Eight years after his major league career came to an end, George Arias played his last game professionally in 2006 at 34 years old with the Yomiuri Giants of the Japan Central League.
Sixteen years after that, now at age 50, Arias is back with the Giants as a full-time scout.
Baseball has never left him from his grade-school years in Tucson playing with American Little League to excelling as a third baseman at Pueblo High School, Pima College, Arizona and in a 14-year professional career that included stints with the California Angels and San Diego Padres.
“These kids that are out here right now they have dreams and aspirations to play in the big leagues,” Arias said while in the stands at the Kino Baseball Annex watching his son Nick play in the recent Troy Iturralde High School Baseball Memorial Game.
“It’s hard work. A lot of it has to do with handling the struggles. How do you maintain your integrity? How do you keep that perseverance to get through those battles? They’re going to come, those obstacles are going to come. How are you going to get through them?”
Arias is putting his experiences of finishing his professional career with teams in the Mexican and Japanese professional leagues — comprising the last seven years of his career — to good use as the only U.S.-based scout with the Yomiuri Giants.
The Giants employed him part-time last season with the task of supplying a list of names that could leave the U.S. and potentially succeed in Japan.
After some persistance by Arias, the Giants finally found the value of his expertise at field level and hired him as a full-time scout in April.
“I’ve been traveling to different states looking at different Triple-A teams and creating a database of players who are candidates who I think have the potential to play in Japan,” Arias said. “The difficult thing is there’s a lot of talent but playing in Japan includes a different culture, a language barrier, different food and whatever else that comes with it. That’s the tough part.”
Arias not only looks for the consistency of skills from pitchers and batters but also their character.
With his five-plus years of experiencing playing in Japan, Arias knows what to look for in players who can handle the responsibility of playing overseas there despite it being a detour from their big-league aspirations.
“I’ve seen guys who have tremendous amount of major-league experience, they go to Japan and struggle because they can’t handle it,” Arias recalled from his playing days. “It takes a certain individual who’s hungry, who loves the game and is willing to go first and foremost to Japan because it is a different culture.”
After leaving professional baseball, Arias created the Centerfield Baseball & Softball Academy while also developing the Tucson Champs youth baseball organization. Both of those ventures coincided with his sons George Jr. and Nick playing baseball from a young age through their high school careers. They trained at Centerfield and played for the Tucson Champs.
George Jr. is now a senior pitcher with Arizona who recently earned his bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Studies. Nick also is a recent graduate of Tucson High School who is bound for Grand Canyon University on a baseball scholarship.
George and his wife Rachel also have a daughter Alexis, a Tucson High graduate who is now an aspiring singer and songwriter.
With an empty nest now, George and his wife plan trips together when he goes on his scouting excursions for the Giants. He is scheduled to take at least three extended trips during June to different Triple-A parks.
Also with Nick graduating and moving on from being coached by his dad with the Tucson Champs and Tucson High, the elder Arias shut down his Centerfield Academy with the hope of becoming a scout before the Giants offered the full-time position.
“I’ve been blessed. God has opened the door,” George said. “Centerfield, we had a close it up and I walked out in faith because I didn’t have a job lined up yet. But when when one door closes, another opens.”
His background in player development with Centerfield and Tucson Champs also proved to be vital with the Giants’ interest in his baseball knowledge.
The organization assigned four foreign players (Americans and Dominicans) to work with Arias in Tucson as a form of spring training for two weeks before the season began in Japan. Those players are now playing for Yomiuri and excelling, Arias said.
“With the success those players are having, I think they took that as this guy’s capable and competent that we can have him here to help bring players over here,” he said.
A total of eight foreign players can be on a roster in Japan but no more than four can play in a game.
Some of those players with the Giants presently are pitcher Matt Andriese (10-year big-leaguer who played with the Tampa Bay Rays, Arizona Diamondbacks, Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox), outfielder Adam Walker (former third-round selection who played in the Minnesota Twins organization) and infielder Zelous Wheeler (played with the New York Yankees in 2014).
The foreigners are not only players at the twilight of their careers. Two 16-year-old prospects from the Dominican Republic — outfielder Julian Tima and shortstop Jose De la Cruz — signed with Yomiuri before this season for a combined $1.17 million.
Arias’ scouting work this summer could pay immediate dividends if a foreign player struggles or becomes injured and the team needs a replacement.
He plans to make a trip to Japan later this year for the team’s winter meetings and also to watch the Giants play if they are in the postseason.
Arias talks about the possibility of watching the playoffs in Japan with the same excitement he had about the game when Jerry Kindall signed him out of Pima College in the early 1990s. His love for baseball has grown stronger through his experiences playing in the Mexican and Japan pro leagues after his big-league career came to an end.
“I always talk to kids about failure. I tell them, ‘You’re gonna go through failure, but the love for the game has to be bigger than the failure,'” Arias said. “I think that’s what motivated me. I have come full circle. I got to play, and I got to have an academy to teach kids about baseball and life. It was fascinating.
“Now, I’m taking that passion to scouting. I’m giving young players an opportunity to keep their dreams alive. It’s a full circle, a sense of giving back. I have enjoyed giving back to our community for quite some time with our younger generations. Now I’m still doing it as a pro scout.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.