About two weeks ago, this Sankei News headline caught my eye:
“(Pro Yakyu) Exploratory Committee Holds First Brainstorming Session Toward a Japan-US Title Match”
Reports indicate four representatives took part in the meeting: MLB VP of Asia Operations Jim Small, and three NPB representatives led by NPB International Committee Chairman Toshimasa Shimada. The agenda included whether to hold the series in spring or autumn, and whether to play in Japan, the (continental) US, or a midway point such as Hawaii. Shimada was quoted as saying “we have a number of hurdles we have to clear, but we want to advance the discussion”, while Small commented “it was a positive exchange of ideas.”
As a fan of both Major League and Nippon Professional Baseball, I heartily in endorse this idea. Moreover, I’m glad that this seems to be a priority for NPB commissioner Ryozo Kato. NPB commissioners tend to be in a lame-duck position, taking a backseat to ownership, particularly the reviled Yomiuri chairman Tsuneo Watanabe. The dynamic is rather difficult to summarize in this type of post, so I’ll point you to a July article from veteran Japan baseball writer Jim Allen.
NPB has tried to reach a little more globally in the past. A well-intentioned attempt was made at a four-country (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China) Asia Series, but it failed to capture the attention of the public, and Japan’s representative won each year. It fell apart last year, when the title sponsor, Konami, backed out. In it’s place, a single-game Japan-Korea Club Championship was played before a crowd of about 12,000 at a minor league stadium in rural Nagasaki. As much as I would like to see the Asian leagues strengthen through collaboration, I think an MLB-NPB series will be more compelling baseball, and certainly better business.
When this series comes to fruition (and I believe it will), the NPB representative will perpetually be an underdog. It reminds me of the bi-annual US-Japan All-Star series that helped pique my interest in Japanese baseball in the 90′s. But despite that, NPB has far more to gain than to lose from this. More games against better competition should help eventually raise the level of play in NPB. More optimistically, the NPB brass may learn a few things from MLB’s marketing machine. It’s no silver bullet, but it will help.
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