Former Hanshin Tiger, Orix BlueWave, and Yomiuri Giants star – and current coach – talks mentoring and managers on “Chatter Up!”
Whether serving as the franchise cornerstone for the entirety of a player’s career, spending 40 years coaching in dugouts across the league, or just taking in the game from the stands as an observer, baseball is a sport that’s best learned through experience. Perhaps even more important, however, is how that experience transcends the individual: how does one share their experience with others, and help both evolve and preserve the game?
For a former player like George Arias, it’s natural to share his eclectic baseball experience. Taking on a “Chatter Up!” audience early this December, Arias – who was known in Japan for his years with the Orix BlueWave and Hanshin Tigers – fielded questions with Gold Glove proficiency.
When asked what the keys to his success in Japan were, Arias explained that his sense of humility helped him most in Japan:
“It was difficult going into a foreign country, trying to learn the dialects of the language, the food, the living, the interpretation of language,” Arias said. “It’s very, very difficult for foreigners to go in there and do well, and the reason being is because, as foreigners here in the States, we’re kind of treated like kings, and we become arrogant; egotistical sometimes. And then, when we go to Japan, you see a lot of guys struggle, because it’s not American style. In Japan – what I learned right away is – it’s Japanese style. I accepted that culture, and that’s why I think I had somewhat good success. You watch a lot of other guys, they don’t accept it, and then they fail.”
While his response matches the energy of previous “Chatter Up!” guests, Arias was more insightful than most in explaining the player experience, both on and off the field, to the audience. He praised the interpreters he had in Japan – explaining that moving to a foreign country to play is incredibly difficult if you don’t have a guide to tell you where to go and what to look for – and also noted the kindness of the fans, recalling how his wife lost her wallet and had it returned to her – with all the cash still in it – on three separate occasions.
On the field, however, Arias was more prepared for the changes, an adjustment he credited to his time playing in the Mexican League:
“Baseball is a game of adjustments,” Arias said. “In Mexico, they kind of pitch backwards. What I mean by this is, in the States, on a hitters’ count, they come after you with fastballs; in Mexico and Japan, they’ll throw you off-speed pitches. But Japan being more technicians, they hit their spots better. They can throw you four straight forkballs, they have such good command. So what I had to learn was how to be disciplined, and what I mean by that, again, is in Japan, when I was in a 2-0 count, I shouldn’t be looking for a fastball; I should be looking for a slider or curveball.”
Arias became a critical part of several successful clubhouses, including the 2003 Hanshin Tigers, who won the Central League pennant for the first time in 18 years. He credited his legendary kantoku (“manager”), Senichi Hoshino, with much of the team’s success, stating that Hoshino “put the right players in place, and let us do our thing.”
“We were all having fun. Why? Because we’re winning, winning is fun,” Arias said about the team. “We didn’t win all the time, but I think having the mindset of wanting to win is contagious, and if you get a whole locker room of young men wanting to win at all costs and playing hard, good things are gonna happen.”
Arias believes that the mentality of a winning team is not one of stress, but rather of having fun winning and ensuring that the players know their efforts are not unseen; something he’s now tried to employ as a baseball coach himself.
Having played for both Hoshino – who had a tendency to be feared, but respected, by his players – and the legendary MLB skipper Bruce Bochy – who Arias played for with the San Diego Padres and is lauded for being a great communicator – Arias knows how a great manager leads. “Those are the managers… you want to run through a wall for them, because they care. I don’t think that one single person out there who plays the game, or any sport, is trying to fail. Yes, we get paid a lot of money and fans expect certain things, but we’re still human, and we’re gonna make mistakes. If we can learn to override that, have other teammates picking each other up and let alone your coaching staff, man, who knows how far you’re gonna go?”
It’s a philosophy that has served Arias well in his latest roles: the owner and operator of two baseball entities in his native Tucson: the for-profit Centerfield Baseball Academy and the non-profit Tucson Champs Academy travel team. The latter, Arias explained, has helped shape young athletes into incredibly successful players and young men, with his current team hosting 13 players committed to a college team, nine of those being Division I. When pressed on what makes the team so successful, Arias once again stressed the importance of experience in developing young players, pushing them – but not completely punishing them – to be the best they can be.
“My philosophy of development is this: it’s called ‘3D Coaching,’” Arias said. “It’s a pyramid, and the bottom tier of that pyramid – 85% of coaches – are coaching the fundamentals…The next tier of that pyramid – 15% of coaches – are coaching the psychological part, which means how do you motivate players? How do you instill confidence? How do you talk to him about team cohesion? How about focus? The top of that pyramid is coaching the heart of an athlete: their purpose, their identity, their self-worth? I have always focused on the two top tiers of that pyramid, because the bottom is a guarantee; I’m going to teach them the fundamentals. But if I could teach them the two top tiers of that pyramid, and have all my coaches do the same thing, these kids are going to develop, and they’re going to want to follow you, and you’re going to put out a great product.”
When looking back on his whole career, Arias spoke sentimentally, hoping that he always tries to be the best at all he does:
“I’m a guy that wants to persevere,” Arias said. “If I’m struggling, I want to dig deep and find a way to get better, and that’s why I think I’ve had a good career. I stress this when I go give my talks to the kids I train. I tell them, “Listen, throughout my career, I’ve had about 6000 at bats, and I’ve had about 1600 hits.” I ask them the question, “what does that mean?” They sit there, they’re looking at me, and I’m like, “That means I failed over 4000 times.” And my point in my message to them, it’s not that you fail, that’s how you bounce back.”
In the hour-long Zoom discussion, Arias took the time to answer other lingering questions, including watching the sweet swings and world class talent of Ichiro Suzuki and Tony Gwynn while playing as their teammate, how to deal with less-than-ideal teammates, and his favorite stadium to play at during his time in Japan (surprising some when he said Tokyo Dome instead of his legendary home stadium, Koshien.). To see these discussions and more, you can check out the full transcript of the call, or watch the full video for yourself on our YouTube channel.
Through the effort of individuals like Arias, the game of baseball is in good hands for the future. We’re glad to have shared in this experience with him.