The last ‘homegrown’ foreign player to make any major impact for the Yomiuri Giants was volatile pitcher Balvino Galvez, whose reign of terror lasted from 1996-2000.
Before him, there was Warren Cromartie, the 1989 Central League MVP who hit .321 with 171 home runs, 558 RBIs over seven years with the Kyojin.
The Giants have haven’t had much luck with their own foreign players since Galvez left — and his last really productive season was in 1998.
From then on, Yomiuri’s most reliable pipeline for foreign talent has been the other 11 NPB teams, with past and present major contributors such as Lee Seung Yeop, Seth Greisinger, Alex Ramirez, D.J. Houlton, and others arriving at Tokyo Dome only after stints with other NPB teams.
So there must be — even at this early junction — at least a little bit of cautions optimism at how outfielder John Bowker and infielder Jose Lopez have performed in the Kyojin’s first two series of 2013.
The pair combined for seven RBIs in the Giants’ 7-4 win over the Yokohama BayStars on Tuesday, with Lopez connecting on a three-run home run and RBI single while Bowker hit a grand slam.
“We had guys in scoring position,” Bowker said. “I was lucky to be able to come up with the bases loaded with nobody out, and Jose did a good job with the runner on third base to try score the guy, and he ended up hitting a home run.”
Lopez is off to a rousing start to his first season in Japan. His first NPB hit was a solo home run against the Hiroshima Carp on Opening Night, and the Venezuelan has eight hits, including a double and two home runs, in 22 NPB at-bats and has driven in five runs.
“I feel good,” Lopez said. “I’m playing well in the field also, and I don’t want to stop. I want to keep going.”
The 29-year-old Lopez spent nine seasons in the majors before joining the Giants and has a .262 career average with 92 home runs and 480 RBIs in MLB.
He likely won’t keep his early-season NPB pace up the rest of the year, but could still give Yomiuri another dangerous bat in an order that was already sufficiently potent.
“He’s a smart hitter,” Bowker said. “He’s had a lot success in the big leagues. We talk a lot about what pitchers throw and that type of stuff. So I listen a lot to what he says.”
Lopez will spend a lot of time getting used to things during his first season, but should be able to lean on Bowker, who is in his second year in Japan.
“I don’t think he needs any tips right now,” Bowker joked. “He’s swinging the bat pretty well.”
The former San Francisco Giants outfielder had a tough 2012 campaign, but hit a pair of home runs and played an instrumental role during the Giants’ victory over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in last fall’s Japan Series.
That may have convinced Yomiuri to give him a second chance, with the hope his past experience will make a difference.
“Last year was a learning experience,” he said. “I felt like I finished the season strong. This season, I was able to come out and stay strong.
“I think it’s more mental. I didn’t change my swing or anything. I think it’s just more mental, and more having experience.”
The 29-year-old Sacramento, California, native has made the most of his playing time so far this season, with five extra-base hits (three doubles, a two-run home run and Thursday’s grand slam) and nine RBIs in 17 at-bats.
After hitting his two-run home run in a 7-2 win over the Chunichi Dragons on Friday, Bowker said his only goal was to help the Giants win games.
“No personal goals” Bowker said. “Just team goal, and that’s to come out and win everyday.”
Wasn’t the right time: Alex Ramirez’s pursuit of his 2,000th career hit lined up perfectly for the Yokohama BayStars’ first home series of the year. It wasn’t to be, however, as rain washed out the first game of the series against the Yomiuri Giants. Ramirez went 0-for-8 over the remaining two games.
Ramirez didn’t seem too disappointed with having to wait a bit longer before becoming the first foreign player to reach 2,000 NPB hits.
“I still got 139 games left,” he laughed.
It’s not likely to take quite that long. Ramirez picked up a pair of singles on Friday night against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows to bring his career total to 1,999.
They come in twos: Thursday’s slate featured two feats of offensive brilliance and a night a pair of hitting coaches would just as soon forget.
Yomiuri Giants outfielder John Bowker and Hokkaido Nippon Ham outfielder Daikan Yoh both hit grand slams on Thursday to help lead their respective teams to victories.
On the other side, the Hiroshima Carp and Chunichi Dragons each won 1-0 affairs, but did it despite offenses that couldn’t muster a single RBI.