George on a mission to make NPB Majors
3 July 2017
Former Tampa Bay professional and long-time Melbourne Aces utility Darryl George will be especially hard at it over the next four weeks in an effort to be added to the Orix Buffaloes Major League roster in the Nippon Professional Baseball Pacific League – one of the two competing associations in Japanese professional baseball.
Having played with Niigata Albirex in the Japanese independent semi-professional Baseball Challenge League during 2016, George attended the Orix Autumn Camp last November and clearly stamped an impression on the organisation, which earlier this year took him on board as a development player for the 2017 season.
With the NPB season running from late March through to November, the popular Victorian has embraced the opportunity with the Buffaloes as he strives to make the transition from development status to a spot on the prestigious 70-man roster.
While the versatile Darryl George retains a realistic view of his prospects in the premier Asian league, the opportunity to be a part of the Orix Buffaloes organisation is one that he has cherished since being released by Tampa Bay in late 2014 and spending an acclimatisation season in Japan with the Challenge League.
“I am among half a dozen players currently on the Orix Player Development roster,” George told Australian Baseball Alumni this week.
“1 August is the deadline for when development players can be promoted to the 70-man roster. Once on the 70-man you can be called up to the Major League NPB team, so that is definitely what I am aiming for, even though my uniform number – 120 – suggests there is still a way to go.”
“Being a development player still means that I can play in Minor League games, which has been a great experience in itself,” he said. “Orix has only a Major and Minor team, although some organisations have a third team especially for their development players.”
Already accustomed to the rigours of professional baseball after four seasons with Tampa Bay, George has tackled the training commitments with enthusiasm and has reaped the benefits in game-day performances with the Buffaloes development team.
“Training is pretty ridiculous volume-wise in the Minors up here,” he said. “We’ll start the day around 8.30 AM and play at 1.00 PM. That is followed by more practice – during home game schedules – and we won’t finish up until 5.30.”
“Sometimes you will work out in the gym after that – so it is basically a ten to twelve hour day.”
“For most of the season I’ve been leading the team in extra base hits and in RBIs," he said. "I was also up there with batting average until a recent little slump. I had been starting a lot, but if I made any mistakes I would be out of the line-up for a few days.”
“Fortunately I have only made one error, but I misread a sign when base running and as a result didn’t play for several days.”
On the standard of play and the style of baseball played in the NPB Minors compared with the Australian Baseball League, say, George describes the situation simply as “different” – including the fields, mounds, all-dirt infields and the like.
“I'd say that the speed of the average player is much higher than the ABL,” he said. “Guys are out of the box quick and can move. Pitching is fairly decent quality in my division, and we are usually facing guys who are high 80s and low 90s with the closers usually mid 90s. Forkballs are thrown often. So are the slow, loopy curve balls.”
“They definitely place emphasis on advancing baserunners in any way possible. So bunting is almost expected in every situation where there is a runner on with none out.”
“They also have a billion signs on offence and defence.”
“As I mentioned, clubs place a large emphasis on practice too. The volume is immense and I honestly believe they put a higher premium on practice than they do the game. If you lost it’s because you didn't practice enough is the general sense that I get.”
“Crowds are pretty good at some stadiums,” he said, “although the minor league teams are owned by the major league team, so there is no need for them to rely on revenue to keep afloat. The development squad is just a farm team for the big leagues - not necessarily a business, like it is in the US Minors.”
“All the same, all NPB players - both major and minor - have quite a popular following. Often if a cab driver knows I'm a player he'll stop running the meter before i get to my destination or round off the bill to the lowest ten bucks. Little things like that are a common occurrence!”
"It's such a different world here, though - I wish I could articulate it better."
Although there are some clear language challenges and cultural differences to which Darryl George has needed to adapt, he is accepting of the structure and the disciplines while certainly enjoying his off-field immersion in Japanese lifestyle.
“Nobody really speaks English very well around the organisation, so having an interpreter is necessary,” he said. “I speak enough Japanese to understand everything - most things, anyhow - but I still get shadowed by an interpreter throughout the day.”
“All of the staff and players are very welcoming and outgoing but – as I said – when you make mistakes they come down hard on you. The Japanese are fond of negative reinforcement, especially in professional baseball,” he quipped.
“There are lot of positives about the experience over here. One of them is that we get to travel everywhere by bullet train – in suits. So I am seeing plenty of the country. Places like Hiroshima and Nagoya. Osaka itself is a great city to live in and has a few cool places to hang out,” he said.
“Mondays we have off, so we get a chance to not only recover but also do tourist stuff. I love the food here – plenty of seafood and rice - although I can see how some people may be put off by it.”
Aware of rumours around possible expansion of the Australian Baseball League for the 2017/18 season, Darryl George – a favourite with the Melbourne fan base - is looking forward to extending his career in our national competition if the opportunity presents itself.
“I have heard some really exciting rumours about developments back home and I have already had some contact with Melbourne Aces staff,” he said. “I would definitely love to be involved in the league again. We will just have to see how things play out with Orix for the rest of this season.”
Australian Baseball Alumni extends its thanks to Darryl George for assisting us with this update on his progress with Orix Buffaloes. We will certainly keep an eye on his baseball fortunes and we wish him all the very best for his future in Nippon Professional Baseball.