Owen stars in Sabers win

Owen with some of his teammates

The Senri & Osaka International School’s middle school baseball team defeated Sons of Light IS 3-0 yesterday afternoon in their second game of the day. Earlier they defeated Kansai University International Academy 14-4. They are now 3-0 this season and on top of the Western Japan Athletic Association. Euan L. went the distance, pitching a shutout and Owen had a clutch 2-RBI double in the fourth to break open the pitcher’s duel. Owen played first base in the second game, and pitched for 3 innings in the first game.

The Sons of Light threatened to score twice in the game. In the fifth inning, the first two batters got on base, but then Euan struck out the next two batters and a groundout ended the inning. In the last inning, a runner was put out at third after a perfect throw by right fielder Rintaro.


After a game there are distinctive Japanese practices of showing respect towards others. The video shows the final out and the post-game team bows towards the opponents, coaches and umpires. It is a nice tradition and manner of ending games, reinforcing sportsmanship. American sports should integrate something similar.

Owen on third base

The Tigers are in a Pennant Race!

The boys are watching batting practice at yesterday’s Nippon Professional Baseball League game. The Hiroshima Carp defeated the Hanshin Tigers, 3-0 behind the stellar pitching of Kenta Maeda and an early home run by Brad Eldred. Despite the loss, we enjoyed the day at Koshien Stadium. Eldred, the left fielder for the Carp is one of those “4A” players, which means he was a star for several triple A MLB teams, but every call up to the big league team, resulted in poor results and a demotion. He seemed to be too good for the AAA, but not quite good enough for the  majors, although, he never had an extended opportunity to find his place at the big league level.

For many years the Detroit Tigers have won the Central League division and/or been in a race for the playoffs. Finally, this year they are in last place, but my baseball season was saved by moving to Japan and cheering for the other Tigers, the Hanshin Tigers. They are in first place and it is good once again to have meaningful September games.

The stadium was full to watch the first place Tigers, in the midst of a tight pennant race. With 17 games to go, Hanshin is tied for first place in the Central League with the Yakult Swallows, with the Yomiuri Giants a 1/2 game behind and the Carp 3 games behind. The top three teams make the playoffs and the first and second place teams get a game advantage in their playoff series. It is a big advantage to finish first and a good advantage to finish second.

Baseball offers a chance for the usually reserved Japanese to let off some steam. They will sing and cheer the entire game, even when there is not much action going on. Many fans also sport these baggy pants (above) and colorful jerseys. I had to buy a pair!

$7 for the Matt Murton Pork/Crab on rice!

I love the quirkiness of the Japan and it shines through in the fan experience at the stadium. I had a delicious “Murton Katsu Don x Crab” lunch. The bentos and entrees are named after players with some of the bentos shaped like a baseball diamond. A regular rotation of Asahi beer/snack girls tempted Oliver with junk food throughout the game. The girls carry beer kegs on their backs or heavy boxes of refreshments in front. It must be a long day as they are constantly moving. They must have a set circuit they take in order to evenly offer beer, sweet and salty snacks at regular intervals. I walked out to the deep left field line to video the release of balloons during the seventh-inning stretch, a tradition in many Nippon league stadiums.

Former Chicago Cub Kosuke Fukodome is having an excellent year with the Tigers (.281 – 19 HR)

The game was well played. The Carp outfielders made several spectacular catches, robbing the Tigers of extra base hits and possible runs. Maeda made Tiger hitters look weak in the first half of the game. It was nice to see that they still have the relief pitcher car here, as it was phased out in the MLB years ago. I think there is too much bunting here. In the MLB, advanced stats have shown that a bunt used to advance the runner one base is not as valuable as giving up one of the 27 outs a team has per game.

Owen, Oliver and Kenta were star struck watching infield practice. It is nice that Matt Murton acknowledged their shouts. They also got a close up view of how fast and accurate the players can throw the ball. We will be following the pennant race down the stretch and hopefully come October, we will be celebrating a Tiger’s series win!

SOIS Sabers defeat Bulldogs

Owen’s middle school baseball team won yesterday 13-0 against the Marist Brothers International School (MBIS). We made the long trip across the Koshien metro area to go to the MBIS field, which is in Suma, an area in the west part of Kobe. The Sabers outclassed the host Bulldogs. Owen pitched innings 4 through 6, playing a part in the shutout along with two other pitchers. He hasn’t played much baseball and is tentative, but he has some athletic talent. Owen also played centerfield. At the plate, he had a ground rule double, walked twice and got on by an error. He also made some nice fielding plays on the mound. He has not allowed a run in the three games he has pitched. That is more a statement of the quality of opposition to his ability, but I really enjoy watching him play!

Leading off of first base.

The Saber middle school A team is now 3-0, with victories over Canadian Academy, Nagoya International School, and MBIS. Baseball is the most popular sport in Japan and with soccer, it is the best sport the school offers.

Playing center field

The Business of Baseball in Japan

Matt Murton, a great baseball player and engaging speaker.

Last night I went to the other side of the bay to Kobe to attend the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan sponsored talk, “The Business of Baseball” featuring author Robert Whiting and Hanshin Tiger player, Matt Murton.

Whiting is a long-time commentator on culture and baseball in Japan. His most famous book is “You Gotta Have Wa” which I read recently. It should be required reading for anyone working in Japan! Whiting tells the story of baseball in Japan and the clash of cultures when foreign players, mostly American, come over to play. The book has relates to life outside baseball, and will give useful insight to people in any field, including business and education.

