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Nakamura thrills fans, impresses fellow All-Stars

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Takeya Nakamura put his stamp on the All-Star Series on Saturday.

No matter what happens in Sendai on Sunday, two of the lasting images from this year’s festivities will be the Seibu Lions slugger’s two towering home runs in the swirling winds of QVC Marine Field.

Nakamura got in a few practice swings before the game during the home run derby, where he defeated Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger Wladimir Balentien to take home the title.

“I knew a long time ago what he could do,” Balentien said. “He’s got great power.”

Once the game began, the fireworks really got going.

Nakamura opened the scoring with a 131.4-meter shot to left field off CL starter Shohei Tateyama, a blast that nearly smacked the wall behind the seats. His next homer was just as impressive, a 126.9-meter drive to straightaway center that bounced off the back screen.

He looked as if he was trying to knock the cover off the ball at times. After the game, Nakamura said he was employing an “All-Star” swing.

“That’s right,” he said. “I wouldn’t swing like that during the season.”

No matter, he still left a group of impressed players in both dugouts.

“He’s as great as I thought,” Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters outfielder Sho Nakata said.

The day the Lions star had Saturday was just an extension of what he’s done all season. In a year, where home run numbers are dropping rapidly, Nakamura is on pace to hit 50.

So far, he’s the only hitter to have conquered the nuances of the NPB’s newly mandated ball, which has been labeled as the reason for the decline in power numbers this season.

He leads Japan with 26 homers, with Balentien second with 19. His .597 slugging percentage is also the best in Japan. Among players with at least 270 at-bats, the next best is the .451 percentage Yokohama BayStars slugger Shuichi Murata has put up.

“What he’s doing doesn’t surprise me,” said Yomiuri Giants star Alex Ramirez, who led Japan with 49 homers last season. “He’s a good hitter.”

Following the game. Nakamura said he only hoped he helped brighten the day of some of the people left suffering after the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 11.

“It doesn’t matter if I really have good results or not,” Nakamura said. “I just want to give some energy to the people up there, and it would be great if they said ‘Nakamura’s swings were amazing’ afterward.