By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Welcome to another edition of The Layup Drill. In this month’s edition, we take a look at the end of baseball season, boxing stars at the crossroads, and a Japanese marathon runner that overcomes all odds.
Ishikawa-Wong star in baseball’s postseason
The World Series ended with another title for the San Francisco Giants who claimed its 3rd World Title in 5 years. Once again, former UW baseball player Tim Lincecum collected a ring. But prior to the Giants winning the World Series in Game 7 and defeating the Kansas City Royals, Travis Ishikawa played a big role in getting them there.
Ishikawa hit a 3-run home run in the bottom of the 9th inning in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series to end the series and defeat the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a dramatic home run that capped off a great series in which he had the game-winning RBI in the first game and drove in three runs in Game 3. When Ishikawa hit the home run, players spilled onto the field celebrating. He had to push them out of the way as he circled the bases to reach home.
Ishikawa has an interesting backstory with a local tie-in. Ishikawa is half Japanese on his father’s side. He grew up in Seattle and went to Federal Way High School. He was drafted in the 21st round of the 2002 Major League Baseball Draft by the Giants. The Giants gave him, at the time, the highest bonus for a player not picked in the first round: $955,000. This gave Ishikawa incentive to choose the Giants over attending Oregon State, where he would have played college baseball. His great-grandparents came to the United States from Japan to work on the railroads and settled in Chicago. His grandparents were held in an internment camp during World War II.
On the other side of the National League Championship Series, St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong had a good series. Originally from Hawaii, Wong hit a walk-off home run in Game 2 of the playoff series against the Giants. He was a key cog in the Cardinals defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in the preceding division playoff series. It was Wong’s rookie season with the Cardinals and the 24-year-old proved he was major league material.
Iwakuma back another year
The Seattle Mariners actually had a winning season. And even though the team missed the playoffs, the team remained relevant until the final day of the regular season. While Hisashi Iwakuma was a major reason for the Mariners’ success early in the season, he experienced a late-season funk in which he could not grab key wins during the pennant chase this past season.
Despite this, Iwakuma went 15-9 in 2013 and was good enough that the Mariners decided to pick up a $7 million option on his contract. He could have gone to another team if the option was not picked up. Last season, Iwakuma missed the first month due to injury. Hopefully with a contract extension, it will motivate him to improve on a season that saw great improvement in the team.
Donaire tastes canvas in ring return
In 2012, Nonito Donaire was picked as the Boxer of the Year. And yes, “The Filipino Flash” beat out Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather to earn that designation. This past October, Donaire was knocked out by upstart fighter, Jamaican Nicholas Walters in Donaire’s home state of California. Donaire was downed with just one second left in the sixth round. With the loss, Donaire lost his WBA Super Featherweight title he had won in his previous fight. In his past four fights, Donaire has 2 wins and 2 losses, whereas he won the 30 previous fights.
Donaire is 31 years old and there is no word of slowing down despite the recent loss. We shall see what Donaire will do next to regain his previous form.
Pacquiao readies for next test
While Donaire’s career has suffered a setback, Manny Pacquiao is set for another test. This time, he is scheduled to fight relative unknown Chris Algieri. Algieri is still an unknown and if there was ever a fighter that was at the opposite end of the fame and fortune category, it could be Algieri. It was revealed that he still lives in the basement of his parents’ home and drives a late model Honda Accord. The native of New Jersey has toiled in obscurity until a recent upset victory propelled the former kickboxer to a fight with Pacquiao. Obviously, based on name alone, Pacquiao is thought to be the clear favorite in the Nov. 22 fight in Macau, China. With a win, Pacquiao, 35, could reignite talk that a fight with Floyd Mayweather could still be an option. Of course, this has been talked about for ages.
Marathoner runs against the grain
Japanese marathon runner Yuki Kawauchi is not your typical elite marathoner. He coaches himself (whereas top-level runners have coaches), he ran 11 marathons in 2013 (most marathoners run two to three in a year) and keeps up his schedule while holding down a 40-hour a week government job (most elite marathoners’ only job is to run). Despite the busy schedule, Kawauchi is a top runner. Of the 11 marathons last year, 5 of those were “sub-2:10” which means he ran 26.2 miles under 2 hours and 10 minutes. The time is a benchmark in the marathon community. Simply put, if you can do this, you are fast. In the history of U.S. running, there was only one year in which Americans produced over 5 “sub-2:10” runs. And those were run by different people. Yet, Kawauchi produced 5 of them last year.
Kawauchi is revered by the Japanese public as someone that has scoffed at the business aspects of racing. He has turned down sponsorship offers, spots on training teams, and memberships to gyms despite the fact that these things could aid his running and finances. He trains almost every weekend (which means no overtime at his job) and travels the globe finding the next race to compete in. Kawauchi stated in a recent interview that he would like to have run 100 marathons by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Obviously, it would seem to be a goal to run the marathon in those Olympics.
Despite his non-conformist running habits, Kawauchi would like to elevate Japanese running and give it a different perception.
“I want to show that Japanese runners can be tough, strong, and compete well outside Japan,” said Kawuchi in a recent interview. He also stated that he wanted to show young runners that there are alternatives to the corporate system for elite runners. This eludes to the fact that most elite runners partner with businesses to fund training so that they can focus on running and not have to worry about a job. Last year after the New York Marathon, which was a Sunday, Kawauchi flew back to Japan to be at work on Tuesday.
Kawauchi placed 11th in this year’s New York City Marathon, posting a finish time of 2 hours and 16 minutes. Kawauchi is not getting back home until Tuesday and will not go into work until Wednesday.
Sometimes you need an extra day of rest. (end)
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.