In becoming the first Japanese pro baseball player to attempt a switch to professional cricket, Shogo Kimura, has already become a footnote in sports history.
But will the veteran utility infielder's quest ever become more than just an anecdote? Will he become a true trailblazer for others to follow? The opinions of people thoroughly grounded in both sports are mixed.
(Photo Courtesy of Rui Hirano)
Because Australia produces both world class cricketers and major league baseball players, former Australia national baseball manager John Deeble, a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has seen his share of players attempting to switch. He told Kyodo News an elite baseball player will have some advantages when moving to cricket.
"He'll be able to field better than them, he'll be able to run quicker than them, he'll be able to throw better than them, then it comes down to hitting that bloody ball," Deeble said recently by phone.
Anthony Winston, a former high-performance coach for the Japan Cricket Association, played corporate league baseball in Japan. He figures Kimura will be able to master the intricacies of playing balls bouncing at him from unpredictable angles and trajectories.
"That's coachable," Winston said. "It all depends on how switched on the player is, how coachable they are."
Both of those signs seem to be positive for Kimura, who is doing everything in his power to get used to the heavier, differently balanced cricket bat, not to mention the completely foreign swing mechanics.
"It's about getting used to the bat," said Kimura, who will turn 38 in April and played pro baseball for 15 seasons. "To do that, I swing. I keep a cricket bat at home and swing it in front of a mirror and outside."
(Photo Courtesy of Shogo Kimura)
"My body was tuned to baseball, but from now I'm trying to tune myself toward cricket, (to become) a person for whom the cricket bat is natural. To achieve that, I've been playing around, holding it from the other end, learning how it balances, how it's different. I want to get in against real bowlers in a real game. I am so looking forward to that because it's different from what I've experienced up to this point."
Kimura, who will be 38 on April 18, took on this challenge that was conceived, not by cricketers in search of a new star, but by Japanese pro baseball's union as a potential new path for ballplayers at the end of their careers.
"The thought occurred to us when we were in Sri Lanka for the opening ceremony of a baseball field," said Tadahito Mori, the executive director of the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association. "We saw the cricket there and saw the passion for it. And we began thinking that as a bat and ball sport there may be some skills that will transfer."
"A second career after baseball is a big concern for players. Most players want to stay in the game in some capacity, but the more options the better. We have had success with baseball players going into keirin (cycling) and have been pushing rugby sevens, too. If a baseball player can succeed in cricket that will be another option."
Mori said that in 2016, he broached the idea with the Japan Cricket Association, now based in Sano, Tochigi Prefecture, just outside Tokyo.
Cricket is still a niche sport in Japan, with the cricket association reporting 2,630 registered players as of 2016, and because the JCA's desire to broaden its base coincided with the players union's need to find alternatives for baseball players, a plan was hatched.
The JCA previously had success with a female softball player from Sano, Chihiro Sakamoto, who became Japan's top run-scorer at the 2016 Asian Games, according to the body's CEO, Naoki Alex Miyaji.
"When Mori-san came along, that was very exciting. This was another level from having a local Sano girl. This is (the idea of) a professional athlete converting to cricket," Miyaji said.
"The men's game is played at a much higher level and is so deep. It's a huge challenge, but it's still something that's worth giving a go. As long as the player is willing, we'll support it."
(Photo Courtesy of Shogo Kimura)
Miyaji believes Kimura's future is in the popular hard-hitting, big-swinging, fast-paced Twenty-20, the format of cricket that has recently gained huge popularity among players and fans, particularly in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
"That's where the money is, and the tournaments are so short that you can knock on the door of many leagues at the same time," Miyaji said. "You can go to Australia in September to see if you can get a place in the season. There are so many leagues that if you knock on the door at one league and don't make it, that's not it for the year. You can go somewhere else."
"In Shogo's case, he'll really be a good fielder and let's see if he can transfer his batting skills."
Kevin Hooker, an Australian who scouts for the Detroit Tigers, agreed Twenty-20 was probably the way to go for Kimura, but also said that the mentality of becoming a target of hard bouncing, swinging balls delivered from height by fast bowlers could be just as demanding as the physical adjustments.
"In baseball, you might get hit with a pitch six times a year, whereas in cricket you could get hit six times in an inning," Hooker said. "He's going to have to learn how to hook and pull the ball (across his body) when it's coming right at him and before it hits him."
"There are definitely adjustments he'll have to make, but I'm looking forward to seeing how he does."