OSAKA – Four of baseball’s top sluggers — Tuffy Rhodes of the Orix Buffaloes, Tomoaki Kanemoto of the Hanshin Tigers, G.G. Sato from the Seibu Lions and Yomiuri Giants outfielder Alex Ramirez — competed in a home run derby before the first game of Nippon Professional Baseball’s All-Star Series on Thursday.
When the dust settled, Kyocera Dome was the only thing left standing.
Despite the quartet’s 93 combined homers this season, only six balls left the field as Rhodes and Seibu’s G.G. Sato shared the title of Home Run King during the All-Star festivities in Osaka.
Rhodes won the battle of veterans in the first round with five homers to defeat Kanemoto 5-0. He homered in his first two at bats and reached the upper deck twice to advance to the final.
Ramirez predicted one home run would be all it would take to win his matchup with G.G. Sato in the other first round meeting.
He was right. One homer was all it took and it was Sato that hit it.
“I knew it would be 1-0,” Ramirez said. “I just didn’t I think I would lose,” he joked.
Sato, who used Seibu third baseman Takeya Nakamura as his pitcher, was down to his last two outs before hitting a shot to left.
Neither Rhodes nor Sato had any homers left in them for the final, which ended 0-0.
Back where it began: Yomiuri Giants closer Marc Kroon spent three All-Star seasons with the Yokohama BayStars where he became one of the top closers in Japanese baseball.
Kroon returns to his Japanese baseball roots tonight, when the NPB All-Star Series moves to Yokohama Stadium.
Because the Central League is the designated home team it also means that Kroon, who has played in Yokohama as a member of the Giants, will also return as a member of the home team.
“I’ll definitely have some mixed feelings,” Kroon said. “You know to be sitting in front of my old locker again.
“But to be an all-star and go back there . . . To leave that environment and go back there as an All-Star will be different. I had three good seasons there and there are going to be some mixed feelings to go that way (into the home locker room) again. I’m trying not to think about it. We’ll see what happens.”
Not-so-famous papa: Fukuoka Softbank Hawks star Nobuhiko Matsunaka spent some quality time with his son, Daiki, during the Pacific League’s batting practice before the All-Star game. Matsunaka’s young son was a miniature version of his father dressed in a replica Hawks uniform that had the No. 3 (Matsunaka’s number) “Daiki,” and an autograph on the back.
“That’s Darvish’s,” the elder Matsunaka said of the signature. “I don’t understand why. I guess I’m not famous enough to sign it,” he joked.
Good cause: Both teams took batting practice Thursday in special uniforms that will be auctioned off to charity.
“We’re only wearing them for practice,” Hokkaido Nippon Ham and PL manager Masataka Nashida said. “Although I kind of like the uniform.”
The Pa League took the field in powder blue jerseys with “Pacific” written across the front, while the CL players wore green tops with “Central” across the front. The BP-used uniforms will be auctioned at a later date.
“I think it’s really cool,” Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine said.
From the stands: If there was any doubt as to where the loudest fans in Japan reside, the All-Star game erased them. The Kyocera Dome sounded more like Koshien Stadium late in the contest as the Hanshin Tigers’ famed supporters had taken over the game by the seventh inning.
Where earlier fans from each team honored their players with team-specific cheers, by the seventh the only cheers heard were Hanshin cheers using various non-Tigers players names.
Giving credit where credit, the support had the stadium rocking as the Central League rallied to take the lead with a three-run seventh.