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With Shohei Ohtani, MLB follows path forged by past Japanese stars



LOS ANGELES — Shohei Ohtani, dubbed the “Japanese Babe Ruth” because of his rare combination of pitching and hitting prowess, won his first game as an MLB pitcher last Sunday then smacked home runs in consecutive contests on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The 23-year-old Los Angeles Angel became the first player since Babe Ruth in 1921 to win a game as a starting pitcher and then hit a first-inning home run in a two-day span, according to the MLB, citing to the Elias Sports Bureau, the league’s official statistician.

There’s somebody who’s taken that path as a pitcher in Hideo, somebody who’s taken that path as a hitter in Ichiro. Shohei’s doing both.

There’s somebody who’s taken that path as a pitcher in Hideo, somebody who’s taken that path as a hitter in Ichiro. Shohei’s doing both.

But the path for Ohtani wasn’t paved by the Babe — it was cleared by a Tornado.

When Hideo Nomo first took the mound for the Los Angeles Dodgers in May 1995, baffling hitters and thrilling fans with his “Tornado” pitching wind-up, he became the first Japanese player to compete in Major League Baseball in 30 years.

Since 1965, when pitcher Masanori Murakami left the San Francisco Giants, both Major League Baseball and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league had respected each other’s player contracts fully. No Japanese players came over; a handful of American free agents played in Japan.

Angels pitcher Clyde Wright, who pitched in Japan from 1976 to 78, was teammates with Japanese Baseball Hall of Famers Sadaharu Oh and Isao Harimoto.

“It never came up, them wanting to come to the States,” Wright said. “They didn’t want to leave their hometowns.”

Nomo, however, longed to test his stuff against the best ballplayers in the world.

“It was Nomo’s dream to play in the big leagues,” Don Nomura told writers Larry Burke and Pete Fornatale in “Change Up: An Oral History of 8 Key Events That Shaped Modern Baseball.” “To be with the best.”

Nomura, acting as Nomo’s agent, took advantage of a loophole in the MLB/NPB agreement to import the 26-year-old pitcher to Los Angeles.

“We were all very anxious about how Hideo would do,” Koji Bonkobara, a journalist who has covered baseball in America for Japanese outlets since 1981, said.

Bonkobara noted that Nomo’s obstacles went beyond questions about his ability, “The MLB has a harder mound. The seams of the baseball are different. It can be very difficult to command the baseball.”

Nomo’s whirlwind success — he started the 1995 All-Star Game and won National League Rookie of the Year — ignited “Nomo-mania” in Los Angeles that summer, proving once and for all that Japanese ballplayers belonged on the world’s biggest stage.

“He definitely established a road for Japanese players to come over here,” current Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda said through his translator Will Ireton. “In that way, he had a tremendous impact for all of us, including myself.”

 Kenta Maeda #18 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws a pitch during the fourth inning of a game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on June 4, 2017 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Stacy Revere / Getty Images file

But while Nomo was creating a new reality for Japanese ballplayers on the field, the Dodgers were dealing with a new reality off it.

“When you’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done before, there’s a lot of interest,” Grace McNamee, the Dodgers’ Japanese media liaison from 1995 to 98, recalled. “The whole nation is focused on you.”

“When a Japanese star comes over here, 50 or 60 writers and photographers come with you,” Wright added, laughing.

“For the media that was covering Hideo, everything was a first. It was a first for the publicity department to accommodate that number of foreign media covering one player too. There was a huge learning curve for both of us,” acknowledged McNamee, who’s taken the same position with the Angels to handle the voracious demands on Ohtani.

 Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani (17) follows through on a three-run home run in his first ever regular season MLB at bat at Angel Stadium of Anaheim in the first inning as Cleveland Indians catcher Roberto Perez (55) and umpire Jim Reynolds (77) watch on Apr 3, 2018 in Anaheim, CA. Kirby Lee / USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

The Oakland A’s issued 240 media credentials to Japanese media alone for Ohtani’s pitching debut last Sunday in Oakland, according to a report.

McNamee recalled, regarding the learning curve with Nomo, “We’d hold mini-press conferences for Hideo. It’s like what we do with Ohtani. We’d take him into a room, so he’d have an opportunity to talk to all of the media. Because there was no way we could have that many people in the clubhouse surrounding him. “

In McNamee’s estimation, Japanese media numbers for Nomo were similar to those for Ohtani now.

“Media demands are different here. There’s no clubhouse access in Japan,” said Angels Vice President of Communications Tim Mead, who has seen it all, from Nomo to Ohtani, having been with the team since 1980. “The translator has become a bigger part of the game in recent years.”

