Friday, January 13, 2017

Lions players enjoy their time in Australia to end 2016

From left to right, trainer Kazuyoshi Ono, Keisuke Honda, Shogo Noda, Hitoto Komazuki and interpreter Machida-san.
Credit: Shogo Noda's Instagram
The Saitama Seibu Lions completed their 6th year of partnership with the Melbourne Aces in the Australian Baseball League by sending three players Down Under to work with the team for six weeks through November and December. 

For this season, it would be pitchers Keisuke Honda and Shogo Noda as well as outfielder Hitoto Komazuki making the trip with interpreter Machida-san and trainer Kazuyoshi Ono.  

While this was mostly a business trip for all three players, they entered the ABL season with goals in mind. Honda said he wanted to work on his changeup, while Noda was trying to fix his two-seam fastball for right handed hitters and shuuto for lefties. 

Noda had a blast from the past as two players from the Industrial Leagues were also playing in ABL with the Sydney Blue Sox. Catcher Yuki Yamazaki and left handed pitcher Ryoto Yoshikoshi were two players from a Honda Saitama team that Noda faced while he was with Seino Unyu (Seino Transportation).  He admitted he lost to Honda Saitama during his days in corporate ball. 

While in Australia, Noda saw a difference in how some pitches were more effective than others compared to being in NPB

"I threw more of an inside fast ball," Noda said. "Australians and Americans struggle with more inside pitches."

Noda finished the half-ABL season by going 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA through 8.2 innings pitched with eight strikeouts.  

Honda in particular has had a strong offseason. He was part of the Samurai Japan U23 team and won the U23 World Cup in Mexico prior to the trip in Australia. Honda would be a key starter while helping the team en route to a gold medal and championship. 

"It was my first time with the national team for Japan," Honda said. "I felt a big responsibility and was happy to be there. It was a great experience." 

In ABL, Honda dominated all five games he started by going 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA through 29.2 innings of work. He would also earn a shutout and two complete games which he benefited from playing the condensed 7-inning game in a given week.  

Honda noticed how there was more power among hitters away from Japan, where he had to be careful to not cough up a home run.  

For Komazuki, it would be the start of a new era in his career. After being an outfielder in the Lions farm team for five years, he has made the switch to catcher. 

"My goal was to practice out of the bullpen as much as I can," Komazuki said through interpreter Machida-san. "I will be a catcher for next season [and] it's a new challenge for me." 

This is Komazuki's first time being a catcher since his days in elementary school. He didn't participate in an ichi-gun game thus far in his NPB career. Komazuki spent time as a catcher for practice games and in the bullpen, but didn't play in an actual game for the Aces. He only appeared in the ABL All-Star game for the World team.  

With Takanori Hoshi no longer a player, Komazuki took his spot as a catcher on the 70-man roster. Hoshi is currently an trainer/ikusei coach for the Lions. 

Australia provided a different scenery for the three players. Hoshi provided some expertise from his time Down Under a year ago. 

"Takanori Hoshi told us to be careful about the weather," Noda said through Machida-san. "Sometimes it's really hot or cold."

All three players admitted they liked warm weather Down Under in what is traditionally a cool month in the Northern Hemisphere. Another fun quirk was eating kangaroo sausage which was a fresh take on food in Australia. 

Like Komazuki, Honda and Noda were allowed to be part of the World All-star team for the ABL All-Star game as it was in Melbourne. Honda didn't fare as well as the regular season, but it was a fun way to end the year and tenure in Australia.  

"It's unfortunate that I could not play as I had expected and did before the All-Star game," Honda said after the All-star game. "But I could find the points I have to improve on, so I would like to work hard to focus on them."

With this being Komazuki's only in-game action while in Australia, he admitted it was a different experience. 

"I was a little nervous as it's been quite a while since I played as a catcher in front of the crowd," Komazuki said. "I want to work hard so I play through the upcoming season playing as a catcher."

Noda allowed multiple base runners in the All-star game and conceded a run by a wild pitch. While disappointed at the game in the moment, he has one particular goal for 2017. 

"I will work hard so I can play with the Ichi-gun by [strengthening myself to pitching against] to lefties," Noda said. "Thank you!"


To listen to the full interview, click here if the embed doesn't work.  


Special thanks goes to the Melbourne Aces, Steven Smith, interpreter Machida-san and the Seibu Lions themselves for making this interview and story possible. A special thanks also goes to @shiba_scope for interpreting help. 


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