Zak Colby returns to Shuttleworth Park with Japanese baseball team

The last time Zak Colby set foot on the Shuttleworth Park baseball diamond, the infield was a natural green and he was leading the 2012 Amsterdam Mohawks to their first Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League (PGCBL) title. Upon leaving the Mohawks, with the dream of playing professional baseball in his heart, Colby, unlike other Mohawks alumni, set out to achieve his goal on a different continent. Monday afternoon, Colby returned to Shuttleworth Park with a new team, the Shikoku Island League All Stars of Japan, for an exhibition game against the current Mohawks club. The visiting team from Japan was victorious 13-0, but the exhibition contest gave current Mohawks players a chance to play against some formidable, professional league competition, and it gave Colby a chance to reunite with fans from his days as a Mohawk. And in a game that he helped make possible, show them he’s making his dream of playing professional baseball a reality.

“I put it on the schedule,” Colby said when asked how the chance for the game in Amsterdam came about. “We learned that we had some time to make it happen, and it was a chance to come back here and play in front of the great fans here in Amsterdam. And, the die hard fans are here.”

Colby enjoyed a stellar career as a Mohawk in 2012 where he led the Amsterdam club with 57 hits in 152 at bats, playing in 43 games for a .375 batting average. Among those 52 hits was a team record 19 doubles including connecting for three doubles in a game against the Mohawk Valley Diamond Dogs. Colby had a pair of five hits games and drove in 25 runs in the 2012 campaign earning him a spot on the PGCBL All Star team.

Following his season with the Mohawks, Colby pursued his professional baseball career in the Shikoku Island League Plus, an independent professional baseball league in Japan. Colby is currently on the 22 man roster of the Ehime Mandarine Pirates, one of four teams in the league that was founded in 2005. The Shikoku Island League is a step below the Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPBL) in Japan, and would be the equivalent of a class AAA minor league professional team in the United States. Currently there are four teams in the Shikoku Island League including the Pirates, Kochi Fighting Dogs, Kagawa Olive Guyners, and Tokushima Indigo Socks. The league has had at most seven teams since its founding. Each of the teams has 22 players on their rosters and use the designated hitter, a place in the batting order that Colby assumed Monday night. A high level of respect for the game is also a priority in Japan.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” Colby said. “A lot of heart and soul, and no showboating. It’s one hundred percent old fashioned baseball all of the time.”

Colby said that learning the Japanese language, and some of his teammates who speak english, have both helped him to adjust to the culture. However, the game of baseball is a language all its own, and is one that the Shikoku Island team had no trouble speaking in their game with the Mohawks.

Fans were quick to take notice when Shikoku Island starting pitcher Yusuke Kinoshita clocked in with consistent fast balls at 92 miles per hour according to the speed gun. Amsterdam only managed one hit off the five Shikoku Island pitchers who took the mound on Monday night, with a third inning double by Mohawks starting pitcher Nick Schaub. The game was close through five innings with the Shikoku Island team leading 2-0. But a seven run outburst in the sixth inning keyed by a two run single from Yusuki Matsuzame put it firmly in the visiting team’s favor. Takahiro Hayashi led the Shikoku Island All Stars with three runs scored. Colby connected for two hits in his four at bats including a two run double into the right field corner in the top of the seventh inning. Shikoku Island totaled nine hits for the game, and on defense adapted to playing on the turf infield as neither team committed an error.

“It’s a huge adjustment on turf,” Colby said. “We don’t play on turf in Japan, only in the majors. I like the changes. You can always play on the field no matter what the season. Baseball is always changing, why not Shuttleworth Park.”

Colby and his teammates took time after the game to take photos and talk with the fans. The teams presented each other with gifts after the game. Colby explained that an artist from Japan drew the images that the Shikoku Island team gave to the Mohawks.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Colby’s dream of playing in the big leagues. Many of the Shikoku Island League players may one day get their chance to play in the Nippon Professional Baseball League, Japan’s equal to the Major League Baseball in the U.S. Colby’s selection to the all star team has made that dream one step closer to reality.

“It’s a dream come true,” Colby said. “I’m 27 now, and I can play baseball for my career. It’s an amazing feeling.”

The Shikoku Island All Star team is currently touring the United States and Canada playing against opponents from the Canadian- American League (CAN AM). The team will be playing against independent minor league teams in New York, New Jersey, and in Quebec, and Ontario, Canada during the summer of 2016. This is the second year that the league has toured in the U.S. And Canada.

Scott Mulford

Scott Mulford has been covering local sports for over 20 years. He previously wrote for the Amsterdam Star and The Free Press of the Mohawk Valley.