ABL UMPIRE “TAKA” MAKING HIS WAY IN JAPAN
Umpire Matsuda and Bandits’ Maestri housemates in Kagawa
Takahito Matsuda served as one of the Australian Baseball League’s umpires in 2011/12.
It’s a small world after all.
After living together with the same host family in Brisbane, Italian import and Bandits’ ace Alex Maestri and Takahito ‘Taka’ Matsuda, an Australian Baseball League umpire from Japan, once again find themselves sharing living quarters, this time several thousand miles away.
Before even making it to Japan to play for the Kagawa Olive Guyners in the Shikoku Island League this season, Maestri received a picture of himself in the Guyners uniform, courtesy of Taka. The native of Japan had already arrived at the ballpark in Japan for his umpiring duties and retrieved a roster of his host brother’s team, sharing the photo in eager anticipation of Maestri’s arrival. The two have now been reunited, the 26-year-old pitcher making it to Kagawa a couple of weeks ago. They are both staying in the same dormitory-style building where many of Maestri’s teammates and a few coaches also live.
Upon the arrival of the Italian Stallion, the umpire immediately lent a helping hand to the pitcher he shared a house with down under. “Taka took me out one night and he helped me out when I was trying to sort out my Internet issues,” Maestri said. “And he actually gave me his microwave because they had an extra one, so that was really nice of him. But we only hung out the one day.” Matsuda also quickly became a friendly and familiar face for Maestri to see every time the hurler heads to work for the Guyners. The Italian right-hander was immediately amazed by the amount of effort put in by the guys calling games, despite having seen Taka come out to Bandits practices to umpire bullpen sessions during the ABL season. “I see him every day at the ballpark,” Maestri said. “The umpires go to the field every day and they just practice. It’s pretty intense.
You might not believe it but the umpires actually practice every single day. When we have our practices, they’re working on their outs and safes and the steps they have to take. It’s pretty funny.” A friendship between a closing pitcher and an umpire in a relatively small baseball league could be a recipe for disaster, but it doesn’t seem that way with the standard of work ethic in Japan. On Saturday night, Maestri came in to finish out a game for his team and Taka happened to be the umpire behind the plate, but the man on the mound didn’t get any favours from his friend. “I only threw five pitches,” Maestri said. “I threw a fastball and it was low and in. It was a good pitch, but he didn’t call it. I don’t think he called it the whole game.” Taka has managed to assist the righty in other ways. “He helps me out with some of the rules here,” Maestri said. “He always reminds me that when pitchers come set with men on base, they often call balks here. You actually have to come to a full stop and hang out on the mound for five full seconds or else they call it a balk. So he always reminds me of that.
“If a pitcher comes set and he actually stops and counts one, two, and then throws, that’s a balk. They called a balk on me a couple of times when I first got here to Japan. So now I come set and I count all the way to five and then I throw it. But I actually have to count it out in my mind.” Maestri will lose his former roommate and umpiring friend in June, when Matsuda heads overseas to America to continue his career in professional baseball. After spending two seasons in the ABL and attending the Jim Evans Academy for Professional Umpiring earlier this year, Taka was offered, and accepted, a position for the North American summer.