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DODEA baseball players impress MLB scouts, former pros

By LEON COOK | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 5, 2017

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Like outfielders chasing a fly ball, high school baseball players from across the Pacific converged Sunday on Yokosuka’s Berkey Field for a skills clinic attended by Major League scouts.

“We’re just a few players and parents who wanted to get together and practice,” said Ray Denny, a former Yokosuka civilian base worker who started Field of Dreams in 2008 to showcase the talent of players from Department of Defense overseas schools.

Athletes from DODEA schools across Japan and South Korea were joined by players from St. Mary’s International School in Tokyo and a Japanese team from Yokohama. They practiced batting, pitching, catching and fielding, undaunted by the early June heat and humidity.

An afternoon game, intently observed by scouts from the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals, served as a small-scale version of the MLB All-Star Game.

Former San Francisco Giant Keiichi Yabu, who coached the pitchers, pointed out Kadena’s Justin Wilson and Yokosuka’s Kasey Walker as players to watch.

“I saw Justin Wilson last year and was impressed,” said Yabu, who now serves as a pitching coach for the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s Central League. “He is very good and very mature.”

Masanori “Mashi” Murakami, a relief pitcher for the San Francisco Giants from 1964 to 1965 and the first Japanese player in Major League Baseball, also attended the clinic. At 73 years old he doesn’t pitch much these days, but was quick to praise the raw power of the high school pitchers as they hurled strike after strike.

Denny modeled Field of Dreams on an earlier, one-off on-base clinic run by former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Brad “Animal” Lesley. It gives players a chance to show off their skills to scouts who wouldn’t otherwise see them, since on-base American teams aren’t part of Japan’s national high school tournament.

Jeff Kusumoto, a Japan-region scout for the San Francisco Giants, was one of the first to attend Field of Dreams. He said he was blown away by the impressive talent displayed by these previously-hidden players, and told the Giants.

In later years, more and more teams sent scouts, and the Giants asked some of their former players to attend as well.

Denny has worked in Norfolk, Va., since 2015 but comes back to Japan each year to attend his clinic.

“I want to keep the Field of Dreams alive,” he said.

cook.leon@stripes.com
Twitter: @LeonCook12

A player from St. Mary's International School in Tokyo pitches during the Field of Dreams baseball clinic at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, Sunday, June 4, 2017.
LEON COOK/STARS AND STRIPES

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