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Eagles slugger Jones gets his first taste of NPB All-Star Series

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Andruw Jones had a decent understanding of the pitchers he’d face during his first All-Star Series.

Some of them he’d seen at the 2013 World Baseball Classic in the spring, while he came across others during the interleague season.

So the first-time NPB All-Star, who just happens to also be a five-time MLB All-Star, was prepared to see Central League hurlers try to get him out with the best stuff in their arsenals.

That’s what Jones was expecting at least.

What he got was a litany of fastballs from pitchers eager to go one-on-one with one of the most accomplished major leaguers to ever to suit up in Japan.

“I thought the game plan was, they’re going to throw whatever they throw, but I saw what they did (throw fastballs),” Jones said before Game 2 of the All-Star Series on Saturday.

Not that he was complaining.

“I think that’s a good thing about the All-Star Game,” the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles star said. “Sometimes in the States, it gets a little more competitive and the guys try to pitch to you. What I’ve seen so far here is they give you two good fastballs to hit, and if you don’t miss them, then they try to strike you out.

“I like the way they go about their business. It really says something about what kind of pitcher each guy who gets on mound is.”

Jones is 0-for-3 through the first two games of the series and will be looking for his first hit in an NPB All-Star game during the finale on Monday in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture.

The game could be an emotional one for many Eagles fans, as it takes place in one of the areas in Tohoku affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.

The gravity of the situation wasn’t lost on the Willemstad, Curacao, native.

“Just to support the earthquake relief and the people,” he said when asked about the extra meaning attached to the game. “(We’re) trying to inspire them and instill hope and help them put that tragedy behind them.”

When told the fans would love to see him hit a home run in Iwaki, Jones joked, “I hope (for that) every day.

I just (want) to go out there and have fun and have a great game. Every time I put the uniform on, I go out there trying to win, and if it doesn’t happen I look to the next day. But it would be nice to win a game there and have our fans enjoy it.”

The former MLB star is in his first year in Japan and entered the All-Star break tied for fourth in the Pacific League with 17 home runs and 10th in the league with 48 RBIs.

Rakuten manager Senichi Hoshino has credited Jones’ play, as well as that of fellow first-year foreign player Casey McGehee, as being among the main reasons for the Eagles’ current perch atop the Pa League standings, two-games ahead of the second place Chiba Lotte Marines.

A veteran of 17 MLB seasons, Jones was an MLB All-Star in 2000, ’02, ’03, ’04 and ’06.

He said he didn’t see very many differences between the All-Star experiences in Japan and the U.S.

“I think the atmosphere is the same,” Jones said. “The players from both sides of the league get together and play a summer game to give the fans a chance to see all the good players playing together on the same field.

“After that, it’s seeing the guys you compete against and talk to them, take pictures and have fun.”