By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Welcome to another month of The Layup Drill. Last month was a big one as the Olympics start in July. But before that, we take a look at some happenings this past June.
Kikuchi makes All-Star appearance
Seattle Mariners pitcher Yusei Kikuchi was selected to be in Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. It is the Japanese pitcher’s first appearance in the game.
Kikuchi showed humility when it was announced that he made the team. Through an interpreter, the left-handed pitcher told the media that he was “really thankful for my teammates, coaches, and just everyone being there for me, and my family just always supporting me through the ups and downs.”
Kikuchi was signed by the Mariners from the Nippon Professional Baseball league in Japan, where he played for the Saitama Seibu Lions. He was a three-time All-Star selection in Japan. After a rough first two years with Seattle, Kikuchi has settled in this season with a solid 6 wins and a 3.18 earned run average through 15 games—a personal best with the Mariners. He also has 93 strikeouts through July 5.
Kikuchi becomes the first starting pitcher for the Mariners to be selected to the All-Star Game since Felix Hernandez in 2015. The All-Star Game is on July 13 in Colorado.
Ohtani makes All-Star as pitcher/position player
A teammate on the All-Star team will be Shohei Ohtani—he becomes the first player in modern day history to be selected to the All-Star Game as both a pitcher and designated hitter.
The Japanese superstar is a one-of-a-kind as no one in the sport hits and pitches in the major leagues. Ohtani is batting .278 with a major league-leading 31 home runs and 67 RBIs. He also is 3-1 as a pitcher. The left-hander has a 3.60 ERA and 83 strikeouts over 60 innings in 12 starts.
In just his third season with the Los Angeles Angels, Ohtani has proven that he is one of the top players in baseball. In addition to his duties as both a pitcher and hitter, he will be participating in the Home Run Derby. The All-Star Game will be a huge feature for Ohtani to display his all-around baseball talent.
Certainly, Ohtani is a front-runner to be the Most Valuable Player in Major League Baseball.
The return of the King – Nonito Donaire turns back time
At 38 years old, former boxer of the year Nonito Donaire was thought to be at the end of his career. His last fight was a disappointing defeat to Naoya Inoue in Japan 18 months ago. However, he pushed back time and defeated Nordine Oubaali to win the WBC bantamweight title on May 29.
Donaire, an underdog in this fight, knocked down Oubaali twice in the third round before taking him out in the fourth round. With the win, Oubaali became the oldest fighter to win a world championship in the bantamweight division.
“The King has returned,” Donaire said in his post-fight interview. Previously, the “Filipino Flash” won titles in four different weight divisions. He had a showdown with fellow Filipino fighter John Riel Casimero scheduled for this August, but that fight was canceled due to questions over drug testing.
The fight was to unify the WBO championship, but questions quickly arose about drug testing for the upcoming bout. Donaire’s wife, Rachel, serves as his manager and sets up drug testing protocols with a Nevada-based organization. However, Casimero’s representatives did not respond to requests for their commitment but were upset when Rachel insinuated that Casimero was taking steroids. Casimero was linked with a strength coach known for supplying performance enhancing drugs to his clients.
Casimero’s representatives made disparaging remarks to Rachel in a social media post, which caused Donaire to withdraw.
Although the fight would have drawn interest from many Filipino fight fans, the bad blood over drug testing will make it difficult to put together the two down the road. Fortunately for Donaire, there is another option for his next fight, and that is a rematch against Japan’s Inoue. If that is the case, it would still provide a compelling matchup.
Other notable news
The Montreal Canadiens returned to the NHL Stanley Cup for the first time since 1993. The Canadiens’ return was due in part to Nick Suzuki. The 21-year-old former number 1 draft pick of the Las Vegas Golden Knights has had a productive playoff. Suzuki, who plays center for the Canadiens, was an invaluable part of the run made by his team. He scored several goals, as well as setting up teammates with assists during the crucial Western Conference Finals series against his old team.
George Mason University pitcher Sang Ho Baek died from complications from Tommy John surgery on June 12, according to the university. He was just 20 years old. The surgery is a common procedure for pitchers to have on their elbow to reconstruct their ulnar collateral ligament. The procedure is named after the first baseball pitcher to have the surgery. Baek was born in Seoul, South Korea but grew up in Salisbury, Maryland, where he helped his high school team win a Maryland State Championship. Baek was involved in the Korean Presbyterian Church youth group, swam with the YMCA, and helped build houses on a Nicaragua mission trip in 2018.
Although the Utah Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson was eliminated from the playoffs, the reigning 6th Man of the Year in the NBA did some good this past spring after a Filipino food truck was vandalized.
The World Famous Yum Yum Food Truck was vandalized with anti-Asian slurs and hateful messages across the black exterior. After posting on social media, the owners received an outpouring of support from the Salt Lake City community. Many offered donations, while others vowed to eat at their truck once they got up and running again.
In a social media post, Clarkson, who is part Filipino, wrote, “It hurt me deeply to see that Salt Lake’s @yumyumasian food truck was recently vandalized—I know the pain that hateful language and racism causes.” Clarkson helped connect the owners with someone that restored the truck with a painting revamp.
Naomi Osaka withdrew once again from another major tournament as she decided that she would not participate at Wimbledon. This is the second major tournament that she has pulled out of. In June, Osaka announced that she would not be doing media interviews at the French Open for the sake of her mental health. After some backlash, she decided to pull out of the French Open. In mid-June, she announced through her team that she would not be at Wimbledon to take some personal time with friends and family. However, she did note that she would be ready for the Tokyo Olympics. Osaka, whose mother is Japanese, made it known that she was retaining her citizenship in Japan so that she could play in front of her home country at the Olympics.
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.