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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | THE COLLEGES

Japanese Imports, American Dreamers

March 24, 2000|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ

Dreams

This, that and the other while wondering if Brutus knocked off Julius Caesar because of March Madness. . .

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Japanese youngsters keep coming to America, hoping to become the next Hideo Nomo or Masato Yoshii or Hideki Irabu.

Some have landed at junior colleges in the region after failing to impress major-league scouts right away.

But middle infielder Hiroyuki Tazaki and pitcher Tomonori Murata of Valley College, catcher Fuyuki Yamada of Canyons and outfielder Takuro Minami of Moorpark are not giving up.

"I wanted to try to play major-league baseball," Tazaki said through an interpreter, Japanese American teammate Hideyoshi Misawa. "I thought I had a better chance of playing at that level if I came [to the United States]."

The players came to Los Angeles after seeing an advertisement from Arleta-based International Baseball Academy in a Japanese baseball magazine.

The academy was established two years ago by Hiroaki Misawa, Hideyoshi's father, and Kevin Kennedy, a major-league player and manager who attended Taft High. It attracts primarily high school and college kids whose families are willing to pay the tab.

"It's kind of expensive," Misawa said, without giving specific figures. "In Japan, if you want a good education, you have to spend a lot of money anyway. So to send the kids here to learn English and play baseball, it's not much of a difference [financially]."

Misawa said housing for the players is provided by the academy or by some of the private schools they attend, such as Montclair Prep, where Tazaki played in 1998.

Save for Tazaki, the American experience is relatively new to most of the Japanese players at region colleges.

Their biggest adjustments have been language and food. That's why the Valley players were thrilled to find a Japanese restaurant next to their hotel at a tournament earlier this season.

Still, they are acquiring a taste for American cuisine.

"T-bone steaks and mashed potatoes," Tazaki said, grinning.

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All that noise by community activists about Mission College reneging on a promise to reinstate a sports program can be piped down a bit.

The school plans to bring back baseball and softball next year.

"We want to make sure we have money to support [the programs] and we need the time to recruit athletes," said Carlos Nava, Mission's dean of student services. "We figure it will cost between $80,000 and $100,000 to bring those programs back."

Tom Oliver, Mission's interim president, said in September the school planned to revive its sports program this spring on a limited basis. But there were delays, creating suspicion among some who want to see the programs reinstated.

Mission discontinued its five-sport athletic program in July 1997 because of financial constraints.

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Is that whole pitching thing overrated?

Not usually. Teams with solid pitching normally have a better chance of winning than teams with good hitting. Pitching, some say, is 75% or more of baseball.

But Canyons (9-9, 5-5 in Western State Conference play) is proving you can get by with mediocre pitching, if supported with strong hitting.

The Cougars have a 6.47 earned-run average, the third highest in WSC play, and have allowed 69 runs in nine games.

Conversely, the Cougars rank third in the WSC in batting at .336. They are co-leaders with Hancock in home runs with 11 and lead with 82 runs.

Second baseman Mike Granger ranks second in the WSC in batting at .516 and catcher Eric Ballew provides power with a conference-leading four home runs and 16 runs batted in.

"Our batting average is a little inflated because of a couple of games, but yeah, it's keeping us in the race so far," Coach Len Mohney said. "We are struggling with the pitching. I'm hoping we can get it behind us pretty quick."

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Canyons' softball team also can swing the bat.

The Cougars have the two leading hitters in the WSC, second baseman Valerie Reyes at .737 and center fielder Lacy Bregger at .538.

Shortstop Chantal Pershing and outfielder Sandra Rodriguez, both at .500, are tied for fifth.

After defeating Bakersfield, 8-3, on Thursday, the Cougars (21-4, 10-0 in the WSC Southern Division) are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Renegades.

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