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Sports

December 1, 2006

Hey, Japan, Boston's back

BOSTON - It was one word used in a press conference full of noteworthy sentences, but it carried far more weight than any of the other ones uttered.



"Re-establishing."



Craig Shipley, professional and international scouting director for the Red Sox, was the source of the word as well as key reason a collection of local and international media gathered in the Fenway Park interview room yesterday to welcome 30-year-old Japanese left-handed relief pitcher Hideki Okajima.



Shipley is also one of the people in the Red Sox organization admirably doing the "re-establishing."



Thanks in large part to two Australians, Shipley and Far East scouting coordinator Jon Deeble, not only had the Red Sox reeled in a potentially valued reliever for just $2.5 million over the next two seasons (and possibly a third, depending on a team option, which can be reached through performance incentives), but the acquisition signaled Boston was back in business when it comes to Japan.



"It has been tremendous," said Okajima's agent, Anthony Nakanishi, regarding the Red Sox's new presence in Japan. "Craig has spent a lot of time over there. He said he only made a couple of trips, but he was there for a long time. He's a great evaluator and a great communicator. They have rebuilt (the Red Sox's reputation)."




Sox general manager Theo Epstein stepping to the podium at the General Managers Meetings to claim the winning bid for the rights to negotiate with Japanese ace-in-waiting Daisuke Matsuzaka was the opening salvo of Boston's brand name being relaunched in the Far East. But seeing a successful Japanese League player don a blue Red Sox cap while holding up his white No. 40 jersey really brought the realization home.



Boston, which had lost its way - and respect - abroad thanks to some perceived unsavory maneuverings by the team's previous regime, has locked back into the flow of players that make up a increasingly influential Japanese pipeline to the major leagues.



"I don't want to get into what happened before, but I will say that the Red Sox have come in and really stepped it up," said Nakanishi, the Tokyo-born but United States-raised former independent league ballplayer. "Obviously, with the posting for Matsuzaka, they have become one of the most well-known teams in Japan. I know how they are now perceived, as one of the top clubs, which is well-financed and has a chance to win."



Okajima sat in between Epstein and Shipley with an interpreter at his side. The 12-year Japanese League veteran had played all but one year of his entire professional career with the Yomiuri Giants before joining the Nippon Ham Fighters last season. With the Ham Fighters, he played under American and former minor league manager Trey Hillman, notching a 2.14 ERA in 542/3 innings of relief, striking out 63 and walking 14.



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