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Closer Nakamura taking it a day at a time

by Kaz Nagatsuka

When he left the locker room at Tokyo Dome carrying a big black bag, on the night he got his fifth save of the season against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles at Tokyo Dome, unexpectedly, the closer didn’t look happy.

News photoHokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters closer Michael Yoshihide Nakamura, shown here in a file photo from an April
4 game against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, has earned seven saves through Tuesday.
KYODO PHOTO

“I’m not so excited because it was a long game, and I have to come back tomorrow,” Hokkaido Nippon Ham’s Micheal Nakamura said with a grin on May 16 after his team’s 8-6 triumph in a four-hour game.

Nakamura, 30, is not the kind of a guy whose feelings swing back and forth. No matter what the occasion is, he always remains calm.

“(Getting my fifth save) doesn’t change me,” said Nakamura, who started the season with a shoulder injury. “If I win or lose, after a game I will be back to normal.”

So even after racking up a Pacific League-record 39 saves and helping the Fighters win their first Japan Series title in 44 years last season, Nakamura’s attitude on the field is still the same. As if he just puts all his past achievements behind him.

The future, though, could hold some exciting moments, too.

Nakamura was selected for the 60-man Japanese provisional Olympic qualifier roster, manager Senichi Hoshino announced earlier this month. The Asian Olympic qualifier will be held in Taiwan in November.

Nakamura, who was born to a Japanese father and an Australian mother in Nara, represented the Aussies in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and 2000 Sydney Summer Games.

Now he may be able to play for Japan. That’s because the Charter of the Olympics allows an athlete who has represented a nation to compete for a different nation in an Olympiad if three years have passed since the last Games. Is Nakamura excited?

Sure, because it was his dream to play in his birthplace and playing for his national squad is the ultimate honor.

However, Nakamura has not become too exited about the future.

“I don’t think about (the Olympics) right now,” he said. “It’s still ahead and the most important game for me is today’s game.

“You have to take it one step at a time. There’s still a long time to go, and there are so many great pitchers. So I may have to pitch very well from now on (to make the national team).”

Although Nakamura seldom expresses himself, deep down in his heart he has a strong love for the Fighters.

Which is why Nakamura quickly rejected the idea of going back to Major League Baseball, where he has played for the Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays. “This (playing in Japan) is my dream,” he said. “I want to play here. I could go back to America, but it’s not an issue. I mean, I don’t want to go back. I’m happy where I am. I love my teammates and really feel like I’m part of the team.”

Because of the shoulder injury, he has started at a slower pace compared to last season. But with the injury now almost healed, Nakamura is expected to return to top form soon.

“He was slowed down by a shoulder ailment and then just the routine of getting in the late-inning situations (affected him),” Fighters manager Trey Hillman said. “But I’m not concerned about his slow start.

“I see him getting stronger and more confident, as long as he can stay physically strong with what he needs to do, he is going to continue to perform.

“He’s a great closer.”