Winfield's legend is alive and well in Japan
Hall of Famer, representing MLBPA during All-Star Series, is a huge draw with fans
NAHA, Japan -- At 6-foot-6 and still strongly built at age 63, Hall of Famer Dave Winfield cut a conspicuous figure this month in Japan. When he emerged from hotel lobbies or team buses as a Players Association representative on Major League Baseball's Japan All-Star Series, fans recognized him quicker than they did many of the current players. They clamored for pictures and autographs.
"They were after me," Winfield said, laughing. "It's good to be known."
Winfield never made the trip to Japan on any of MLB's All-Star Series in his playing days, but he helped run clinics here as far back as the 1980s. He used this seven-game showcase as an opportunity to get to know the players he serves while revisiting a culture he respects.
The Japanese style of hitting may differ from his own strengths -- namely, swing-for-the-fences power -- as a player. But that does not diminish Winfield's admiration.
"I've seen them play for many years," Winfield said. "They adopt an interesting style. As hitters, you can tell their style -- they've got a leg kick, they're swinging and running. But you know what I like that they do as a team? They still take infield practice. I like that. I grew up on that and I know it builds team unity, kind of a connection, an energy with one another. I enjoy watching that."
For Winfield, the highlight of this 12-day tour of Japan was reconnecting with 74-year-old Sadaharu Oh, Nippon Professional Baseball's all-time home run leader who threw out a ceremonial first pitch last week alongside U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy. Between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball, the two compiled 1,333 home runs in their playing days.
"He's a highly respected worldwide baseball figure," Winfield said of Oh, whom he last met during the 2013 World Baseball Classic in San Diego. "I was glad to see him."
Winfield also happens to be a highly respected figure in the game, working alongside MLBPA director Tony Clark in the union's quest to aid players. Giving him and fellow MLBPA employee Jose Cruz a unique opportunity to bond with high-profile members, the Japan trip, in Winfield's words, was "quite an undertaking" that went off without a hitch.
"I've enjoyed this for a week and a half, but I'll be glad to go home," Winfield said. "We've sampled everything. We've sampled the food, the language, the tours. We took it all in, photographed it. I'll make a great book. And it was great for bonding among the players because they've seen each other play. I'll take away a lot of stuff from this, many things."
Japan All-Star Series schedule
• Exhibition: MLB 8, Hanshin-Yomiuri 7 | Box
• Game No. 1: Japan 2, MLB 0 | Box
• Game No. 2: Japan 8, MLB 4 | Box
• Game No. 3: Japan 4, MLB 0 | Box
• Game No. 4: MLB 6, Japan 1 | Box
• Game No. 5: MLB 3, Japan 1 | Box