He definitely established a road for Japanese players to come over here.

He definitely established a road for Japanese players to come over here.

Since Nomo though, Major League Baseball clubs have handled many Japanese superstars, chiefly the Seattle Mariners with right fielder Ichiro Suzuki and the New York Yankees with left fielder Hideki Matsui.

For the fans too, the sight of a Japanese star in the MLB isn’t as out of the ordinary as it used to be.

“Once you’ve seen something happen once or twice, it’s not as eye-opening,” Mead said. “The public doesn’t read that much into it anymore. There isn’t that wonderment to it.”

But that wonderment has returned with Ohtani, McNamee said. Not because he’s Japanese, but because he’s trying to become the first great two-way player in the majors since the legendary Ruth.

McNamee noted, “There’s somebody who’s taken that path as a pitcher in Hideo, somebody who’s taken that path as a hitter in Ichiro. Shohei’s doing both.”

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St Vincent volcano: Around 16,000 people flee communities after eruption of La Soufriere | World News



About 16,000 people have had to flee their ash-covered communities after a volcano erupted on the Caribbean island of St Vincent.

The eruption of La Soufriere on Friday has transformed the island’s usual lush towns and villages into a gloomy, grey landscape.

It was the 4,000-ft volcano’s first major eruption since 1979.

Thousands have had to flee their homes since the eruption
Thousands have had to flee their homes since the eruption

Thousands of residents have had to evacuate their homes and seek shelter with as many belongings as they could stuffed into suitcases and backpacks.

It comes after a strong sulphur smell was unavoidable on Saturday as ash blanketed large parts of the island.

There have been no reports of anyone being killed or injured by the initial blast or those that followed.

The volcano erupted on Friday
The volcano erupted on Friday
Roads on the island are covered in ash
Roads on the island are covered in ash

The had government ordered people to evacuate the most high-risk area around the volcano before the eruption after scientists warned that magma was moving close to the surface.

Government authorities delivered water, food and supplies to the shelters where many had fled to.

The island’s international airport remained blanketed in ash and smoke on Saturday making the runway barely visible.

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Western Australian towns evacuated after tropical cyclone barrels down with 100mph winds | World News



A tropical cyclone has hit the western coast of Australia with winds of more than 100mph (170km) and much of the area put on “red alert”.

A spokesman for the Bureau of Meteorology, Todd Smith, said cyclone Seroja was now at category two but had reached “category three cyclone intensity” with damaging winds which would continue into the night.

Emergency services opened shelters in preparation for the high winds and coastal flooding.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) said in a bulletin: “There is a possible threat to lives and homes.

A police officer stands amid the rubble of buildings during a search for victims at a flood-affected village in Ile Ape on Lembata Island, East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia, Thursday, April 8, 2021. Multiple disasters triggered by Tropical Cyclone Seroja in eastern Indonesia and neighboring East Timor have left a number of people dead or missing. (AP Photo/Ricko Wawo)
Tropical Cyclone Seroja caused a severe downpour in Indonesia a week ago, killing at least 174 people and leaving 48 still missing

“You need to take action and get ready to shelter.”

The DFES has so far put five coastal towns on “red alert”.

Some towns north of Perth were evacuated while sandbags were being made available to residents further down the coast.

A category three classification can see wind speeds of up to 170mph (224km).

After touching down on the north western town of Geraldton (124 miles/200km north of Perth) and dumping more than 10cm of rain in just two hours, tropical cyclone Seroja headed inland, lessening slightly in intensity.

However, officials were still braced for a “high degree of damage” to buildings in the area.

A spokesman for the Western Australia emergency services department explained that buildings were not constructed to withstand such strong winds in a region as it typically too far south to fall into the path of cyclones.

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Russia: Inside the Kremlin’s military build-up along the Ukraine border | World News



At the Maslovka railway station just south of the Russian city of Voronezh, there’s a small military camp, a few trucks and a tent.

The clearing in front is rutted thanks to the steady unloading of military equipment in recent weeks.

A soldier recognises us from the day before.

“Hello spies,” he said.

Rutted ground at the railway station at Maslovka, near Voronezh
The unloading of equipment at the railway station has left the ground rutted

Russia’s military build-up in Crimea and along the border with Ukraine has hardly been subtle.

It has coincided with the breakdown of the latest ceasefire in the simmering conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

More and more videos have appeared on social media of Russian troop movements – artillery convoys along the bridge connecting Russia with Crimea; trains loaded with weaponry coming from as far east as Siberia.

