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Hara, Giants should have it easy with stacked roster in 2008

by Wayne Graczyk

A Happy New Year to all readers of the “Baseball Bullet-In.”

While we were away for two weeks, the Yomiuri Giants sealed that deal with former Yakult Swallows outfielder Alex Ramirez, completing acquisition of a trio of high-profile foreign players who have left rival Kanto-area Central League teams.

The Kyojin previously signed closer Marc Kroon, late of the Yokohama BayStars, and starting pitcher Seth Greisinger, who led the CL with 16 wins in 2007 while with Yakult.

Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara has to be in hog heaven as he looks over what is expected to be his Giants batting order on Opening Day, March 28, against the Swallows at Jingu Stadium in Tokyo.

Check it out:

1. Yoshinobu Takahashi, RF

2. Yoshitomo Tani, CF

3. Michihiro Ogasawara, 3B

4. Alex Ramirez, LF

5. Lee Seung Yeop, 1B

6. Tomohiro Nioka, SS

7. Shinnosuke Abe, C

8. Ryota Wakiya, 2B

9. Koji Uehara, P

As you can see, that list is packed with superstar sluggers, .300 hitters, league leaders and MVPs. Furthermore, the sought-after balance is there with a “zig-zag” lineup of alternating left-handed and right-handed batters from Takahashi through Abe, who might be the best seventh-place hitter anywhere.

Then, off the bench, you have pinch-hitting specialists Kenji Yano and Takayuki Shimizu, both of whom would be starting regulars on any other team, and utility man Takuya Kimura, who can fill in as an infielder or outfielder.

Uehara moves back into the starting mound rotation with fellow right-handers Greisinger and Hiroshi Kisanuki and southpaw chuckers Hisanori Takahashi and Tetsuya Utsumi.

Kroon will take over the closer’s role from Uehara; Kiyoshi Toyoda and Masanori Hayashi are the righty-lefty setup men, and Kentaro Nishimura is the workhorse middle reliever on a fully loaded staff.

If Hara cannot succeed with this team, something will have gone terribly wrong somewhere during the season. All he really has to do is sit back and watch them play — and win.

Meanwhile, I wonder if Ramirez has begun rehearsing yet his post-home run “performance” with the Giants “Giabbit” mascot.

After playing seven seasons with Yakult and hitting 211 fence-clearing blasts, Rami and the Swallows bird character had the celebration ritual down to a perfect synchronized routine.

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It is interesting that one of Japan’s new major leaguers, outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, will be wearing jersey No. 1 with the Chicago Cubs, the same numeral he used throughout his career here with the Chunichi Dragons. There was once a time when active players on the Cubs did not get to put that number on their backs.

How many of you remember the 1960s when the Cubbies played all day games at home because there were no lights at Wrigley Field, and the team had a strict uniform number scheme based on the positions each man played?

The manager, no matter who he was, wore No. 1, and the coaches wore numbers 2 trough 6. The catchers were identified by shirts numbered 7, 8 and 9, infielders were given uniforms numbered 10 through 19, and the outfielders wore something between 20 and 29.

A guy with a numeral in the 30s or 40s was recognized as a pitcher.

Recall “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks was No. 14 as a shortstop earlier in his career and later as a first baseman?

All-star third baseman Ron Santo wore 10, and high-profile outfielder Billy Williams wore 26. The tradition carried into the 1980s as well; superstar second baseman Ryne Sandberg was No. 23.

That’s all changed over the years, and nowadays any Chicago player or staff member can wear any number. Also changed is Wrigley Field, where lights were installed in 1988. Still, the Cubs play the fewest night home games of any MLB club, and that should help No. 1, according to the Chunichi Sports.

The paper pointed out Fukudome, a two-time Central League batting champ, is a lifetime .305 hitter in nine years with the Dragons, but his average in day games is. 335. Under the lights, it’s just .299.

Are you a Cubs fan living in Japan?

Expect to see a lot more of their games on satellite and cable TV here this year, now that Fukudome will be in manager Lou Piniella’s lineup.

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The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks will be celebrating a double anniversary this season. It is 70 years since the franchise was established as the Nankai Hawks in Osaka in 1938, and 2008 will be the 20th season for the team in Kyushu.

In 1988, Nankai Railways sold the club to Daiei, and it became the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, playing under that name in that city until Softbank bought the Pacific League team prior to the 2005 campaign.

A special logo has been designed to commemorate the twin celebration, featuring an image of mascot character Harry the Hawk in a batting pose and the words “Anniversary, 20th Kyushu and 70th Hawks.”

Events marking both milestones will take place throughout the year.

Congratulations to the Hawks and also to the newly named Saitama Seibu Lions who are also marking an anniversary. It’s that club’s 30th season in Tokorozawa under the Seibu banner.

In the majors, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are marking their 50th year since moving from New York City to California following the 1957 season.

Can it be?

Finally this week, if you haven’t yet heard, the naming rights to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ home ballpark in Sendai have been transferred, and it will no longer be known as Fullcast Stadium Miyagi.

The rights now belong to Nippon Seishi, or Japan Paper, and the Eagles’ home ground will be known as Kleenex Stadium.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com