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Irabu says he can’t give up his dream to play with Yankees

March 20, 1997

TOKYO (AP) _ Hideki Irabu and his 100 mph fastball came home today, but said he won’t give up his dream of pitching for the New York Yankees.

Irabu told a news conference that he had hoped the San Diego Padres would trade him to the Yankees by Tuesday, but ``it had not moved forward.″

``I am now thinking of playing in Canada’s independent league rather than training alone by myself″ this season, he said.

``However, this way also is being shut out,″ Irabu said, referring to reports that Japanese baseball authorities might suspend him if he goes to an independent league. He said he would meet with Japanese officials to find out the problem.

Again saying that his goal is to play for the Yankees, the 27-year-old Irabu said, ``I can’t betray a dream or what I had in my mind from childhood.″

The Padres acquired rights to Irabu in a deal with Japan’s Chiba Lotte Marines. Any deal San Diego makes for Irabu’s rights must be approved by Chiba.

The national newspaper Asahi Shimbun said that if Irabu plays for one more year with Chiba, he might be eligible to become a free agent at the end of this season. Irabu has played eight years for Chiba, and Asahi said Japan’s period needed before free agency might be shortened to nine years from the current 10.

A Canadian team, the Regina Cyclones of the independent Prairie League, sent a letter to baseball officials in both New York and Tokyo on Wednesday, notifying them they will pursue Irabu for the 1997 season and asking whether such a deal would jeopardize his future in major league ball.

``I don’t believe anybody knows of a rule,″ Cyclones owner Dave Ferguson said. ``I think the independent leagues would be a perfect place to play until all his problems and controversies are rectified.

``It would be a great loss to the world of baseball if a fellow with such talents would have to sit out,″ said Ferguson, who also is vice president of the Prairie League. ``He loves the sport and has dedicated himself to it, so why not play ball?″

Ferguson sent the letter to Bill Murray, executive director of baseball operations in the commissioner’s office, and Yoshiaki Kanai, the executive secretary of Japanese baseball.

The Cyclones have a working relationship with Irabu’s agent, Don Nomura, and would have a good chance of landing the pitcher, Ferguson said.

``They’ll want to work with the Regina Cyclones, I just have that feeling,″ he said. Regina, with a population of 200,000, is the capital of Saskatchewan, Canada.

Nomura’s representatives have said that several independent teams have called.

But on Tuesday, Nomura said the Japanese commissioner was quoted in Japanese newspapers as saying that if Irabu goes to an independent league, he will be suspended.

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