JAPAN - Young players such as rookie pitcher Yuki Matsui of the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles will be receiving a lot of attention on Friday as Nippon Pro Baseball's (NPB) season opens. But don't forget about the old-timers - 48-year-old Masa Yamamoto, the oldest NPB player, and other 40-somethings are ambitiously preparing to battle for their share of the spotlight.
Yamamoto started spring camp as a member of the Chunichi Dragons' farm team in February. One day as the lefty took part in fielding practice with rookies, a coach shouted, "Hey, step it up, you 18-year-olds-and you 48-year-old!"
Yamamoto said he does not care that much about the 30-year gap between himself and the youngest players. "It keeps me fresh mentally," the veteran, who looked light on his feet in the practice, said about working alongside teenagers.
Last year, Yamamoto picked up five victories on the mound, extending his record as the oldest starting pitcher to post a win at 48 years old. If he wins a game this season, he will become the oldest winning pitcher-including relievers-breaking the record of former Hankyu Braves, now known as the Orix Buffaloes, pitcher Shinji Hamazaki, who earned a victory at 48 years 4 months.
"The reason why I continue playing baseball is to win games, so [breaking the record] is not my goal. If that ends up being something that happens along the way, then so be it," said Yamamoto, who has finished as the Central League's leader in wins three times in his career.
"I won't say I don't care about breaking the record, but if I think too much about it, I can't go out and perform," he added.
The Dragons finished in fourth place in the CL last season, missing out on a top-three spot for the first time in 12 years. Yamamoto said he gained inspiration from watching the Japan Series and World Series on TV.
"I'm working to help my team get to the big stage like that."