Alex Ramirez, the only foreign-born player with 2,000 hits in Nippon Professional Baseball history said Thursday he will sign with the Gunma Diamond Pegasus of the independent Baseball Challenge League.
Ramirez, who was released by the Yokohama BayStars last fall after spending much of the 2013 season in the minor league, told Kyodo News by telephone, “I’m so happy to have this opportunity to show these people, show NPB teams I can still play.”
Salaries in the six-team circuit are capped at ¥400,000 a month, a tiny fraction of what Ramirez, a two-time Central League MVP earned in his days with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, Yomiuri Giants and BayStars. The team has also asked Ramirez to help out as a batting coach as well.
“There are so many merits in acquiring a player of Ramirez’s caliber,” Gunma Diamond Pegasus representative Takeyuki Ito said. “He is a true professional. We are looking forward to what he’ll do for our offense, and to the kind of impact his presence can have on a team made up of many young players.”
In addition to his in-game effort, Ramirez has been a fan favorite for the attention he spends on the paying customers and is well known for his performances after hitting home runs.
“In terms of fan service, he brings more than even Japanese players do,” Ito said. “He has a large following from the Swallows, Giants and BayStars, and we believe he is going to create a lot of energy and excitement that will get families to come out to the ballpark.”
Ramirez reached his 2,000-hit milestone early in the 2013 season, but played in just 56 games last season for the BayStars. In the minors, he batted .301 with three homers in 26 games for Yokohama’s Eastern League club last season.
He is 20 home runs shy of 400 in his Japan career and has said that, and managing in Japan, are two of his top goals.
“I’m so excited. You have no idea,” he said. “I’m not trying to play for the money. Teams were saying, ‘Rami-chan, you’re a superstar, you’re too expensive.’ But it’s not about that. It’s about the opportunity to get back on the field.”