Abe, Posey are Giants of the game
Star catchers from across the pond share endless similarities
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants' catcher steps into the batter's box at AT&T Park for a nighttime batting-practice session. The repeated sounds of bat and ball colliding violently cause reporters to turn their heads to watch each shot streak over the right-field wall.
They are observing the 2012 batting champion and league Most Valuable Player perfecting his craft, the same player who led the Giants to another championship last season, to the delight of his adoring hometown fans. No, his name isn't Buster Posey.
His name is Shinnosuke Abe, and he is one of the greatest catchers in Japanese baseball history. In 2012 -- his 12th season in Japan's Nippon League -- he hit .340 with 27 home runs and 104 RBIs for the Yomiuri Giants in what would culminate in a Japan Series title, the third of his storied career.
If those statistics look familiar, that's because they are. Posey hit .336 with 24 home runs and 103 RBIs for his own Giants, who captured their second World Series title in three years this past October.
In San Francisco for the Championship Round of the World Baseball Classic, Abe and his Japanese national team are seeking their third consecutive Classic title, continuing a dominance that began during the inaugural tournament in 2006.
Like baseball brethren somehow separated at birth, East and West converged Thursday as Abe and Posey met one another in Arizona when the Japanese team took on Posey's San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale, Ariz., for a tuneup session.
"It's impressive to watch him play," Abe said through a translator on Saturday evening. "At his age, being a player of that caliber, it's very impressive."
Posey will turn 26 later this month. Abe, 33, has been in professional baseball for about a decade longer than Posey, but he shares another rare distinction: catchers who have won an MVP award.
Prior to Posey, only five catchers had won the honor in the previous half-century of Major League Baseball. Before Abe was named Most Valuable Player of Nippon's Central League last season, two catchers achieved the feat dating back to 1965.
For Posey, the challenge of being an elite hitter while continuing his catching duties was further complicated by the devastating leg injury he suffered in 2011, when a collision at home plate left in its aftermath a broken leg, several torn tendons and a premature end to his second big league season.
Abe admires Posey's ability to perform at an even higher level in 2012 than in his National League Rookie of the Year campaign of 2010.
"That's something that you feel proud of," Abe said of Posey's recovery. "Being a catcher myself, I know that's not an easy position. Coming back that fast and coming back with good numbers is something that is phenomenal."
As modest as Abe is, the word "phenomenal" can certainly also be ascribed to what the Japanese slugger has been able to accomplish in Japan. Abe was the 2009 Japan Series MVP after hitting .304 and driving in five runs, including game-winning RBIs during Games 5 and 6 that season. Abe also delivered the game-winning hit in the championship-clinching Game 6 of the 2012 Japan Series. On Thursday, in the relaxed atmosphere of Spring Training, Abe went 2-for-4 with two singles, while Posey went 0-for-2 with a sacrifice fly.
Could Abe and Posey possibly meet again under more stressful circumstances? Abe would like to see it happen, especially if it means they face each other in a meeting of World Series and Japan Series champions. When asked what he thought about Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig's hope that one day there could be a truly "World" Series, Abe said he's all for it.
"That would be very interesting," he said. "It would be good for our league, too. We'd get to see and challenge and know what MLB is all about."
For all their similarities, there is one difference between Abe and Posey. Abe has experienced a lot more professional baseball. As he stood in foul territory down the right-field line, Abe was asked what advice he'd give his youthful counterpart.
"I can't think of any advice I'd give him," Abe said, laughing. "But I can say this: I hope he'll give me some advice."
Manny Randhawa is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.