These sightings from ordinary Russians alongside warnings from Ukrainian generals preceded the Russian military’s announcement of exercises in the region and sent alarm bells ringing across Western capitals.

The kit unloaded at Maslovka is headed to a nearby training ground, which has been turned into a huge military field camp.

Magnay submitted - field camp near Voronezh
Russian forces have created a military field camp near the city of Voronezh

It stretches for around a mile and a half and backs right onto a neighbourhood of dachas, the weekend homes of mostly Voronezh city-folk who tell us the build-up began in late March.

We accidentally drive right in, though the soldiers make no effort to come after us.

There are a large number of military trucks, row after row of tents, troops milling about.

The sign at the entrance is one that most Russian conscripts remember from military service – “Difficult on exercise, easier in the fight”.

The site was first identified through open source methods by the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) in Moscow.

“It looks more like preparing for an offensive operation, not just to protect our land,” CIT’s Ruslan Leviev told us in Moscow.

But he does not believe it’s a prelude to war.

“It looks like a show of force to put pressure on the Ukrainian government, to show your posture on the international stage, to show your position to the new American administration.”

field camp near Voronezh
The military build-up has hardly been subtle

Locals pottering around their dachas hardly spare a thought for the military build-up next door.

“If Zelensky (the Ukrainian president) isn’t a fool, then nothing will happen. If he is a fool, anything could happen,” said Nina, a pensioner who we meet watering her garden.

“‘Anyway, it’s not him who decides things, it’s the Americans.”

She does not want to give her surname.

“I hope I haven’t revealed any military secrets,” she added.

“There are always exercises here, every summer,” said Yuri, a local guard.

“Stop all this talk of war.”

But there are not exercises on this scale.

Neither here nor elsewhere along Russia’s border with Ukraine.

field camp near Voronezh
Western calls to de-escalate the situation appear to have been ignored

Not since the annexation of Crimea has Russia beefed up its presence there to this extent, re-deploying an air brigade from near the Estonian border and sending 10 naval vessels from the Caspian to reinforce the Black Sea fleet.

In response, the US has announced it will send two warships into the Black Sea.

The German chancellor asked Vladimir Putin this week to wind down the military build-up.

This Sunday after consultations with his US counterpart, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted the same.

It does not appear to be happening.

The Russian position is clear. What happens on Russian soil is Russia’s business.

It is hard to argue with that.

But ostentatious muscle-flexing around Ukraine is not an option for the West to ignore – the stakes are too high, they are for all involved.

Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky may clamour for fast-track NATO membership but he will not get it.

For all their loud protestations over NATO’s possible eastward-creep, the Kremlin knows that.

US President Joe Biden may declare his unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and integrity but he will be wary of walking anywhere near potential conflict with Russia.

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Ukraine president visits Donbas region amid tensions

And surrounded as he is by Russian forces, president Zelensky knows re-taking the country’s eastern Donbas region, parts of which are held by separatists, is wishful thinking as is any large-scale fight with his powerful neighbour to the East.

It is of course hard to know what Russia is playing at but they seem to be eyeing the long game.

Coercive diplomacy to extract concessions in negotiations on Donbas, a powerful display of military muscle for the new US administration to take note of while the de facto annexation of the separatist regions of Ukraine chugs along apace.

field camp near Voronezh
Russia seem to be eyeing the long game

According to Russian state news agency Ria Novosti, 420,000 people in the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics have already received Russian passports.

Russia is aiming for one million by parliamentary elections this September.

“It’s unifying their legislation with the Russian one, it’s providing them with the Russian vaccine, it’s providing them with passports. It doesn’t mean Russia wants to annex them,” said Maxim Samorukov from the Moscow Carnegie Institute.

“At least in the near future,” he added.

It also provides quite the justification for full-scale intervention should Russia’s calculus change.

field camp near Voronezh
The Kremlin is sending a message to Ukraine and the wider international community

President Putin has said allowing Ukrainian troops along Russia’s border with the separatist regions could lead to a Srebrenica-type massacre – the 1995 genocide of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serb forces.

Dmitry Kozak, Russia’s representative in negotiations on Ukraine, has threatened that a Ukrainian assault on Donbas would be a ‘”self-inflicted gunshot wound in the foot and to the head”.

“If the Srebrenica massacre takes place there, we will have to stand up for their defence,” he said.

Sharp rhetoric to match an aggressive display of military might.

All in the interests of deterrence? Perhaps.

But also an indication that eight years of sanctions has hardly served to deter Russia from at the very least flexing its muscles, if not more.

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