Having a Ball in Japan

Having a Ball in Japan

Larry Rocca helps stoke the rising interest in Japanese baseball.

By Paul Karr


 

The World Series—it’s perhaps the biggest misnomer in major-league sports. Sure, hot dogs and home runs are quintessentially American. But there is a whole world of baseball beyond the borders of the United States, and nobody knows that better than Larry Rocca ’90.

A former sportswriter, Rocca has long called for a true “World Series” that would pit the Major League Baseball champion against the top team in Japan. Now he’s in a position to help accomplish that—and much more.

Rocca joined former New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine in Tokyo as director of promotions for the Chiba Lotte Marines professional baseball team in 2005. “I remember my father saying, and I’m quoting him now, ‘If you could help do that [orchestrate a global World Series], that would be a real feather in your cap,’” Rocca said, clearly still affected by the memory. “I still believe in a true World Series. That’s one reason why this was the only job I went out and tried to get.”

In just three years, Rocca already has begun to change Japanese baseball: helping turn the Marines into a moneymaker through fan programs and advertising deals, introducing a wacky mascot to liven up the crowd, networking with Colby alumni to establish a relationship tying the Marines to the Boston Red Sox.

His approach is measured and tactical; his progress is steady and significant.

“Larry has done wonders bringing in revenue and in persevering,” said Valentine, the Marines’ manager. “He’s learning the culture rather than trying to change it—learning to work from within, which can be the hardest thing.”

From his unique box seat in Tokyo, Rocca has watched and participated in the rise of Japanese baseball (known as yakyu, pronounced yack-you) and has helped promote a shift in the way Japanese baseball is managed and marketed.

“I was hired at just the right time to land in the middle of a revolution in Japanese baseball,” said Rocca, watching a rigorous Marines’ practice after (yes after) the end of the 2007 season. “Bobby [Valentine] loves it here. And so do I.”

 
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