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Stairs still slugging away 15 years after Japan stint

by Wayne Graczyk

Why is it some players are apparently not good enough to play in Japan but, after being discarded by a Japanese team, go back to the major leagues and play some meaningful games, seasons or, in some cases, enjoy a lengthy career?

The champion in this category has to be Matt Stairs, now 39 years old and playing with the Philadelphia Phillies as they challenge the New York Mets for the National League East Division title and a berth in the playoffs.

Even the most enthusiastic baseball fans may forget Stairs played part of a season in the Central League with the Chunichi Dragons — 15 long years ago.

The native of New Brunswick, Canada, posted lackluster statistics with a .250 batting average, six home runs and 22 RBIs while playing in only 58 games during that 1993 season in Nagoya.

Most players hang it up after Japan, but not Stairs. Following his release by Chunichi, he went on to play in the majors with the Boston Red Sox, Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, and now he has a shot at playing in the World Series with the Phillies.

He’s hit more than 250 homers in the majors, and you can call him “Mr. Perseverance.”

One of his teammates with the Phils, by the way, is Andy Tracy who played or — more accurately — rode the bench with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2005. The infielder appeared in 63 games, hitting just .209 with six homers and 15 RBIs.

With the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Ironpigs of Allentown, Pa., Tracy hit .296 with 21 home runs and 82 RBIs this season. That is what earned him a callup to the Phillies for the stretch run.

Tracy, like Stairs, will never be known for his fling in Japanese baseball. But there they are, still plugging away and looking to excite the crowds in the City of Brotherly Love.

Good for them.

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Meanwhile, here in Japan, where will the Hanshin Tigers play Climax Series games with respect to the Orix Buffaloes?

Hanshin will surely finish first or second in the regular season Central League pennant race and will play home games in Stage 1 or Stage 2 of the CLCS and, maybe, the Japan Series.

The Tigers cannot use their own Koshien Stadium for postseason play because of a continuing offseason renovation of the old ballpark which began last October. They will schedule home games at either Kyocera Osaka Dome or Skymark Stadium in Kobe, both home fields of the Buffaloes.

Now it appears Orix will also make the playoffs and, if the Buffaloes hang on to second place, they will have home-ground advantage in Stage 1 of the Pacific League Climax Series. Should we see a Hanshin-Orix Japan Series, they will have to figure out who plays home games at which stadium.

By the way, you gotta give credit to Orix manager Daijiro Oishi for what the team has accomplished since he took over following the resignation of Terry Collins on May 25. Who would have thought, even in early July, the Buffaloes would be playoff-bound?

How are they doing it?

Foreign players Alex Cabrera and Tuffy Rhodes have carried most of the offensive load, hitting home runs in tandem reminiscent of Mickey Mantle-Roger Maris of the New York Yankees or Hank Aaron-Eddie Mathews of the Milwaukee Braves in the 1950s and ’60s.

Well, maybe not quite that prolific, but Cabrera, through games of Thursday, was fourth in the Pacific League with a .319 average and had hit 35 homers with 98 RBIs.

Rhodes was batting .279 with 38 dingers and a league-leading 107 RBIs — not bad for a 40-year-old.

A quartet of Japanese starting pitchers have stepped up as well, with right-hander Satoshi Komatsu (13-3, 2.62 ERA) leading the way.

Lefty Shogo Yamamoto is 9-6 with a 3.51 ERA, and Chihiro Kaneko, another righty, is 10-9 with a 4.02 ERA.

One more right-hander, Kazuki Kondo, is 8-7 with a 3.82 ERA.

Closer Daisuke Kato tops the Pa League with 33 saves and has an ERA of 3.08 in 61 appearances.

You might say the Buffs are Japan’s Tampa Bay Rays.

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Finally this week, an American fan visiting Japan recently attended a Yomiuri Giants game, and she wants to buy one of those colorful uniforms worn by the female vendors who sell beer in the stands at Tokyo Dome.

Why does she want it?

To wear as a Halloween costume.

I wonder if she also wants one of those tanks the beer girls carry on their backs with the supply of suds delivered cup by cup through a nozzle.

Trick or treat?

Biru wa ikaga desuka?

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Contact Wayne Graczyk: wayne@JapanBall.com