The 2020 decision

The news arrived at 5:20 a.m. Japan time. And it’ll be a memory etched in the minds of millions here for decades to come. Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics, doing so for the first time since 1964.

Waking up at 4:30 a.m. for a monumental news announcement is never a typical way to start the day. But that was the case on Sunday. (Or staying up all night was the alternative many people chose, and had party to kill the time.)

For Filip Bondy, who has reported on the Olympics for decades, the decision to award the 2020 Games to Tokyo was a fairly simple decision to grasp.

“Tokyo is simply a safe political and economic bet and I think these officials are tired of taking chances,” Bondy, whose stories appear in the New York Daily News, wrote in an email.

For a rundown on other pundits’ reaction to Tokyo’s winning bid, here’s my latest story in The Japan Times:


Legacy of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics

As a followup to a story I wrote for Sports On Earth, here’s a look at what has been accomplished with surplus cash from the 1984 Summer Games.

“The $234 million surplus of the 1984 Olympic Games created a human legacy that endures 30 years later,” said Anita L. DeFrantz, president of the LA84 Foundation. “The USOC received 60 percent of the surplus and invested it in elite athlete development. Southern California used the remaining surplus and to create the LA84 Foundation. The Foundation has invested more than $214 in Southern California sports, making grants to 1,100 youth sports organizations serving 3 million young people.

“We’re now starting to see the second generation of benefit as young adults who participated in Foundation-funded programs move into coaching, administrative and volunteer roles in youth sport. And, of course, the millions of people who were touched by experiencing the Games in 1984 keep the Olympic spirit alive by continuing to tell their stories.”

The following Sports One Earth feature examines the legacy of the 1984 Games and the 1964 Tokyo Games before the IOC members vote for the 2020 host city on Saturday night in Buenos Aires (Sunday morning in Tokyo)

Sports On Earth feature:

Recent Olympic-related stories

Olympic history, Olympians, Olympic bids — you name it — is all fascinating stuff, I think.

Here are a few of my articles related to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic bid.

Billy Mills looks back at the 1964 Games and how that experience shaped his life.

Revisiting what was reported in 1959, when Tokyo won the bid for the 1964 Olympics.

My analysis of the 2020 IOC Evaluation Commission Report.

Students in Japan’s foreign community get involved in promoting Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic bid.

A series of stories on … Anthony Famiglietti

Steeplechaser Anthony Famiglietti is one of the most compelling Olympians I’ve gotten a chance to speak to on a number of occasions.

He’s a true original with his own style on and off the track.

These stories, written during my time at the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff (2001-06) show a glimpse of that one-of-a-kind personality, and the competitive mind-set of an aspiring Olympian, and the insights of one after reaching that goal and pushing to get back.

Steeplechase artistry — June 2003

House of Runners – May 2004

A dream fulfilled – August 2004

Chasing their dreams – April 2005

Grapefruit League flashback: Montreal Expos notebook

Rafu contributor
JUPITER, Fla. (March 27, 2000)– Two unheralded Japanese ballplayers are working their way up the Montreal Expos organization and hope to join established pro Hideki Irabu in the big leagues

Yuji Nerei, a 26-year-old infielder, and Kazuma Mori, a 24-year-old pitcher from Hiroshima are currently taking part in training camp.

Nerei graduated with a law degree from Tokyo’s University of Hosei last spring. But he wasn’t ready to begin a career as an attorney. Instead, Nerei’s athletic aspirations took over.

“American baseball is very different than (the style) in Japan,” he said. “The playing style is very different, but I like it here. Yeah, it’s difficult for me, but I’m getting used to it.”

Nerei arrived at Florida’s Play Ball Baseball Academy on Jan. 30. He spent a month there and while doing so he gained the attention of the Expos and was signed to a free-agent contract.

Fred Ferreira, vice president and director of international operations for the Expos, said he’s impressed with Nerei’s batting ability.

“He hits a double every game,” Ferreira said with a smile.

Nerei, sporting No. 43 at spring training, has already been assured of a solid spot within the organization.

“He’s put on a good show and he went right to Triple-A (training group); but whether he stays there or not it’s too early to determine,” Ferreira said.

Nerei’s spring statistics were unavailable at press time. However, the left-handed hitting first baseman/outfielder is slated to be on the opening-day roster of the Ottawa Lynx on April 6.

“Yeah, I was surprised,” Nerei said of being placed on Ottawa’s roster

And he has a chance to make history. Veteran third baseman Hiromi Matsunaga was at the Oakland Athletics’ Cactus League training complex. Since the A’s didn’t have a roster spot for Matsunaga, he retired. Nowadays, he’s working as a sports commentator in Japan.
In short, Nerei said he’s excited about the opportunity to become the first Japanese-born infielder in the major leagues.

