were lucky to find this team was our closest Pony League Team in Tokyo, though we still had to travel about an hour again.
So for just over a year Rafe has played with the WTD and I have been an assistant coach for the club. Yes that right, instead of letting me sit on the sidelines, and give me odd stares when I would turn up to help, they asked me immediately if I would like to help coach. The fact I was a GM of 2 teams in Japan likely helped, but they have also offered the other fathers I have brought along to their club since also. It was their policy to get parents involved.
So are the differences in leadership compared to his Seijo Junior High Baseball Team. Seijo coaches passed on to Rafe that I was not really even supposed to sit and watch him practice, which may have been so officially, but the real goal was to force Rafe to use only one arm against all the promises made before we even wrote the entrance exam to the school.
Rafe has come into his own as a switch hitter and no one has any doubts to his switch hitting as he hits a team high on either side of the plate.
At an open baseball camp at Waseda University Rafe attracted a crowd of onlookers simply on a toss ball exercise from one side of the plate, to then shock all as he did just as well on the other side of the plate to lots of Japanese phases of astonishment.
Rafe is now 190 cm. at 15yrs. of age, and we were even more surprised to find his arm span was a whopping 195 cm. which means his height could be as high as 6’ 5” in the future. He also falls just under the maximum age limit per year. In the West that would be January 1st, yet under the Japanese system that rest on April 2nd.
Unfortunately his switch pitching has not been what we had hoped. His growth has been very steep, as he grew over 20 cm. in height in just over 2 years. So despite the increased training, with his age warranting more work, the results have not been what we hoped. The new team’s Japanese coaches did not get involved, and the issue was up to Rafe and I.
We adjusted to these facts by mid-year by playing with one arm each practice at the end of his season, as we have never demanded he pitch here in Japan, only get to practice with both arms. Yet the limited control he had in his little league time with the Chofu League disappeared. His fielding, that was advanced with the western team and Seijo, was lacking when compared to Dodgers, and we had to deal with him playing the outfield, as 1st base had their best hitter upon our arrival. So Rafe became the team’s go to pinch hitter, or would have been a DH if they didn’t play with pitchers must hit rule. He has since made great strides in his fielding and I owe this to the new team.
We have kept up the training of both arms during the week, but to give him a better chance at being a regular we have gone with one arm for fielding. Of course this arm then dipped in control when pitching even more than the non-used one. So we have the odd situation of the left getting further advanced in control over the right when pitching, as the right improves in its fielding throws. Yet the improvement that one would expect with constant use was not immediate, as again the height and arm length still caused control problems to the present day, and until he stops growing we will still have control problems. Yet the fact my son and I chose to change our two arm approach at team practices shows stubborn thinking is not what we are about.
The idle period between teams was the only noticeable issue, aside from his growth spurts, to cause us grief. The specialization advantage, that is put forth by opponents of switch pitching, has not yet won the day to date. The specialization of one arm doing one kind of throwing has made its presence felt though. This is odd as this is not the kind of specialization the opponents are pushing. The left arm doubles the strikes of the right when pitching at present. While the right has gained control slowly in fielding. It seems that one kind of throwing does benefit a player, and reaffirms the idea of trying to match positions to what a future player will need. As already stated in early articles a possible future pitcher should not be placed or practiced in the outfield if you want them to field from a pitchers position well, nor improve throwing to first via the heavy training of long throws from the outfield. Yet the short throws from many infield positions may also not help in what is needed as a pitcher either. What is needed is training that is for the pitcher from the get go, so as to end the terrible fielding of pitchers that is common knowledge, as no one cares about it much as long as they can pitch.
We have not given up on switch pitching and we are training even harder to field with the left too in our private practices, as a good training program needs the arm to do other things. Just these other elements are limited and not obsessive, as only pitching is held to higher numbers of throws. The right is only used to pitch in private, as the workload is high enough for other kinds of throws at team practices and so mid-week works outs are only at pitching for the right.
So with his approaching grade 10 and a new high school we are hoping to find a new school that has both a much better baseball team, and multiples better coaches- as it would be very hard not to find worse coaches than Seijo Junior High. Wish us luck!