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O’Malley Honored

(Note: Montoursville’s Tom O’Malley made his Major League debut in 1982 with the San Francisco Giants, and played with the White Sox, Orioles, Rangers, Expos, and Mets during a nine-year MLB career. He then played six seasons in the Japanese Baseball League winning both a regular season MVP award and the Japan Series MVP Award.)

For Tom O’Malley, Easter week was a bit of a blur. As the coach of the Loyalsock Township High School softball team, he led his team on a six-day trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C. to escape the cold, and prepare the Lancers for the current season. A Good Friday overnight bus trip home gave him just enough time to re-pack the suitcase and head to Tokyo, Japan where he was honored with a lifetime achievement award. Forty-eight hours later he was flying back home to resume his high school coaching duties.

“It was very humbling to receive the award,” O’Malley confessed. “It was a lifetime achievement award in recognition of my involvement in Japanese Baseball. Each season as a player I hit over .300 for six straight years and then coached and scouted. Playing and coaching in another country and being rewarded for something achieved as a foreign player is very special to me.

“I wasn’t there long. I arrived on April 2, stayed one day and then came right back as our Loyalsock softball team was scheduled to play on April 5 with South Williamsport. That game was canceled due to the weather, but it took me several days to get over the jet lag. It was a good trip although very quick.”

“I think what helped, and led to the award, was that after I stopped playing, I served as a coach in the Japanese League and was able to be in the public eye over there. At one time, I was the only foreign coach in Japan. For 26 straight years, I was over there in Japan involved as a player, coach or scout. So that helped a lot regarding receiving the award. Out of sight, out of mind — that happens anywhere — especially in Japan for a foreign player.

“I think the biggest thing is to adjust to their culture. That is really appreciated. Whether it is the food, the language, or anything else that deals with the culture, they really respect you for that. Then, if you were able to do well on the baseball field, they even rewarded you more. I didn’t go over to Japan with the attitude of ‘this is the way we do it in the United States’ because I know that while it is still baseball, it is a different type of baseball.

“I had to adjust to the way they did things. Every day I tried to learn something about the way things were done there. I was fortunate to have a good interpreter who helped me along the way. He understood baseball. He had lived in the United States, and with all the factors involved, made it very beneficial for me. I know some people that had trouble with interpreters and that caused problems for them.

“I remember my first spring training game in Japan. They make an opinion on you very early. I was fortunate to hit a grand slam in that first game, so they pretty much left me alone. For a lot of guys, things don’t work out early like that. If they have a bad spring training or a slow start, they don’t have as much patience shown towards them.”

O’Malley cited the experience Japan sensation Shohei Ohtani has gone through since joining the Los Angeles Angels this spring.

“He didn’t have the best spring training with the Angels. He came over here with a lot of hype, as almost every Major League team had shown interest in signing him. But he signed with the Angels and faced a lot of adjustments. There is a difference in the baseballs used in Japan and here in the States. The ball is a little smaller, and the seams aren’t the same, so he had a lot to deal with.

“Max Scherzer is the highest paid pitcher in MLB and he didn’t have as many strikeouts as Ohtani did in his first two starts. And there were many home run hitters that didn’t have as many home runs as he did in his first three games. So in both facets, he got off to a good start. A lot of that may have been the patience extended to him when things weren’t going so well in spring training. The hardest thing for someone who had that kind of fanfare surrounding him is to back it up. So many things were expected of him, and in the early going he is living up to those expectations. You have to respect him for what he is doing.”

“I saw him play in Japan, and I knew what he was capable of doing as a pitcher. He is phenomenal. I recall a game when we beat him 1-0. We bunted twice on him, and he threw the ball away, and we scored a run. That was it. Last year he was hurt, but two years ago he carried his team to the Japan championship. He is a great talent. I still see him as being a better pitcher along the way, but he has the athleticism to be a hitter.”

While baseball in Japan is played with much more discipline than in the United States, O’Malley sees some things he never expected to see every year he goes over there.

“I think some changes in the style of play will occur when someone like Ichiro or Matsui become managers or coaches. Those individuals had a lot of success in MLB, and they can take some of those things to Japan. Not to change their game, but to add a little bit of the American style. Meaning their practices may not be as long. Over there they think if you are not doing well you have to practice longer. Here it is a bit of the opposite where you need to back off a bit. Getting some rest and taking care of the body is important.

“Over there they work constantly at it. We see it with the teams that come to the Little League World Series. How seriously they take things at that level. I do think in due time as players with experience in the MLB return home and get involved that things may soften just a bit.”

While enjoying his time at the helm of the Lady Lancers, O’Malley doesn’t rule out a return to professional coaching.

“Yes, someday I envision returning to coaching at the professional level,” he reasoned. “We got close this year with my friend Hensley Meulens (San Francisco Giants bench coach) getting a second round of interviews with the New York Yankees. Hensley has talked to me about coaching with him, so we’ll see what happens down the road. If it is the right situation, I’d like to get back into it.”

For now, O’Malley is right at home with the Lancers and helping his parents cope with health issues they are facing.

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