Sho Nakata, Kiyomiya, Okoye… “Players on the Edge” in Crisis
“The moment I hit it, I was like, ‘There it goes! I walked a couple of steps and it was so lame.”
Sho Nakata, 32, of the Giants, was smooth-talking after the open game against DeNA on February 27. He was thrown back into a fierce headwind, but in the 6th inning, with the bases loaded and no outs, he hit a huge fly ball for a grand slam. He must be feeling a positive response. Recently, he has been joking with the press more and more.
Last August, Nakata was transferred to the Giants after a violent incident at his old club, Nippon Ham. Fans and teammates treated the “troublemaker” as if he were a tumor, and although he was expected to be a key player, his batting average was only .177 with seven home runs. His salary dropped from an estimated 340 million yen to 150 million yen, which exceeded the reduction limit (40% if the salary exceeds 100 million yen).
He must have been under a lot of stress because of the problems he had caused, and he was taking an auspicious attitude in an unfamiliar environment. Nakata was called ‘General’ when he was with NIHAM and has a dynamic image, but he has a very sensitive personality. I could clearly see that he was losing his temper and was suffering from a lot of stress.
This year, he seems to be a different person. The turmoil has gradually subsided, and Nakata has become more comfortable with the team, which has calmed him down. The back pain that plagued him last year has subsided, and he has gained about 20 kg to reach his best weight of 110 kg. His powerful hitting has returned even in practice. His speech is also positive. He says, “I have nothing but confidence now. When he was with Nichi-Ham, he used to use the word “rebeche (different level from other hitters)” when he was doing well, but he now uses a gentlemanly expression for the Giants,’ jokes a source close to the team.
At one point, Nakata was even rumored to retire from active duty. Manager Tatsunori Hara said, “His expression is very cheerful. I think he will show even better parts from now on.
Nakata is not the only high-profile player who has failed to live up to expectations and is on the precipice of retirement. One such player is Kotaro Kiyomiya, 22, who hit 111 home runs in his high school days (Waseda Jitsugyo), the most in history, but did not appear in the first team last season for the first time since joining the professional baseball team.
Manager Takeshi Shinjo seems to be paying particular attention to Kiyomiya. Last fall at camp, he said, ‘Isn’t he a little fat? In a practice game in February, he went out of his way to ask his opponent, Chunichi manager Kazuyoshi Tachinami, to coach him since they share the same left-handed hitter.
Shinjo probably favors Kiyomiya because Nichi-Ham has few cannons. The long-hitting Kiyomiya must be awakened. I think this is a sign of his hope that this season he will be the mainstay of the first team. However, Kiyomiya has a calm personality. Whether or not he can shed his skin will depend on his own determination.
Even more difficult than the two aforementioned players is Rakuten’s Rui Okoe (24).
He was drafted first overall by Kanto Ichi High School (Tokyo) in 2004 as a Koshien star, but has not been able to produce results to the satisfaction of the team’s leaders. Last season was his first appearance in a first-team game in two years, but a sloppy play against Softbank in October resulted in all runners reaching base with the bases loaded. This was a major blow to Kazuhisa Ishii, the team’s GM and manager, and he was demoted to the second team again.
He has a strong shoulder with a long throw of 120m, eyesight of over 2.0, a 50m run of 5.96 seconds, and a swing speed of 157km……. Okoye’s physical abilities are unmistakable. The cause of his sluggishness seems to lie on the mental side.
He says, “Every year, he affirms himself that he is growing too well, but when he receives attention from coaches and managers, he becomes flustered. His feelings are uneven.
In the “Asian Winter League” held in Taiwan in the off-season of 2004, he returned home because of “wisdom tooth pain. In the following year’s Winter League in Mexico, he struck out three batters in a row in his first game and had to be replaced, and he returned to Japan earlier than planned, saying, “Everything was different than I expected. The leaders of the team are now hoping that he will be a little more patient and concentrate on baseball.
At the end of 20 Immediately after Okoye’s contract renewal, he complained, “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do.
He is not thinking clearly. I don’t want him to do his best, but if he doesn’t come out soon, his own baseball career will suffer. This is the critical point. I feel that his self-esteem is a little high. He needs to peel off his skin. You can’t just give him a chance and say, ‘Here you go.
Okoye suffered a cartilage defect in his left knee joint and underwent surgery at a hospital in Chiba Prefecture last November, the second time in recent years that he has undergone surgery, the first being on his left wrist in February 2008. His full recovery is undecided, and there is no timetable for his return. ……
The three players are facing a backwater situation. The season for survival has already begun.
Photo： Kyodo News