By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Currently playing for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, he has a unique set of talents, as he would like to pitch and play in the outfield. The dual use of a player is frowned upon by most MLB clubs, but based on his ability to throw over 100 miles an hour and hit a ball 400 feet, teams are making an exception.
The Mariners are not hiding the fact that they would like Ohtani to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Ichiro Suzuki, Hisashi Iwakumi, Kenji Johjima, and Kasuhiro Sasaki.
“We want to sell the Seattle experience,” said Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto on his baseball podcast. “What it means to the Japanese Americans, our culture, and how this organization has trended — and trended so positively — when we have a star Japanese player. And make no mistake. (Ohtani) is a star Japanese player. He’s talented. He’s gifted. He’s going to make some team a lot better.”
Dipoto hopes that team is the Mariners. The general manager and other scouts traveled to Japan last season specifically to watch Ohtani play and meet with his Japanese pro league team to ask about him — a huge investment of time and money.
Speaking of money, the Mariners have cobbled out as much money as it can to compete with other teams to entice Ohtani to play in Seattle. The process to sign Ohtani is different from regular free agency. Teams are allowed a certain allotment of money and are slotted in place, although they can trade for more money. The Mariners have done this by trading minor league pitcher Thyago Vieira for an extra $500,000 to increase its international signing bonus pool.
Ohtani would be limited to a minor league contract with a signing bonus under MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement.
With the additional funds from the trade, it increases the Mariners’ money for a signing bonus to $1,557,500.
The Mariners have stiff competition from bigger market teams, like the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Yankees have more money, and the Dodgers can offer a similar cultural experience for a Japanese player due to the vast diversity in Los Angeles.
However, the Mariners have a proven track record in signing Japanese players. Its previous ownership was Nintendo. One might assume that this was a driving force behind some of the previous signings. Ichiro, of course, was the biggest the Mariners have had. Being a port city and closest to Japan, many tourists have come across the Pacific Ocean to watch Ichiro.
Even last year, when Ichiro came to Seattle as a member of the Miami Marlins, Japanese press and visitors came to catch one of the three games played at Safeco Field.
Selling a player on the cultural success of past players is unique. Most of the time, teams try to entice players to come to their team and not the city. Also, the team’s success (read: winning) is important in selling a player on a team. The Mariners took a step back last season in the win column, but still has a team capable of winning. Ohtani is the rare player that has so many tools that teams will cater to his requests in order to have him on his team. He can be an impact player who can turn around a franchise. One might argue that you could have said the same thing about Ichiro Suzuki.
Ohtani’s representatives have provided interested teams with a 5-question template. It is believed that the responses may provide more sway than the money at this point. The questions range from the team’s assessment of his hitting and pitching, to spring training, minor league, and major league facilities. Another question asks about how they would assimilate Ohtani into the organization.
The Mariners have a shot at Ohtani based on its past record with Japanese stars. Despite Seattle being tucked away in the northwest of the United States, the city, as we know, has a lot of big companies in the area and is on the cusp of technological innovation. Ohtani desires to be in a high-profile city and while Seattle may not be New York or Los Angeles, it has a lot of things that other big cities do not.
Hopefully, Ohtani likes the rain and chooses Seattle.
Iwakuma signs minor league deal
Hisashi Iwakuma signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners in November. The deal will keep Iwakuma with the club. He was a free agent at the end of last season, a year which saw Iwakuma hampered with a shoulder injury in the spring that never got better. The Tokyo, Japan native played in only six games for the club. Iwakuma is still rehabbing his shoulder and it’s a possibility that Mariners fans will not see him at Safeco Field this season. At 37, Iwakuma hopes to get back with the Mariners, the only MLB club he’s played with since coming over from Japan in 2012.
Tiger Woods is back. After facing personal setbacks and physical injuries, Woods played in a competitive golf tournament for the first time in 10 months.
The 41-year-old played a Professional Golfer’s Association (PGA) tournament in Nassau, Bahamas, along with several of the top golfers in the world. Beset by injuries since 2014, the former number one player in the world is now ranked 1,199th among PGA golfers. Woods has been battling back injuries for several years and underwent his fourth back surgery in April.
He was unable to take full swings with a golf club until October.
In the opening round of the tournament, Woods shot a respectable 3 under par in his first-round back, which was just three shots back of the leader. While his first round back did not wow golf fans, he was able to drive the ball off the tee well, and scored several birdies to stay close to the leaders. After his first round from his latest recovery from injury, he expressed the fact that he missed golf.
Last year, Woods participated in the same tournament and finished 15th out of 17 players. He’s hoping for a better outcome this year. Although the course is not difficult compared to other PGA courses, Woods needs a starting point for his return.
He has not placed in the top 10 in an event in more than four years. Since then, younger, stronger golfers have risen to the top, including the likes of Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, and Jason Day, who is part Filipino. Despite his layoff, many golf fans and casual viewers are interested in Woods’ return, and television ratings are anticipated to spike.
Can Woods return to his previous form that earned him 14 Major Championships? His last championship was almost 10 years ago, when he won the 2008 U.S. Open. At one point, many believed that he would easily surpass Jack Nicklaus and his record of 18 Major Championships. But it’s more likely that he will not match the record, let alone win another major.
Woods is an icon in golf and his fall from the top was disappointing for a variety of reasons. We will see if he can remain healthy on and off the golf course to return to form.
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.