Yomiuri Giants star Alex Ramirez hit a home run in his first official at-bat as a visitor in Jingu Stadium, home of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
That shot has proven to be a harbinger of things to come.
Of the many big names to switch teams during last season’s free agency period, Ramirez has been one of the few to have success against his former club.
Ramirez, or “Big Daddy” as he was known at times during his seven-year stint with the Swallows, has put up big numbers this season but has saved his best for Yakult.
“Big Daddy” is batting .444 against the Swallows with 13 RBIs and seven of his league-high 22 home runs coming against his old teammates.
“It’s just a coincidence, I guess,” Ramirez said. “I get hot when I play the Swallows. But there’s nothing special.”
Giants pitcher Seth Greisinger, Ramirez’s teammate with Yakult last season, has also been good against the Swallows.
Greisinger threw eight shutout innings against Yakult on Thursday night to improve to 3-0 against his old squad this season.
On the flip side, Hanshin’s Takehiro Arai, one of the top players in Japanese baseball this year, has not had much to cheer about when facing his old Hiroshima Carp teammates.
Arai is batting just .219 against the Carp, but does have a homer and five RBIs to his credit.
Orix slugger Alex Cabrera also hasn’t been his usual self against the Seibu Lions, who he played for from 2002-07.
Cabrera is just .128 with one homer and seven RBIs against the Lions so far this season.
Kazuhiro Wada, who also left the Lions this past offseason, has made the most of his four games against Seibu this year.
Wada switched leagues to join the Chunichi Dragons and went .438 with a pair RBIs against the Lions during the interleague season.
There is likely a lot of emotion for players who face their longtime teammates as rivals the first few times. Ramirez, for one, is still very close to his former teammates.
“I talk to those guys a lot,” Ramirez said. “I keep in touch with those guys. They were my friends, teammates for seven years. We keep in touch pretty often.”
The only downside for Ramirez is that the Swallows’ fans haven’t been exactly pleased with his productivity this year. Although in a climate where players change teams, Ramirez can sympathize with their feelings.
“It was kind of tough,” Ramirez said of his first trip to Jingu with the Giants. “Good memories there. The fans, they treated me great for seven years so I was a little surprised when they started booing me.
“But I realize that this is business. I’m with the Giants now and they don’t like the Giants. It’s OK. I have nothing but love for those guys. They were my friends for seven years and I still love them.”
Name game: Unlike in Major League Baseball, there have been a number of players in Japanese baseball to wear something other than their surname on their uniform.
Recent Tokyo Yakult Swallows signee Wilson Valdez is the latest player to take part in this trend in Japan. While many players have their own reasons for using their first names or nicknames on their uniform, the Swallows made the decision for Valdez.
The former L.A. Dodger said he didn’t think too much of it, but did admit it was a bit unusual. But he had a theory for the reason.
“They said they had my jersey and they were using my first name,” Valdez said. “So I just said ‘OK.’ They told me there was a guy named Valdez before. Maybe he didn’t do too well and that’s why.”
Some other players currently registered by first names include Rakuten’s Rick Short and Domingo Guzman, Hiroshima’s Alex Ochoa and Chiba Lotte’s Benny Agbayani and Saburo Omura.
For trivia’s sake Vida Blue, who played from 1969-86, was the last MLB player to wear his first name on his jersey before Ichiro Suzuki’s rookie season in 2001.
Tough crowd: Comedian Yoshio Kojima, famous for his Sonna no kankei nee (what does that matter?) routine and dance was in attendance for the Yomiuri Giants’ game against Tokyo Yakult on Tuesday night at Tokyo Dome.
The routine is very popular in Japan and abroad (thanks to the Internet) and has made Kojima a star.
He should be especially popular in Giants country as Alex Ramirez has implemented his own variation of the routine into the performance he gives following home runs.
Kojima had a good seat for Ramirez’s version on Tuesday as “Big Daddy” sent two balls into the seats during the contest.
“I’m not satisfied with his movement,” Kojima said. “If I have a chance to meet him. I want to teach him how to do it.”