Young Marine Is One Tough Honu

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - November 15, 2006
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Keisuke Hayashi
Keisuke Hayashi

Though the dream begins with the purchase of a young man’s first glove or bat, it’s in the minor leagues where fantasy becomes reality.

That is, of course, if you’ve got the talent, to get that far. Very few do, and less than one in 10 make the huge jump from minors to majors. But here is where it all starts. The hitting, the bunting, throwing, catching, running, toting luggage and even cleaning up the infield. That’s the glamorous life of a minor leaguer. Bad food, rickety buses, small towns and poorly maintained fields is the goal of most young ballplayers. That is of those that expect to be there.

Keisuke Hayashi, a 19-year-old pitcher for the North Shore Honu of the Hawaii Winter Baseball League, didn’t think much of his chances to move beyond high school. He had seen scouts while in intermediate school but no one even bothered to stop by for a chat. And when the local newspapers in his hometown of Fukui started hyping his pro potential, he blew it off as well-meaning-but-uninformed hype.

So he was a bit surprised when the Chiba Lotte Marines spent a second-round pick on him a year ago.

“I really didn’t think about it as a serious career,” he says. “As a high school student I didn’t think I had a chance because no one came to talk to me. I knew I was being written up in the newspaper, but I didn’t think they knew what they were talking about. So I didn’t think it was for real.”

After a rough first year in the organization, Hayashi is making the most of his opportunity in Hawaii. In 25 innings he’s given up 16 hits with 18 strike-outs and has a 1.44 ERA. His walk total is a bit high at 12, but he’s held opposing hitters to a paltry .182 batting average.

The reason for his success seems to come right from Baseball Philosophy 100.

“I clear my mind and don’t dwell on throwing or pitching. I don’t dwell on what I’ve done. Then it comes naturally and everything falls into place. If I think to much ...” he says while trailing off with a laugh.

The Honu roster, like every team in the league, boasts a mixture of U.S. and Japanese farm products. It’s a collection that may seem to highlight differences, but in fact proves that no matter the nation of origin some things remain universal - baseball, video games, hip hop and wahine.

“In the dugout we talk mostly about baseball, but on the outside it’s mostly about girls.”

One of Hayashi’s goals coming to Hawaii was to discover baseball from an American point of view. What he’s found so far is surprising.

“When I came here I wanted to learn things that we don’t do or don’t have in Japan, but I’m not sure if we do too many different things.”

A surprising revelation, because Japanese teams prefer to play small ball instead of swinging from their heels. Players in the Nippon Professional Baseball League still know how to bunt, hit and run and slide. Skills that are becoming lost arts in the U.S. And what about the old stories about Japanese players working from dusk till dawn on their craft?

“Those who practice hard practice hard, those who don’t, don’t,” he says again, pointing out things aren’t so different.

Like most pitchers, Hayashi is impressed with the exploits of a certain seven-time Cy Young Award winner from Houston. Little did he imagine that he would cross paths with his hero in such a place.

“I didn’t know who he was and I couldn’t believe it,” he said about his teammate Koby Clemens, son of future Hall of Famer Roger. “I never thought I’d see Roger Clemens in Hawaii. I didn’t know what to think. I was in shock.”

There has probably been a lot of that around Hans L’Orange Field in Waipahu, home of the Honu and West Oahu Canefires, where the senior Clemens has spent quite a bit of time in recent weeks.

With only a week left in the season, Hayashi doesn’t have much time before its back to Japan for what he hopes will be a short time before he reaches the big time. His goal is a year. Then, if things go very well, maybe a chance to play in the American Major Leagues - which team hardly matters.

“I’ll take whatever team wants me,” he laughs while saying going to the best team may not be most preferable. “I’d rather go onto a weak team and help build that team. If you go to a strong team it’s not going to be as much fun.”

Only time will tell if all his goals will be realized. But he has the right attitude. Asked if he prefers the pro style of game to the one he played in high school, he defers to the later saying the high school game is about the team where in the pros it’s more about the individual. Nice.

Lynn Hirashima, executive assistant to Hawaii Winter Baseball, served as translator for this interview.

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