At a Fenway Park press conference before Boston's Fourth of July game against the Devil Rays, key members of the Red Sox front office touted a newly minted strategic alliance with the Chiba Lotte Marines of Nippon Professional Baseball, the 2005 champions of Japan's premier pro league.
Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino and general manager Theo Epstein, joined by vice president of international scouting Craig Shipley by speakerphone from Chiba, Japan, sat before the Boston media and spoke about the need for a practical, tangible partnership with the Marines, managed by Bobby Valentine.
"I think a lot of teams have these agreements, and it's a piece of paper and it gets filed away in a drawer," said Shipley. "We hope to make this like a living, breathing canopy of different endeavors. And one that we've already discussed is taking a team of coaches this winter to not only Japan, but Korea, Taiwan and China in Red Sox uniforms and Chiba uniforms. Get out on the field and teach players, teach coaches and just raise the stature of the game and the level of the game in those countries."
Lucchino said the Marines, located in a suburb outside of Tokyo, shared an interest in "growing" baseball over the long term in China and the Pacific Rim, a point of view that "happens to coincide with ours."
There are shorter-term reasons for the agreement. The Red Sox will exchange scouting and player development information to the Marines for the same in return.
Shipley emphasized that the alliance will act as a two-way street of information. Chiba has no interest, in the wake of Boston's wildly successful Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima signings, to serve as a Red Sox farm club, supplying Major League-ready players.
"We see this as an alliance that will help us to learn more about the way they develop players, about the way they scout players, about the way they teach their players," Shipley said. "They also want to learn from us the way we do those things. It's not something we're doing to come over here to raid Japanese baseball."
Still, the relationships that form the agreement's backbone developed largely because of the Red Sox's winter activity in the area, which resulted in Matsuzaka and Okajima coming stateside.
In 2006 and during the winter, Shipley and the Red Sox got to know Valentine, a former New York Mets manager, and Chiba baseball operations manager Shun Kakazu, a 2004 graduate of Harvard College, while scouting the area. The Chiba front office helped the Red Sox with the task of gathering data, which can be difficult to translate.
"There are certain resources you need that you can't necessarily dig up on your own," Epstein said. "And having those relationships to help you find the right path, find the right information, find the right statistics is always very helpful."
Shipley stressed that Chiba was not involved in any negotiations between the Red Sox and their new free agents.
"We did the evaluating," Shipley said. "They just provided us with some information that we thought we needed to make our evaluation."
Red Sox fans can see the results of such collaborations every night on the field. Okajima remains one of five American League players up for MLB.com's Monster 2007 Final Vote, which concludes on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET.
At the Red Sox's corresponding conference for the Japanese press in Chiba, Shipley was set to display signs reading, "Vote for Okajima on redsox.com" in Japanese. Similar signs have appeared on TV, plastered across the Fenway Park backstop.
"We have two nations behind it," Shipley said. "Red Sox Nation and the Nation of Japan."
"There are advertising efforts on all fronts," Lucchino said.
The press conference took place one day after Matsuzaka's most recent dominant effort, eight innings of shutout ball against the Devil Rays. Epstein noted that the fruits of the team's Asian scouting are already appearing in the lower Minors (Che-Hsuan Lin and Chih-Hsiang Huang, a pair of Taiwanese position players, play for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox).
"I think for too many years we turned our back on the high-caliber baseball being played in that part of the world," Epstein said. "So now this is sort of a reawakening for us. And it is very exciting to have this type of experience on so many different levels."
Said Lucchino: "Baseball is an Asian sport. Let's start with that proposition. We obviously think of it as an American sport, but it's also an Asian sport. And they play it with passion and skill, and with some different approaches. The more we can collaborate with each other, the better we, the Red Sox, will be. And the better off Major League baseball will be."
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.