Tsuyoshi Shinjo makes flashy start as Fighters manager

Tsuyoshi Shinjo makes flashy start as Fighters manager


Anyone wondering if Tsuyoshi Shinjo would tone down his incandescent personality at the start of the NPB season had the question answered before the first pitch.

The new Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters manager made an entrance on opening day that was more WrestleMania than pro baseball. Whether or not NPB is actually ready for it, Big Boss has arrived.

Shinjo — who has officially changed his registered name to Big Boss — was the star of opening weekend at PayPay Dome in Fukuoka. While Shinjo has won over a portion of NPB fans, it is not quite as clear if he has a winning formula for the Fighters.

The team lost all three games over the weekend, with Shinjo lamenting the situation as “too bad,” after cracking a self-deprecating joke following Sunday’s loss. Shinjo did not seem particularly crestfallen, and to be fair, it was only the first weekend of a 143-game season.

Some may point to Shinjo’s antics, but DeNA BayStars manager Daisuke Miura started off 0-6-2 in his first eight games last season despite being appropriately serious and stoic in his new role.

The Fighters have a lot of young players, and it is Shinjo’s job to help them develop and learn to get the most out of their talents. It will eventually become clear how focused Shinjo is on that part of the job — his public comments have vacillated between poignant and ostentatious so much it’s sometimes hard to decipher which is which.

No matter how anyone views Shinjo’s performative nature, how the players react and respond during the dog days of summer will be the real test of this managerial tenure.

If there is substance behind Shinjo’s style, then he’ll be an even bigger star than he is now. If not, then the Fighters have no one, not even Shinjo, to blame but themselves, because this what they were always going to get.

Shinjo’s first weekend, at least, was a sight to behold.

His introduction featured a doppelganger, flashing lights and a smoke machine. Shinjo emerged from inside a box wearing a uniform with “BIG BOSS’’ written across the front in lights and ran onto the field with his hair teased and wearing sunglasses and a broad smile, before striking a pose in the center of a spotlight as players from both teams watched with amusement.

Shinjo was the visiting manager but had a willing partner in the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, who allowed him to do all this in their stadium before their home opener. He also stood in the batter’s box for the ceremonial first pitch. Instead of an easy swing and miss, as is customary, Shinjo tossed his bat aside, caught the ball as if he were playing cricket, and held it aloft as he sprinted to the mound.

Fans take a selfie with a poster promoting the series between the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters at the PayPay Dome in Fukuoka on Friday. | KYODO
Fans take a selfie with a poster promoting the series between the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters at the PayPay Dome in Fukuoka on Friday. | KYODO

The Hawks’ acquiescence is interesting, as it raises the question of how other teams will react. Professional baseball is a numbers game off the field too, and Shinjo, and the attention he brings, is probably good for business and fan interest.

The Hawks must have thought so. They hyped the series using posters with an 80s action movie motif featuring Shinjo and their manager Hiroshi Fujimoto. Other teams may also try to hop aboard the Big Boss Express later in the season to take advantage of his star power.

Shinjo has garnered attention, that’s for sure. Many in the game have been asked about him, and he has even been talked about on ESPN, the major U.S. sports network, and written about on MLB.com During a news program on Sunday night featuring one player from each Pacific League team, the players were asked for their opinion about Shinjo.

“It looks like an enjoyable atmosphere,” Orix slugger Yutaro Sugimoto said.

During the broadcast of Sunday’s game, there was a special Big Boss Camera in one corner so fans could watch Shinjo in the dugout.

Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters fans wear Big Boss uniforms during the game between the Fighters and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks at the PayPay Dome in Fukuoka on Friday. | KYODO
Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters fans wear Big Boss uniforms during the game between the Fighters and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks at the PayPay Dome in Fukuoka on Friday. | KYODO

Shinjo’s flashy entrance was just the beginning of what should be a unique ride.

He started the season with an opener, putting the Fighters’ eighth-round draft pick on the mound. He also used the next day’s starting pitcher, Mizuki Hori, in relief on Friday — Hori still started Saturday.

Shinjo used a lottery machine to determine some of his lineups in the spring. His first two lineups of the regular season felt just as random, and he made liberal, though puzzling at times, use of his pitching staff.

If you take a glass half-full approach, Shinjo may merely be trying to see how his players react in real-time and during game situations. He has stated that he is not starting with the pennant as his goal, and just because he does things differently does not make those things wrong.

The Hawks swept the Fighters, but it was not all bad. Kotaro Kiyomiya was one of Shinjo’s pet projects in the spring, and the young slugger hit a towering home run on Saturday. Chusei Mannami, another young prospect, slugged his first homer of the year on Sunday as Shinjo jumped up and waved his arms as if to help the ball get past the wall. New import player Arismendy Alcantara hit a pair of homers on Saturday.

“Mannami hit one today,” Shinjo said Sunday. “If everyone can, little by little, get these kinds of results, we will grow.” Shinjo, beneath all the glitz and movie-star act, is someone who had a long career that spanned NPB and MLB, and probably has some wisdom to impart. That wisdom, for better or worse, will come as another part of the show.

The Fighters brass knew what they were getting. Now that Big Boss is here, all they and the rest of NPB can do is buckle up and enjoy the ride.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)



Source link

Author: Shirley