So Taguchi Has Lost His Wa

by longformphilly

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G.W. Miller III | Philadelphia Weekly | July 2008

It’s three hours before a game in early June and our heroes stand on the field, stretching, laughing, gazing at the glorious blue sky as though it’s the first they’ve ever seen.

For the moment, they seem to appreciate this great fortune that allows them to grow rich beyond expectation by throwing hard, swinging accurately, running fast and tossing their bodies in front of objects moving at lightning-quick speeds.

Jimmy Rollins’ cheeks bulge as he converses with Ryan Howard, the Bunyanlike figure holding a piece of boned lumber in his left hand. The two stand near the batting cage almost posing, as though someone’s chiseling their likenesses in marble.

The Reds’ Ken Griffey Jr., a future Hall of Famer currently sitting on 599 career home runs, approaches the league’s two Most Valuable Players. They shake hands, tell jokes and double over in laughter. Mere mortals aren’t permitted near the batting cage so it’s impossible to hear what they’re saying. No doubt they’re discussing the state of their magical powers, their innate abilities to perform the inhuman tasks they execute every day.

Chase Utley, the leading All-Star game vote-getter who’s hit a home run in each of the last five games, picks up his bat and practices his quick, majestic swing.

Players remain scattered along the first-base line. Gregg Dobbs lies on his back, his legs facing home plate while his head faces the outfield bleachers. Chris Coste, stonefaced, struggles his way through push-ups. Geoff Jenkins extends his arms in front of him as though he’s trying to fly.

Farthest from the batting cage and slightly removed from the others stands So Taguchi. The boyish-looking Japanese utility outfielder leans on his left leg, stretching the right. His eyes are open wide but he seems not to be looking at anything.

He’s alone, physically and mentally.

Taguchi’s the 25th man on a 25-man team, and he’s suffering through the most difficult season of his 17-year professional career. He’s 7,000 miles from home, the only Japanese-speaking player on a team in a city without a large or active Japanese population. He barely gets to play.

On top of all that, he could lose his job any day now.

Yet there probably isn’t anyone more excited to be on the field right now than Taguchi.

“This is the major leagues,” he says with a huge smile after batting practice. “It’s the best baseball in the world.”

Writer bio: G.W. Miller III, a journalism professor at Temple University, served as a photographer and writer for the Philadelphia Daily News for 11 years. He currently publishes JUMP Magazine, which focuses on the city’s music scene.

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