“I’ll try (to get to Montreal), and of course I’ll work hard. But I have to learn American baseball. I need more experience,” he said.

“I’m very close to the majors so I’m very excited. I just want to keep going.”

Legendary slugger Sadaharu Oh is one of Nerei’s heroes, but current superstar Ken Griffey Jr. also impresses him.

“I like Griffey’s batting style,” Nerei said. “It looks easy.”

After his playing days are over, Nerei said his goal is to manage his alma mater Hosei, which plays in the Tokyo University League.

“It’s very famous for baseball,” he said proudly.

Meanwhile, Mori has spent the past several weeks rehabilitating his sore right-pitching arm.

Mori, a Hiroshima native, was signed as a non-drafted free agent by Ferreira last May. Mori appeared in three games for the Jupiter Hammerheads of the Class-A Florida State League and was 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA in 3.2 innings. He walked two and struck out two. His ailing right arm limited his availability last summer and kept him out of action from mid-July until the end of the season.

Mori is vigorously working to get his arm ready for the upcoming season, according to Don Reynolds, Montreal’s director of player development.

“His work ethic is outstanding,” Reynolds said. “His commitment to the game is something that seems to be above and beyond (what’s expected.”

Because Mori hasn’t pitched yet this spring Reynolds said it’s too early to decide at what level Mori will play this season.

“I’m still at the point where I’m trying to take a look at him and see who he is,” Reynolds said. “I guess we (the Expos) are really conservative when it comes to arms and arm injuries.”

Although his American playing time has been quite limited, Reynolds said the organization likes what it sees in Mori.

“He’s a guy with good arm strength. He has very good command of his pitches and he seems to be a very knowledgable pitcher.”

Pitcher Eiji Miyamoto will sign with the Expos in a few days, according to Ferreira. Then, he’s expected to begin the season at the Class-A level.

Grapefruit League flashback: Hideo Nomo article in March 2000

Here’s a story I filed for The Rafu Shimpo during spring training in March 2000.

Rafu contributor
Lakeland, Fla. (March 23, 2000) — After an injury-plagued 1998 season, Hideo Nomo re-emerged as one of baseball’s better power pitchers last season.

But it wasn’t an easy ride. In less than two months, Nomo was released by the New York Mets and then made three appearances with the Chicago Cubs’ Triple-A Iowa affiliate before joining the Milwaukee Brewers organization last May. And he had one tune-up start in Double-A Huntsville before joining the Brewers’ starting rotation. In Milwaukee, Nomo led the Brewers with 12 wins and 161 strikeouts. He also proved he still has the stamina to be a durable hurler, working into the seventh inning in 18 of 28 starts.

Now, new Detroit Tigers manager Phil Garner, Nomo’s skipper with the Brewers last season, expects Nomo to spearhead a youthful, perhaps unproven Tigers pitching staff.

*The last Tigers pitcher to strike out 200 batters in a season was All-Star Jack Morris, who accomplished the feat in 1986 and 1987.
*The last Tigers pitching staff to have a sub-4.00 ERA was in 1988 (3.71) when they went 88-74. For a little perspective…Nomo has a 3.82 ERA in 151 major league appearances.

Nomo has been named Detroit’s No. 1 starter, and he will be the team’s opening-day starter on April 3 against the host Oakland Athletics.

“I’ve been impressed with Nomo,” Garner said after a recent game at Joker Marchant Stadium. “He’s disciplined, he knows exactly what he’s doing and he’s really organized. He’s as competitive as they get. I really like him.”

Nomo’s off to a impressive start this spring, too. In three starts, Nomo over 12 innings, Nomo has held the opposition to a dismal .222 batting average. He has posted a 2.25 ERA, while walking seven and striking out eight.

“He pitched great for me last year,” Garner said. “He’s been a good pitcher his whole career, and with the exception of one year, he’s been above .500. And that’s hard to find. I expect him to do the same for us (this season).”

Dan Warthen, the Tigers pitching coach, agrees.

“He brings leadership to this baseball club. He brings a lot of winning and he brings a work ethic that these guys do respect,” Warthen said.

Warthen also feels Nomo has regained the arm strength that made him such an intimidating presence in the past.

“I’ve seen better stuff from him this year than I did last year or the year before,” Warthen said. “I think his arm’s stronger. The velocity is up and when his velocity is up, his best pitch — the split-fingered fastball — all is in order.”

This will not be Nomo’s first career opening-day start. During his highly successful five-year stint with the Kintetsu Buffaloes, he pitched on opening day four times.

Despite his impressive showing so far in Grapefruit League action, Nomo said he was surprised Garner made this decision.

