Lighten up Ex-big leaguer Colborn finds Japanese expend best efforts before first pitch is thrown

November 14, 1990|By Michelle Singletary | Michelle Singletary,Evening Sun Staff

OSAKA, Japan IF PRACTICE makes perfect then Jim Colborn would like the pitchers for the Orix Braves to be a little less perfect.

"Often times the Japanese care more about how you practice than whether it's working," said Colborn, who is the only American coach in the Japanese baseball league.

The Japanese drew attention to their baseball methods with their surprising 4-3-1 series triumph over a team of major-league all-stars in a competition that concluded Sunday. But after his rookie season in Japan, Colborn still questions how hard the players work out before a game. By game time, he said, players often are worn out.

"It's just maddening," said Colborn, a major-league pitcher for 10 years. "Practicing here could be more effective. Often times the players don't have the mental energy left for the game."

Although the Japanese have adopted America's national pastime, Japanese managers are not eager to adopt American ideas about how their players should be trained.

Sometimes, how a player performs during practice determines whether he is in the starting lineup, Colborn said. In fact, the coaches are more like supervisors who monitor how the players practice rather than working on techniques.

But Colborn's critical observations are tempered by his respect for the Japanese coaches and players.

"I don't mean to say they are wrong; it's just a different style of baseball," he said. "They have more discipline. One thing is, they don't cheat. You give them a rule and they follow it."

It didn't take Colborn long to accept the position with the Braves when he was contacted.

"They wanted an American coach and somebody recommended It was probably my mother," said Colborn, who's 44. "It took me all of 4 1/2 seconds to say yes."

He left his home in Ventura, Calif., for a westernized home in Kobe, Japan. Colborn's wife, Jennifer, and his four children, ages 19, 13, 15 and 11, moved with him.

Colborn describes his career as average. A pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners, he was 83-88 with a 3.80 earned run average. But he said there were a few bright spots, including a no-hitter.

His pitching against the Baltimore Orioles was forgettable, he says with a chuckle. He was 3-13 against the O's.

"I always found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory," he said. "Little Earl Weaver kept yelling at me."

Before coming to Japan last January, Colborn was a pitching coach with the Cubs. He has been coaching for seven years.

In Japan, Colborn said he makes at least four times what he earned as a U.S. coach. While not disclosing his base salary, he did say with housing allowances, school expenses for his children and other amenities he will make about $150,000 a year compared to the $30,000 to $50,000 most coaches earn in the United States.

The money wasn't hard to get used to, but the language is another matter. Colborn said he can order Nihon (Japanese) tea but has a bit more difficulty communicating with his pitchers.

The team does provide an interpreter; a Cuban, who originally came to Japan to play. However, something always seems to get lost in the translation, he said.

"I can't come down on players when I should," he said.

Like most Japanese, Colborn has a long commute to work, 40 minutes. During the season, his days start at 10 a.m. and end about 11 p.m. He also coaches the Braves' minor-league team.

Colborn said his coaching career in Japan might depend on whether he can get the Braves' managers to try some of his ideas, such as more weight training for the pitchers and getting them to throw less during practice.

Overall, though, he said life in Japan has been exceptional and he would consider making this Asian country his permanent home if he could relocate his friends here.

Even his 11-year-old son has begun to follow in his father's footsteps. He is playing for a Japanese middle school little league team.

"This is a darn nice life. They respect me. They've been very helpful and kind," Colborn said. "And equally important, my girls can go out by themselves and my wife and I are not worried about their safety."

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