There are a lot of familiar faces with new baseball teams this season and each had his own reasons for making a change.
For new Yomiuri Giants closer Marc Kroon, the reason was simple.
“I want to win,” Kroon said. “That’s why I came here. I’ve done all the personal things, fastest pitch records, All-Star games and I’ve got enough money. I want a ring. If I could win a ring here. . .”
Kroon signed with the Giants over the offseason after recording 31 saves for the Yokohama BayStars in 2007. Entering his fourth season in Japan, after spending the previous three with Yokohama, Kroon has 84 career saves and a 2.82 ERA.
His signing strengthens a bullpen that lost last season’s closer, Koji Uehara, to the starting rotation.
So far, Kroon has made a smooth transition to the Giants and is adjusting to the team’s rules, which are famously more strict than those of other clubs.
“I’m learning to do things the Giants way,” he said jokingly while rubbing his now hairless chin.
The earrings and facial hair may be gone, but Kroon is as laid back as ever and ready to take his game to an even higher level. Not even playing for Japan’s most storied franchise seems to have affected his demeanor.
“People keep asking about the pressure of pitching in this place,” Kroon said. “I’m like, what pressure?”
The New York native is also unfazed at the prospect of spending an entire season at Tokyo Dome, one of the most notoriously hitter-friendly parks in Japan.
“The only thing here is, you’ve got to throw strikes and keep the ball down,” Kroon said.
“If you walk people, you’re asking for trouble. A solo home run is not going to kill you. It’s the walks and base hits before the home run. Because you’re not going to be able to stop the ball from going out here. Everybody knows that.”
Kroon already has his sights set on Uehara’s franchise-record 32 saves, which the Yomiuri star achieved last season.
“Those are the (type of) numbers I want to get,” Kroon said. “I’m close to 100 (career) saves so I’m looking forward to that, too. But those are just personal things to make you feel like you’ve had some success. The main thing is helping our team win. Anything I can do to contribute to the team is a positive.”
While he is hoping to surpass Uehara’s mark, Kroon also has a deep respect for Chunichi closer Hitoki Iwase.
“I think Iwase is the best,” Kroon said. “The reason I say he’s the best, and I’m not taking anything away from (Hanshin’s Kyuji) Fujikawa, is because he does it year in and year out. I mean, I’ve been here for three years and he’s had 40 saves every year.”
At 34, Kroon says that a championship would make his career in Japan complete. He’s also begun to think about the type of legacy that he will leave when the day he hangs up his cleats finally arrives.
Despite the records he holds and the numbers he’s put up over his career, Kroon wants to be remembered for more than just statistics when it’s all said and done.
“I don’t want to be known as just the guy that was the fastest (Kroon holds the Japanese baseball record for fastest pitch thrown, 161 kph), because somebody is going to break that (record),” Kroon said.
“I want to be known as one of the foreign guys that came over here and had a lot of success over a long time.”