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From the Brink to 2,000 Hits - May 5, 2013

Baseball news from Japan and Asia

Welcome to the Bayside West: Yokohama Blog

Featuring Michael Westbay (a.k.a. westbaystars)

Michael Westbay has been blogging about Pro Yakyu since before the word "blog" entered the vernacular. Here he writes about Pro Yakyu in general, and the Yokohama BayStars in particular.


From the Brink to 2,000 Hits - May 5, 2013

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Norihiro Nakamura, now in his 22nd year as a professional baseball player, was on the brink of retirement twice. Teamed up with Tuffy Rhodes on the Kintetsu Buffaloes, Nori made the option of who to pitch to very tough on Pacific League teams. He signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2005, but played in only 17 games before the Dodgers realized that Nori's approach to batting didn't translate well to the Majors, Nakamura going 5 for 39 with 2 doubles and 3 RBIs, but a .128 batting average. For USD 500,000, he accepted 1/10th of his previous year's salary to pursue his dream.

MLB not working out for Nakamura, he returned to Japan and the merged Kintetsu-Orix team, the Orix Buffaloes, in 2006. He got a big boost in pay to return, but did not bat so well. Orix management, not understanding human decency, made an offer to Nori that they must have known he would reject. But when he rejected it with such passion, Orix tried to play it that Nakamura was just trying to rob them of more money than he was worth. After a prolonged argument in the press, Orix released Nakamura and branded him a money grubbing trouble maker, suggesting that no other team will deal with him.

Orix was wrong. Chunichi let him "test" onto the team and he was signed to an ikusei (developmental) contract. I thought that was more showmanship than his actual valuation, and Nori was signed to a standard contract by the start of the season. His two years with Chunichi, then two more with Rakuten were productive. But at 37 years old, Rakuten passed up on renewing his contract in 2011. So Nori tried out for Yokohama and they thought they could use him as a utility corner infielder and pinch hitter. He turned out to be a very nice addition, and seems to be getting more and more valuable at 39 than when he joined the team. Nori has really come through in clutch situations.

This afternoon, for example, with 1 out and runners at first and second in the top of the 5th inning, up 2-0, Nori hits the ball up the middle, scoring Kensuke Uchimura from second base.

Chunichi turned things around with a 4-run bottom of the 5th to take a 4-3 lead.

Then the BayStars did their best imitation of the 1998 Machine Gun Offense, belting out 6 hits to score 6 runs in the top of the 8th inning, Nori driving in 2 with a double to left. The two timely hits for Nakamura put him right at 2,000 career hits (not counting the 5 in the MLB). Yokohama's veteran pitcher, Daisuke Miura, presented Nakamura with a memorial board and a bouquet of flowers, and from Chunichi, Motonobu Tanishige presented a congratulatory bouquet and short exchange of complementary words.

Hold on! Wasn't Tanishige just 2 hits away from 2,000, too?

Yes. And he still is. Against my own expectations, Tanishige went 0 for 4 this game, lowering his seasonal batting average against his former team to .385. I still fear him hitting against us more than the rest of the Dragons' cleanup.

So, congratulations to Norihiro Nakamura for becoming the 43rd player to reach the 2,000 hit milestone in Pro Yakyu history.
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