Tigers scout gets front-row seat to baseball history

Detroit Tigers

LAKELAND, Fla. — Kan Ikeda was like millions of baseball fans on Tuesday night, glued to a screen watching Shohei Ohtani face Mike Trout with the World Baseball Classic on the line. Unlike millions of fans, the action was right outside his door.

Kan was in the clubhouse for Team Japan during games, in charge of potential replay challenges. Before games, he ran the advance scouting. His job revolves around poring over video. So when Japan’s formidable pitching staff faced hitters, whether from the Major Leagues or from other countries and federations, they were relying largely on Ikeda’s reports.

It was similar to his role with the Tigers as their advance scouting manager — but with a nation’s baseball hopes on the line.

“After outings, [pitchers] all came in and told me how nervous they were, but they didn’t look like it on the mound,” Ikeda said. “Those guys were built for this moment, every single one of them. That was fun to watch.”

With Ohtani and Trout, Angels teammates facing one another, there was no advance report needed. No replay, either. So for a moment, Ikeda soaked it all in.

“Mostly I was just staring at the screen,” he recalled Friday. “‘OK, I’m not going to worry about the keyboard. Just stare at it. Anything close, hit-by-pitch, I’ll just tell them to go for it and challenge.’ Well, probably not, because I didn’t want to kill the moment.”

Ikeda didn’t have to. When Ohtani unleashed the nasty two-strike slider that set Trout down swinging, Ikeda was a champion, too.

“I watched the last pitch, and all of us went straight to the dugout, hugged the coaching staff and we all went to the field,” he said. “It took a while to hit me, what was actually happening. I didn’t even imagine what it would look like to win that.

“This WBC kind of told all of us how big of a deal it is for a lot of people, and certainly for Team Japan. Ohtani said he was dreaming about this when he was a kid. We all grew up watching Ichiro, Daisuke [Matsuzaka] and even [Yu] Darvish back when he was young before he came to the States. We watched all of them at the beginning, where it started. I couldn’t guess I could be a part of it.”

While Miguel Cabrera, Eduardo Rodriguez and Javier Báez were in the spotlight playing for Venezuela and Puerto Rico, Ikeda was behind the scenes. Before Hideki Kuriyama managed Team Japan, he managed the Nippon-Ham Fighters, who spent Spring Training in Arizona in 2016. Ikeda, then a Tigers intern, went to Arizona to help the Fighters part-time. Team Japan approached him last year.

Ikeda knew how to scout for Major League series. He didn’t know how and what to scout for Japanese players in an international tournament. So the team brought him to Japan for an exhibition series to find out.

“They let me be in the dugout and talk to players during games, and so I got to know what they look for during games,” Ikeda said. “Because I know what Major League players usually ask, but I had no idea what NPB players ask. That was the beginning.

“After I came back from Japan, after Thanksgiving, after the Winter Meetings, I started looking into it. By then, I knew what they like to know, what they like to see, that kind of stuff. I got a sense of what they wanted me to prepare for them.”

Ikeda made it work, and he learned a lot in the process. When he rejoined the Tigers, manager A.J. Hinch put him in front of the team, with his gold medal, and honored him.

“It was very, very cool,” Ikeda said. “When I left [Tigers camp], I felt bad because I was missing pretty much the whole Spring Training. Our camp started way earlier than everybody else. I felt bad, especially for my co-workers and the coaching staff. I was going to skip a lot of work. I didn’t even expect to bring some hardware [back] with me. I didn’t even think about that.”

Said Hinch: “It was cool, especially for Kan. It’s one thing for the players and coaches, but Kan’s an unsung hero with all the work that he does behind the scenes and the interaction with the players, FaceTiming with Miggy. Kan has such a great connection that nobody knows about outside our doors, and it’s fun to have him on the center stage.”

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