They did it again.
The New York Yankees, known for gobbling up the baseball world’s top talent like a lion devouring a stray antelope on the Serengeti, have plucked another jewel for their organization.
Click below to listen to WVU baseball Coach Greg Van Zant talk about Yusuke Nagai.
[ Download as MP3 File ]
Although a former college baseball player in his native Tokyo, Yusuke Nagai won’t swing a bat or throw or catch a ball for the free-spending Bronx Bombers. But if his experience at West Virginia University is any indication, he will be a valuable member of a team that won its Major League-best 27th World Series title last year.
Nagai, 28, graduates this month with an MBA from WVU’s College of Business and Economics after arriving in Morgantown three years ago without having visited the United States, let alone campus. He knew little English and had few acquaintances at WVU or the surrounding area.
“I remember when I wanted to come to the United States, people would say, ‘You can’t do that, you don’t know English,’ ” Nagai said. “We had to take a test for English and my score was terrible; I was in the lower rungs.”
It was a bold move from another standpoint, too. After graduating from college in Japan, Nagai had a steady job in information technology at a financial research firm.
“It was a good job and I was making some money but at the same time I wanted to get a job in the sports industry,” he said. “I just wanted to study American sports and I wanted to learn English, too. That’s going to be my advantage.”
WVU’s Intensive English Program, a handful of undergraduate courses and three years as an aide to the Mountaineers’ baseball team helped him not only learn the language but also become acclimated to the U.S. and the inner workings of baseball.
Nagai’s experience with the Mountaineers was definitely from the ground up – his initial duties were maintaining the grounds at Hawley Field but, eventually, he began coordinating the team’s road trips and maintaining a recruiting database for coach Greg Van Zant and his assistants.
Laughing, Nagai recalls having to chase the foul balls that landed outside of Hawley’s confines. “It was a tough and fun experience. I did everything. But it was a very great experience being around college baseball and seeing what’s going on in college baseball,” he said.
Van Zant said in his final year, Nagai became the team’s unofficial “manager of baseball operations,” handling many of the behind-the-scenes details of the program.
“He’d be in (the office) until midnight doing data entry. He helped us in every possible way,” Van Zant said. “He is going to be sorely missed.”
The Mountaineers’ loss will be the Yankees gain, however. Nagai said he will be paid during his internship and will have a chance for full-time employment. His duties will involve more of the stuff of baseball operations, including monitoring amateur and minor league players, analyzing videos and making reports to the organization’s scouts and coaches. He will also be involved with statistical analysis, which he became familiar with in Japan. One tool he’ll use in evaluating players is sabermetrics, which uses complex mathematical formulas to help determine a player’s value. Developed by baseball stats guru Bill James, sabermetrics and its concepts are an increasingly pervasive tool in baseball front offices.
“It’s a different perspective, trying to analyze players in a different way,” Nagai said. “That’s very interesting to me, using stats, financial concepts, that kind of stuff. This is very interesting stuff.”
For the first few months, Nagai’s biggest adjustment may be getting used to his surroundings. Having lived in Tokyo, he’s not intimidated by the big city life of New York. But Nagai admits that working in Yankee Stadium near the desk of general manager Brian Cashman, one of baseball’s most successful and celebrated executives, is a bit jarring.
“I’m not directly reporting to him but he’s my boss, he’s the top guy for us,” Nagai said. “How exciting is this? Brian Cashman is my boss. He’s right there – that’s amazing.”
As excited as he is to move on, Nagai says he will always have fond memories of WVU, Morgantown and the state.
“I’m going to miss a lot of very, very nice people,” he said, “baseball guys, friends, classmates, everything was pretty cool. People are kind here in their nature and the mountains are beautiful. I’m going to miss that kind of stuff.”
Like a “can’t miss” prospect, Van Zant predicts a bright future for Nagai.
“He’s got a great opportunity with the Yankees and he’s earned it. I’ll bet he’ll get there and do a great job and they won’t want him to leave just like we don’t want to see him leave,” Van Zant said.
By Dan Shrensky
WVU News and Information
CONTACT: News and Information
Follow @wvutoday on Twitter.