Aussie utility inks deal with Buffaloes
30 November 2016
A former Tampa Bay Rays prospect and long-time servant of Melbourne Aces, Darryl George has signed an exciting contract with Orix Buffaloes, one of six clubs in Nippon Professional Baseball Pacific League – one of the competing two leagues in Japanese professional baseball.
Having played with Niigata Albirex in the independent semi-professional Baseball Challenge League for the 2016 season, George clearly stamped an impression on the Buffaloes, who have taken him on board as a development player for the 2017 season.
While the versatile and unassuming Victorian retains a balanced view of his prospects in the premier Asian league, he will join an organisation that boasts many outstanding baseball players among its alumni – including MLB outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and Sydney Blue Sox hurler Koo Dae-Sung.
Surprisingly released by Tampa Bay in late 2014 – after relatively minor hand surgery – Darryl George was quickly back on the bike to refocus on his baseball commitments at home, including club ball with Werribee Giants and a five-year career with Melbourne Aces, where he has played 180 games since starting in the 2011-12 season.
Playing the 2016 season with Niigata Albirex in the Japanese Baseball Challenge League, Darryl George experienced plenty of varied onfield time during the 72-game campaign – following in the footsteps of a string of other Australians such as Brisbane Bandits superstar Ryan Searle with the Ishikawa Million Stars in 2015.
Playing a number of defensive positions, George was exposed to a somewhat different style of baseball whilst immersing himself off-field in local cultural and Japanese life.
“It was a pretty enjoyable season this year,” Darryl George told Australian Baseball Alumni in transit for home earlier this week. “I used it as an opportunity to see new parts of the country and to experience more of the Japanese culture.”
“I spent the majority of the baseball season at shortstop, then towards the end split playing time between the outfield and infield.”
“People often ask, but it is hard to compare Japanese baseball to a specific level elsewhere – like to Australian Baseball League or to the professional ball that I played in United States,” he said. “It is a uniquely Japanese brand of baseball with a lot more off-speed and a lot more small ball. It is just a different dynamic.”
“In the Baseball Challenge League I noticed only a couple of teams had real depth in their pitching staff,” George said. “Some days you’ll face a plus arm and the next is a guy who is low to mid-eighties.”
Darryl George with Niigata Albirex
Clearly Darryl George did enough to impress personnel at NPB Orix Buffaloes, which historically boasts some big names that have come through the system – like hitting machine Ichiro and Sydney Blue Sox pitcher Koo Dae-Sung. The Pacific League and the Central League compete at the highest level of baseball in Japan and are fully professional within Nippon Professional Baseball.
After completing an extended tryout at Orix Autumn Camp in November, positive negotiations with the club resulted in George signing on as what the Buffaloes website describes as “a breeding athlete”. While that might conjure up all sorts of connotations, in simple translation it is one who has been taken on as a club development player for an arduous 144-game season that runs from late March through to October.
“Relatively speaking, being a young foreign player – for me – is basically next year about getting my foot in the door of the NPB,” he explained. “It means I’ll be training a lot and attempting to break into the 70-man roster.”
“I’m unsure about game time but I won’t be losing any sleep over it,” George said. “Things like that are out of my control. I’ll just focus on taking it – as they say - one day at a time.”
“Spring training will be starting 1 February. I’m unsure what the minor schedule will be like, but usually after that season there is also the Phoenix League (Instructs) and then Autumn Camp for the younger guys later in the year.”
Having already spent time living in Japan as a baseball player, Darryl George expects to have no issues in re-acclimatisation when he heads back to take up this exciting opportunity with Orix Buffaloes.
“It was challenging over there at first, but you adapt to the language and pick up things pretty quickly,” he said. “The food is amazing and people in general are extremely kind. Having spoken a lot with a few guys from Melbourne who have played in Japan previously – especially Justin Huber and Micheal Nakamura - meant I had a vague idea of what I was getting into.”
“And also I think having a couple of other Aussies (David Kandilas, Steven Chambers and Boss Moanaroa) in Niigata with me when I first started definitely eased the transition too.”
Still only twenty-three but already a veteran for Melbourne Aces, George expects to return to Australian Baseball League this summer and potentially do well enough for higher honours as a national representative.
“I’ll be suiting up for the Aces after a brief break,” he said. “There’s a great bunch of guys down there, so it should be a lot of fun. I haven’t been given a specific report date yet, so that remains to be seen.”
“As far as the World Baseball Classic goes, I would certainly be eligible to play if I happened to be selected. But there are plenty of great players who will be available for the team, so I am not holding my breath.”
Australian Baseball Alumni congratulates Darryl George in securing a wonderfully exciting opportunity with Orix Buffaloes. We thank him for his assistance in the preparation of this story and we wish him all the very best for what his baseball future may bring.
Darryl George with Melbourne Aces