The Japanese All-Star Series

Nippon Professional Baseball
Image via Wikipedia

While watching the recent MLB All-Star game, I started thinking about what the All-Star game is like in Japan. Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann and Chicago Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd performed late-inning heroics, propelling the National League to victory. Now that the MLB’s mid-summer classic “counts,” the win assures a National League team home field advantage during the World Series.

In Japan the team with the best record is already rewarded with home field advantage in the Japan Series, so pros play for fun in their All-Star Game. Make that games. That’s right, the All-Star Game is actually a two-game All-Star Series in Japan. This season the 60th All-Star Series will be held Saturday, July 23 at the Yahoo! Dome in Fukuoka and the following day at the Hard-Off Eco Stadium in Niigata.

Photo Credits: Yahoo! Dome in Fukuoka, Japan: Marc Hamaker

(In case you’re wondering – and I know you are – Hard-Off is a chain of used appliance stores. It’s part of a group of second-hand retailers, including Book-Off, which has a bookstore in midtown Manhattan.)

Photo Credit: Hard-Off Eco Stadium in Niigata, Japan: By nekoreds for Google Earth

There are a few similarities between the MLB and Japanese All-Star games. The managers of the two Japan Series Championship teams from the previous season serve as the skippers of their respective leagues. Therefore, Tatsunori Hara, manager of the Yomiuri Giants, the defending Japan Series champions, will manage the Central League All-Stars while the Pacific League responsibilities go to Nippon Ham Fighters manager Masataka Nashida. Like the MLB, each team has at least one representative, although it’s easier in Japan, which has only 12 total teams as opposed to MLB’s 30.

Each league has a 29-man roster of All-Stars, twenty-eight who are chosen through fan and player voting. This year, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the All-Star Series, each league added one player. One of those players is Craig Brazell, the hot-hitting first baseman for the Hanshin Tigers. Brazell received 20,688 Internet votes for the special final spot on the Central League roster.

Brazell, now in his third year in Japan, was a fifth round pick of the New York Mets in the 1998 MLB draft. The 30-year-old Montgomery, Alabama native made his major league debut on August 17, 2004. He played a total of 24 games for the Mets and five games for the Kansas City Royals before being released in November of 2007. After two mediocre seasons in Japan, Brazell is having a breakout season in 2010. He has 30 home runs, second in Nippon Professional Baseball to 2-time defending Central League MVP Alex Ramirez of the Yomiuri Giants.

Two of Brazell’s teammates, former Seattle Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima and former Colorado Rockies outfielder Matt Murton, are also on this year’s All-Star roster. Thirty-six-year-old Tadahito Iguchi, who played for three MLB teams, is an All-Star in Japan as the second baseman for the Chiba Lotte Marines. Perhaps one of them will have the timely hit or the outstanding defensive play to lead his league to a win. Maybe Yu Darvish, the phenomenal young right-handed pitcher for the Nippon Ham Fighters, or speedy Seibu Lions shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima will dazzle the crowd.

You probably won’t watch the Japanese All-Star Series this weekend, but there’s a slight chance one or more of this year’s NPB All-Stars could become MLB All-Stars in the future.

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