Baseball: Japanese star helping grow NZ game

Watching the New Zealand Diamondblacks play in the 2012 World Baseball Classic in Taiwan and seeing the enjoyment they got out of the game was enough to convince former Japanese Samurai pitcher Naoyuki Shimizu to decide he would like to assist in the construction of the nation's fledgling baseball program.

Shimizu last year moved his family to the North Shore in Auckland after travelling back and forth between Auckland and Japan for over a year, and he says he knows it was the right decision.

"My family are settling in very well in New Zealand and have made many new friends through baseball and of course it is a beautiful country," said the award winning right hander.

The 41-year-old was drafted by the Chiba Lotte Marines in the Japanese Professional League (NPB) in 2000, playing for controversial American manager Bobby Valentine for most of these years, and then moved to his final team, the Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars in 2009, playing his last games in 2012.

He is now the assistant general manager for the national body, as well as pitching coach for the New Zealand Diamondblacks in Sydney for the World Baseball Classic Qualifier (WBCQ) starting on Thursday.

"I could see the passion the New Zealand players showed when playing in the last WBC tournament and believed that this developing program could benefit from my assistance," said Shimizu, who adds that he has seen "vast improvements in how New Zealanders play the game in the 18 months or so I've been helping and with their natural athletic ability, can improve even more in a short space of time."

The Diamondblacks played their first warm up game on Monday, prior to the tournament starting and Shimizu said he was happy with what he saw of his young staff. "Even though we conceded a few runs, I was very impressed by the fact that none of the pitchers gave up and kept going.

"New Zealanders are well known for giving it their all right to the end and I saw that in their eyes yesterday," added the former Olympic bronze medallist.

Now that his family are settled in Auckland, Shimizu said: "We're here for the long term in this country and plan on staying a minimum of five years to make sure the pitching stocks in this country rise and the not only the national teams but the game as a whole takes the next step."

It has also been confirmed in the last 24 hours that the Diamondblacks games in Australia will be screened live on one of Sky TV's American sports channels ESPN2, with game one against South Africa starting at 3.00pm NZ time on Thursday.

- NZ Herald

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