“First of all, I have no experience with the Tigers,” Nomo said through an interpreter. “And second of all, I’ve only thrown three games with the Tigers in spring training. I didn’t expect the anouncement this early.”

When asked by a reporter if this could be his best season yet, Nomo simply replied, “I have no idea.”

However, he said he welcomes the challenge of being Detroit’s ace.

“I have more chances to pitch more games during the season,” he said. “So I hope to have good results.”

Nomo said he feels the elements are in place to have a successful season, especially the clubhouse atmosphere.

“The teammates, coaches, manager…everybody with the Tigers is very relaxed. I can concentrate better this spring,” he said.

According to Tigers hitting coach Bill Madlock, Nomo will be beneficial to the ballclub in more ways than one.

“I think he can make (reliever Masao) Kida more comfortable, and that’s one of the key things right there,” said Madlock, a four-time National League batting champion who played for the Lotte Orions in 1988.

“When I was in Japan I was the only American on the team. It was absolutely tough, almost impossible to relax and be comfortable with the situation.”

*Nomo became the fastest pitcher in major league history to reach 500 career strikeouts (444.2 innings) in 1997.
*Nomo and Dwight Gooden are the only pitchers to fan at least 200 batters in their first three big league seasons.

“Nomo will give you a solid start every time out. He’s the kind of guy you want out there in big games. He gets out of jams. He’s good for young pitchers. He’ll do nothing but have benefits for this club.” –Tigers bench coach Bob Melvin.

Grapefruit League flashback: Spring training feature on Hideki Irabu in March 2000

Here’s what I filed for The Rafu Shimpo in March 2000 while reporting from Florida from various spring training camps.

Rafu contributor
JUPITER, Fla. (March 27, 2000) — Like countless other ballclubs, the Montreal Expos needed reliable starting pitchers heading into the 2000 season. Indeed, Hideki Irabu is just one component of the Expos’ surprisingly sensational starting rotation that has turned heads so far during Grapefruit League action.

Irabu, 30, has had a brilliant spring, compiling a 3-0 record with a 1.59 ERA in four starts. He has struck out 17 batters and walked four in 17 innings of work while holding opposing hitters to a .172 batting average. (As a team, Montreal’s pitching staff posted a 3.05 ERA through March 25.)

Since being acquired by the Expos last December after a rocky, 2 1/2-year stint with the New York Yankees, Irabu has gained the respect of his coaches and teammates.

“First of all, he’s done everything we’ve asked of him and so far everything’s great,” Expos pitching coach Bobby Cuellar said. “He’s done all the work we’ve asked of him…He’s shown that he’s a good pitcher.”

Irabu’s also shown the past is history.

“I don’t have any problems with Hideki,” Cuellar said. “I don’t know who had problems. I don’t have any idea. That’s history. He already got paid for that year. This is a different year.”

Expos catcher Chris Widger said Irabu is a welcome addition to a young team. In fact, the Expos have only four players on their 40-man roster over 30: reliever Graeme Lloyd (32), infielder Mike Mordecai (32) and reliever Anthony Telford (34).

“He brings an established starter,” Widger said. “We don’t need to worry about trying to find another young guy to fill that spot. He’s a proven veteran who’s pitched in the big leagues for a number of years, and counting Japan, he’s been around for a long time.

“He knows how to pitch. He knows how to win. And he’s been on a winner, so hopefully he’ll bring that attitude to the team.

“He locates the fastball very well. He doesn’t get behind in count a lot, and he keeps the game moving. He gets balls in play a lot, and the defense likes to play behind him.”

Irabu said maintaining a winning attitude is his primary objective.

“I always think when I throw the baseball today I’m going to win, I have to win. Next time…same thing,” Irabu said through interpreter Go Ikeda.

According to Irabu, there’s less pressure to perform in Montreal but he still expects to have a solid season. However, he’s made only one goal for 2000: to pitch 200-plus innings.Montreal manager Felipe Alou, the 1994 National League Manager of the Year, has penciled in Irabu as the team’s No. 2 starter behind staff ace Dustin Hermanson.

Also joining Irabu in the starting rotation are Carl Pavano, Jeremy Powell and Javier Vazquez.

“It didn’t take me very long to realize he’s a No. 2 starter,” Alou said. “He’s a pitcher with experience and a good arm. He knows the trade well…He’s a professional guy. I’m impressed with his behavior on the mound. He’s a confident pitcher. He’s mature.”

Although he’s only been with his new teammates for a little over a month, Irabu believes the youthful pitching staff has plenty of potential.

“There are a lot of young pitchers, but everybody has power and good skills,” said Irabu, who had a 29-20 record with the Yanks. “It’s fun to watch them.

“I’m doing the best I can,” Irabu said. “Spring training’s been good and now I’m read to start (the regular season).”