EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Sports

May 24, 2007

Pride have their own answer for Dice-K

NASHUA | Just when it looked like a certain major league dealership on Lansdowne Street had cornered the Japanese import market, another outfit an hour north has responded.

Welcome to the Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball, Messrs. Hideki Nagasaka and Akira Okamoto.

They're a pair of Japanese pitchers who the Nashua Pride are hoping will pay similar dividends already realized by the Red Sox. Boston's offseason Far East shopping spree netted a pair of stars in starter Daisuke Matsuzaka and surprising lefty reliever Hideki Okajima.

Back for his eighth season on the top step of the dugout at Holman Stadium, former Red Sox manager and third baseman Butch Hobson will hand the ball to Okamoto tonight when the Pride open their 10th season against the North Shore Spirit. Much like his front office, it's clear that Hobson is enjoying the buzz the Asian duo has brought to his team.

"It has been a lot of fun," said Hobson before sending Nagasaki out for an inning of work Tuesday in an exhibition game against a team of New Hampshire college all-stars.

"They've both fit in very well and I'm really enjoying it. They're just a lot of fun to be around, and they've been working hard."

With the continued globalization of baseball, Hobson is not surprised to see the trend trickle down to the Can Am League.

"I guess it's probably predictable," said Hobson. "That's the way the game is headed. It has happened here, and it you will probably see more of it in the future."

Shortly after Boston landed Matsuzaka last winter, the Pride's vice president of baseball operations, Chris Hall, hammered out a deal with Okamoto's New York-based agent, Ken Ito, to bring to Nashua the veteran pitcher, who spent eight seasons in the same Japan Pacific League where Dice-K flourished.

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