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Traveling Man

Former Major Leaguer Lovullo Is Playing in Japan

May 07, 2000

When Torey Lovullo joined the Yakult Swallows, he knew he would get a close look at Japanese baseball.

But he didn't think it would be from the bench.

Lovullo, who played at Montclair Prep and UCLA, is one of 36 former major league players spending the season in Japan rather than the United States.

Like most major leaguers who come to Japan, Lovullo thought he would play every day.

"They had some problems at second base last year and I thought if I came into camp and played well, I could join the team outright," Lovullo said. "Unfortunately, I ran up against some very good competition."

Injury limited starter Katsuyuki Dobashi to 39 games last season, and Yakult used nine players at second base. The Swallows acquired Lovullo, a 34-year-old switch-hitter, to add stability to the infield.

But Dobashi came to camp healthy and re-claimed the job.

"I'm a big fan of his--he's a solid player and he's sharp out there," Lovullo said of Dobashi. "One advantage he has is he knows the tendencies of some of the pitchers, he knows the hitters and where to position himself on defense."

During training camp, Lovullo took advantage of the chance to learn from Dobashi, a 12-year veteran.

"I figured he had been in the trenches before, so I didn't hesitate to ask for his advice," Lovullo said. "He was more than willing to help me out, so we developed a little friendship and I appreciate what he did for me."

That advice paid off as Lovullo hit .277 with two home runs and 12 runs batted in during 16 exhibition games. But when the Swallows opened the season March 31, Manager Tsutomu Wakamatsu went with Dobashi.

In the first two weeks, Lovullo batted .214, mainly as a pinch-hitter. In his first start April 27 he went went three for three with an RBI. With Dobashi batting .219, Lovullo has started three games in the last two weeks.

Most Americans who play in Japan need to make adjustments, but that's not easy from the bench.

"If I need to take some lumps, let me do it early," Lovullo said. "But unfortunately that hasn't been in the cards, and if you're not in the lineup, you just have to be a really good observer. That's just the job of a utility player that I've been accustomed to in the United State."

Several former major league utility players--including Lou Merloni, Melvin Nieves, Jeff Barry and Howard Battle--are riding the bench or playing in the Japanese minor leagues this season.

"I can't say enough about the ability of the players here," Lovullo said. "Pitching-wise, I would compare it to the big leagues in the United States.

"Everybody is throwing 88, 90, 92 miles an hour with a sharp curveball and forkball."

To adjust to those pitchers, Lovullo writes in his journal scouting reports of all the pitchers he faces.

"I'm confident in my ability and if I study my opponents and chart their tendencies, it'll just give me a better chance to be successful," Lovullo said.

"I think [Yakult] has been very fair to me and I think they trust my ability and want me here to help them win games when I'm called upon."

Before coming to Japan, Lovullo succeeded using the same techniques while playing for seven major league teams from 1988-99.

The Swallows offered Lovullo a bigger contract than he was likely to get in the U.S., and he has an invaluable cultural opportunity.

"I want to stay in the game and coach, and I think playing in Japan will help me understand that there are a variety of players throughout the world," he said.

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