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Morgan hopes to aid BayStars’ climb out of CL cellar

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

There are so many written and unwritten rules around baseball that sometimes people in the sport tend to take things a little too seriously.

That’s not a problem for new Yokohama BayStars outfielder Nyjer Morgan, who has the utmost respect for his craft, but is careful to remember that baseball is a game, and games are supposed to be fun.

“It’s all from when I was a kid,” Morgan said recently. “When they said go out there, it’s a game. I never forgot that it’s still a game, and you gotta have fun. Even though I know it’s our job and our career, but it always goes back to when I was playing in little league and just going out there and having fun.”

Morgan and the BayStars hope to keep the good times rolling all the way into the Central League Climax Series.

The BayStars haven’t had much to smile about since 1998, when then-manager Hiroshi Gondo’s machine-gun offense led them to the CL Pennant and Japan Series title. Yokohama finished with wining record in each of the next three seasons, but haven’t ended a year above .500 since 2001.

Morgan sees no reason the ‘Stars can’t snap their string of futility this season

“We all believe in each other,” he said. “We came together in Spring Training, and it’s been a lot of fun. We understand you gotta have fun to be successful in this game and you can just tell, ever since I got here, it’s just been a lot of fun.

“No matter how down and out the game is, we’re all going to pull for each other and that’s what it takes to be a winning, successful team.”

Morgan’s reputation precedes him. The 32-year-old has a fun-loving personality and it shows. He celebrates successful plays with zeal and his alter-ego “Tony Plush,” is usually only a nice catch or big hit away from making his presence felt.

Morgan is still finding his way in Japan, and BayStars fans have already taken a liking to his exuberance. He’s has done what’s been asked of him so far, including laying down bunts to advance runners.

“That’s part of my game,” he said. “Whatever I can do to help set the table for the big boys like (Tony) Blanco and Rami-Chan (Alex Ramirez). I feel that’s part of my job. If I can take care of what I can do on the field and do all of the little things, then it’s going to be a beautiful year.

Learning the ropes: Shohei Otani is still waiting to make his ichi-gun debut as a pitcher, but the rookie has already been in and out of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters’ lineup as a position player.

While Otani got the chance to face the Seibu Lions’ Takayuki Kishi and reigning Sawamura Award winner Tadashi Settsu, of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, as a batter during the Fighters’ first two series of the season, this past Wednesday brought an entirely different challenge: Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles ace Masahiro Tanaka.

Tanaka began Otani’s first at-bat of Wednesday’s game with three straight balls, then struck the rookie out on his next three pitches. Otani grounded out in his second at-bat, and Tanaka struck him out in their final showdown of the night.

“He has a great fastball,” Otani said afterward. “His pitches are pretty consistent, and he’s especially focused when there are runners on base. That was impressive. His fastball was the fastest among the pitchers I have faced.”

Otani looked out of sorts against Tanaka, but the night was a learning experience for the 18-year-old star, who isn’t yet a month into his professional career.

“Tanaka looked like he was sending Otani a message as a professional ballplayer,” Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama said. “I can tell from watching his combination of pitches against Otani.

“Otani must have felt something by facing Japan’s ace pitcher. He can learn a lot from that. He should make the best of that to improve. That is one of the reasons I put him in the lineup despite the fact he mainly practiced his pitching today.”

Shining ‘Stars: Three players joined Japanese baseball’s 2,000-hit club last season as Atsunori Inaba, Shinya Miyamoto and Hiroshi Kokubo all reached the mark in 2012.

This year should end with at least three more players achieving the milestone, and all three will have strong ties to the Yokohama BayStars.

Current BayStars outfielder Alex Ramirez has already done his part, recording his 2,000th hit with a home run on April 6 at Jingu Stadium.

Teammate Norihiro Nakamura isn’t far behind, with 1,979 hits.

The doors will also open for Chunichi Dragons catcher Motonobu Tanishige, who may beat Nakamura to the goal.

Nakamura was 0-for-2 for Yokohama on Thursday, while Tanishige recorded a pair of hits to bring his career total to 1,984.

Tanishige may currently play for the Dragons, but the veteran is one of two active players to have once worn the uniform of the Yokohama Taiyo Whales. BayStars pitcher Daisuke Miura the other.

The 42-year-old Tanishige was a Whale for four seasons and remained in Yokohama for nine years after the team was rechristened as the BayStars in 1993.