One of my interesting takeaways was learning why Major League Baseball has grown to $9 billion in revenue while the Nippon Baseball League has stayed around $1 billion. The reasons are many, but basically, MLB teams run their teams professionally specific to baseball. All front office people are trained and experienced in sports business and they have successfully monetized the sport. From getting taxpayers to fund stadiums, to subscriptions on MLB.com, the league exploits every possible avenue to gain money. MLB teams also work closer together to create a competitive balance and negotiate broadcast contracts together to get more money for all the teams. In contrast, Japanese teams are owned by corporation and are thought of as a division of the company, not a money-making entity in the entertainment business.

Front office people are assigned by the CEO or board to run the teams and they may not have the interest or expertise in sports marketing. The league also is run by the top two teams, Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants, to the detriment of the other teams and the league as a whole. Also, the players do not have much power and hence there is not much incentive for team executives to try to maximize profits to pay high salaries.

As a counter point, I get tired of the high cost of professional sports in the USA. To go to a game with my family, although it is a really great night out, is prohibitively expensive to do it too often. American sports business tries to get every last dollar from the consumers, whether it be through $150 jerseys to a 2% hotel room tax in Green Bay Wisconsin to pay for the renovations to the Packer’s football stadium. They do get the stadium experience right, even in the minor leagues as we experienced this summer.

The vibrant street life of downtown Kobe – Sannomiya

The other takeway is how different the Japanese approach the sport to Americans. The amount of training, practice and preparation is many times more in Japan than in the USA. It is basically a year-round sport, with spring training starting a full month prior to the US. “Thunder” Matt Murton, as he is known, gave the example of batting practice. In the US, batters will take 5-8 swings in the cage and then rest. In Japan, there are 3 cages and he batted for 4 minutes three times and then went in doors to swing some more.

I asked Robert about US managers in Japan and the parallels to a business or education professional working in Japan. He said it was a balancing act and one needs to appreciate and learn as much as possible about the culture and language, but always keep in mind that you were hired for what you bring from the outside world to Japan. He also recommended to leave Japan to decompress a couple of times a year.

I would like to thank the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan for organizing the talk!

Owen Plays in the Belgrade Trophy Tourney


Owen, originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

We played yesterday in the Tenth Belgrade Trophy Little League Baseball championship held at Ada Baseball Field. My friend Brian and I are coaching our sons and other international school students this summer. We got a team together to play some exhibition games in the tourney.

We played “The Alligators,” Novi Sad, and Bešereck, finishing with 1 win and 2 losses on the day. Owen made a couple of nice plays at first base and had a several hits, including a 2-RBI double to seal a victory against Bešereck.

I would like to thank Nikola Vučević, the organizer of the tourney and head of the Serbian Baseball Association for inviting us to play! He went out of his way to give our kids opportunities to play on the beautiful field and have some real games. Owen and his friends were so excited to wear uniforms (the old ISB MS volleyball uniforms) and compete. The day was funded by the city of Belgrade.

Despite the heat, it was a wonderful day. The first game we used a pitching machine against a much older team, and we soon found out we needed to switch to coaches pitching. In the second game we played against a team closer to our age, and in the third game, we played against a very good older club. Owen thought the highlight was Cody’s inside the park grand slam.

Owen’s first at bat!

With temperatures over 100F, after the game we cooled off in the river and had a nice BBQ meal at one of the restaurants at Ada.

We hope to play some more games before the cold weather sets in.

Family Journal – Thursday June 26, 2008

Owen, originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

We had a nice day yesterday. There was beautiful sunshine in the morning and warm temperatures all day -one of those classic Upper Peninsula summer days! We are all still on antibiotics and the boys are feeling better. I bought a 25inch aluminum bat and 3 rubber coated baseballs for Owen. He loves to hit! He is shown above at Joe Sabol field in Caspian. The field is named after the former mayor of Caspian. Joe used to rent the upstairs apartment of my parent’s house before they had children. Joe is a life-long resident of the city and it is nice that they named the field after him. The baseball field is the on the old Caspian School lot just half a block from our house. When the iron mines were functioning there were more people in Caspian and we had our own K-8 school. My dad was the last principal of the school. It shut down the year I was to go to kindergarten, 1972. The school has been torn down and replaced with a Michigan welfare office, but the playing field went to the city and there is a great baseball field there. The legion and high school teams, as well as little league play there.

Owen is a lefty but bats from the right side. He is a natural athlete and can hit the ball from my fast pitching. He loves to run the bases and slide. Oliver too can hit the ball. He comes up to bat and pounds the bat on the plate every time. He is a righty but prefers to bat from the left side. As everything he does, he swings as hard as he can and I throw it where his bat will go. He doesn’t understand the concept of running the bases in order, though and just takes off in any direction after connecting.

Ocean had a curly hair day yesterday and it is definitely showing an orange or red tint. She is also a smart cookie and just adorable.

We played baseball in the morning and afternoon on Owen’s insistence. Nadia went for an hour run and then allowed me to. We went to the pasty shop and got lunch for a picnic at Nelson Field in Stambaugh. We took the kids up for a walk to the Community Center playground and gave them baths in the evening to wrap up a full day of holidays.

While I ran I listened to a good pod cast of an interview with Bill Moyers and Jon Stewart. The link to the video is here. Jon has a good take on the current Bush administration and the war on Iraq.