NETWORK OF ENTERTAINING ASIAN AMERICAN TALENT
Fifty thousand people packed into Koshien Stadium to watch Yusei Kikuchi throw 94-mile-per-hour fastballs in Japan’s biggest sporting event — the summer high school baseball tournament. It may be their last chance.
By October, Kikuchi, 18, must choose between Japan and the United States for a career he has dreamed about since primary school. Signing at home would rule Kikuchi out of a move to the United States for as many as nine years. Choosing the American majors may open the door to a stream of amateurs spurning Japan for a chance to play alongside countrymen like Ichiro Suzuki and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
“Kikuchi would open things up completely,” Danny MacLeith, a scout for the Chicago Cubs, said last week in an interview behind home plate at Koshien, in Nishinomiya city, west of Osaka. “If he’s available and wants to go, he needs to say so because the Japanese draft is two months away. It’s time.”
American teams have signed more than three dozen of Japan’s best players since 1994, often at much higher salaries. The Boston Red Sox in 2006 signed Matsuzaka, who became a national hero pitching his team to the Koshien championship in 1998, to a six-year, $52 million deal that dwarfed with his one-year, 330 million yen ($3.5 million) contract with the Seibu Lions.