Sakamoto Aims To Drive Yomiuri, Samurai Japan

Sakamoto aims to drive Yomiuri, Samurai JapanIn his third year as the Yomiuri Giants’ captain, Hayato Sakamoto is now at ease in his actions as the leader.
“All right, let’s go,” Sakamoto shouted as he energetically raced up the stairs at Kirishima Sunmarine Stadium Miyazaki on Feb. 2 at the head of a line of players. Thirteen teammates, mostly inexperienced players, repeatedly dashed up and down the stairs in the right wing of the stadium. They followed Sakamoto as if they were propelled by the captain, who wore a confident look as he worked out.

The 28-year-old kept vigorously training after that as well, including special fielding practice and batting practice, helping to keep everyone’s spirits high.

Sakamoto uses a lot of new ideas in his practices. To refine his batting ability, which bloomed last season, he brought a bat 4 centimeters longer than his usual ones to the Giants’ training camp. Using this special bat, he intends to hit balls mostly to center and right field.

“If you don’t swing the bat from a position close to your body, you can’t drive the ball far,” Sakamoto explained. He aims to work on a compact swing until his body reacts instinctively while using the unfamiliar bat.

Giants manager Yoshinobu Takahashi watched the team captain attentively, but he was not the only person observing Sakamoto. Samurai Japan skipper Hiroki Kokubo was also there, visiting the stadium that day in preparation for the World Baseball Classic, which starts March 6. Kokubo expects Sakamoto to play a key role both at the plate and in the field.

Last season, just his second year as team captain, Sakamoto struggled to pull the team together, but never broke his concentration — even in the losses — and continued to lead by example with a strong work ethic. While making an effort on the leadership front, Sakamoto won the Central League batting title and a Golden Glove Award, both first-time honors for him.

“I felt that he was pivotal both on the field and on the bench,” said Takahashi, acknowledging how much Sakamoto has grown.

Kokubo also highly values Sakamoto’s abilities and leadership. After his visit, he told reporters he expected Sakamoto to be a key player for Samurai Japan, saying: “I hope he becomes the driving force of the team as the linchpin of the infield. I want him to swing away as a member of the Samurai team.”

The national team training camp is scheduled to start on Feb. 23.

“I want to show my best, and hope it will bolster the team,” Sakamoto said. Even for games on the big stage for the world title, he will not change his stance of standing at the forefront of the team.

Resolutions on ema tablet

The first day of Giants training camp on Feb. 1, the players visited Aoshima Jinja shrine near their accommodations, as has become a team tradition. The players noted their resolutions for the new season on wooden ema tablets, with Sakamoto writing, “The No. 1 team in the world, the No. 1 team in Japan and 100 RBIs.”

Sakamoto’s first hitting title also came with 75 RBIs — his second highest following 85 RBIs in 2010.

“I will be better in every aspect this year than last year,” he said.

Coming early and staying late every day during the training camp, he is aggressive in his preparation for the new season.