By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Welcome to another edition of The Layup Drill. In this month’s column, we look at the start of Major League Baseball (MLB), the end of an amazing perfect inning streak, and some notable picks in the NFL Draft.
Suzuki, Kwan starts season off right
The start of the season began a week or so late due to a labor dispute between owners and players. However, the games began in early April. Shohei Ohtani remains one of the marquee players in baseball. The Anaheim Angels pitcher and outfielder continues to amaze with his ability to lead off a game batting, as well as being a part of the team’s pitching rotation. As of early May, the Angels have been one of the surprise teams of the season, leading the American League West.
In addition to Ohtani, Japanese sensation Seiya Suzuki is coming as advertised. The former Nippon Professional Baseball player from Japan is off to a hot start for the Chicago Cubs. Suzuki, who the Seattle Mariners courted to play for them this year, decided to go to the Cubs and signed a 5-year, $85 million contract.
The 27-year-old outfielder is making an impact with the club with his bat earning NL Rookie of the Week in April and NL Rookie of the Month for April.
A surprise start to the season came from Cleveland Guardians outfielder Steven Kwan. Kwan, who is of Chinese-Japanese descent, played collegiate baseball at Oregon State prior to making it with the Guardians. The 24-year-old California native burst on the scene this season. Kwan made the Guardians roster this season and recorded his first hit as a major leaguer on opening day. He then became just the sixth player since at least 1901 to have a five-hit game within his first three major league games. He also became the first player since at least 1901 to reach base safely 15 times in his first four games.
Breaking down Kwan’s accomplishments in the first week of his major league career is amazing. Through his 19 plate appearances, Kwan made 26 swings and did not miss on a single one. As of April 11, he had not swung and missed at a pitch in his batting attempts. He had not struck out since a AAA game on September 26, 2021.
While his outstanding batting has slowed in the last couple of weeks, he is still having a great start to his major league career. His latest effort was getting the game winning walk-off single in a win over the San Diego Padres.
For his efforts, Kwan received the accolade of being the AL Rookie of the month.
Japanese pitcher’s perfect inning streak comes to an end
Perhaps another Japanese baseball player is coming over from Japan soon. The pitcher for the Chiba Lotte Marines, Roki Sasaki threw 17 straight perfect innings (not giving up a hit, walk, or hitting a batter) last month. Sasaki threw a perfect game on April 10, the first in Japanese baseball in 28 years. He then added another 8 perfect innings in his next start on April 17. He was pulled from that game after throwing 102 pitches. However, his streak of 17 perfect innings ended with his next start, as he gave up a hit in the first inning back.
In the 17 innings of perfection, Sasaki had 33 strikeouts against 51 batters. At just 20 years old, the right handed pitcher uses a 100 mph fastball and a split-finger fastball to keep batters off balance.
Despite his recent success, Sasaki is not looking to come to the MLB anytime soon. His father was killed in the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent meltdown of three nuclear reactors in the northeastern Japanese prefecture of Iwate. While he has no immediate plans to relocate, one would think that Sasaki’s overwhelming talent may draw him to the MLB in the future.
Luke Wattenberg and Kyle Hamilton get drafted
The NFL Draft took place in late April with a couple notable Asian American draftees.
The first was Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton. Hamilton was drafted 14th overall by the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the NFL Draft. The 6-foot-4, 220 pound Hamilton is the son of a former professional basketball player in Greece and his mother is of Korean descent. He was born in Greece and briefly lived in Russia prior to moving to the Atlanta, Georgia area. The athletically gifted Hamilton started 13 games for the Fighting Irish in his freshman year. In 2021, he earned All-American honors for his play.
The University of Washington (UW)’s Luke Wattenberg was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 5th round of the NFL Draft. Wattenberg, an offensive lineman for the Huskies, will get the chance to protect former Seahawks quarterback and current Broncos signal caller Russell Wilson. Wattenberg is of Korean and Norwegian descent among other ethnicities.
Wattenberg played guard and center at the UW and his versatility may serve him well in Denver.
“It’s an amazing feeling for sure,” Wattenberg told reporters after he was picked by the Broncos. “It’s something that has been in the back of my mind for a long time, and it’s crazy that it’s finally here.
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.