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Ramirez happy to be back in NPB

by

Staff Writer

Alex Ramirez had an eventful first gameday on the job.

The new roving advisor to the Orix Buffaloes spent most of batting practice on Saturday giving instruction to many of the Orix hitters, including Yoshio Itoi and Takahiro Okada. Later, he high-fived a few Buffaloes cheerleaders, and greeted the team president.

Rami-chan is back and, other than the unfamiliar blue and gold hat and neon yellow practice shirt he was wearing, it’s like he never left.

“It’s a great feeling just to be back on the field,” Ramirez told The Japan Times on Saturday at QVC Marine Field, where the visiting Buffaloes were facing the Chiba Lotte Marines. “I’m really thankful to this organization for giving me this great opportunity.”

Ramirez, who had arguably the greatest career by a foreign player in Japan and is also the lone foreign member of NPB’s 2,000-hit club, will spend some time each month helping out the team’s players as part of his new duties.

He stood behind the batting cage before the team’s game against the Marines, and interacted with a number of players. He spent a little extra time passing on advice to Buffaloes slugger Okada, who homered in his first at-bat later that afternoon.

Ramirez, who never played in the Pacific League, formed a connection with the team through Francisco Carballo, a Venezuelan who lit up the independent Baseball Challenge League for the Gunma Diamond Pegasus, where Ramirez is senior director.

The Buffaloes signed Caraballo this season, and Ramirez has been helping aid his transition. It was during Ramirez’s interactions with Orix in this capacity that the current opportunity presented itself.

“I want to give back what I have learned through the years here in Japan and of course what I learned in the U.S.,” Ramirez said. “The baseball here in Japan is a totally different baseball. The mentality, especially.

“I strongly believe that the bunka (culture) is the first thing that you should learn about Japan to be able to succeed in Japanese baseball. That’s one of the things I try to help the gaikokujin players learn.”

Ramirez’s time in NPB clubhouses may also give him insight into how Japanese players tick.

“I strongly believe baseball is a mind game,” Ramirez said. “Most of the Japanese guys play based on their physical potential. For me to be able to give back a little bit of the mental approach that I have learned in Japan throughout these years and help the players combine the two is something I think is going to be very special.”

Ramirez spent 13 seasons in NPB with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, Yomiuri Giants and Yokohama BayStars. He was a two-time Central League MVP and helped win two Japan Series crowns.

Ramirez retired with 2,017 hits, a .301 career average and .859 career on-base plus slugging percentage. He hit 380 home runs during his career and his 1,272 RBIs are the most by a foreign player and 18th on NPB’s all-time list.

During his latter years, Ramirez spent time mentoring younger teammates, which is part of what he’ll do in his new role for Orix.

“When I was a player, I was also trying to help some of the players and I found myself in positions where I was stepping on coaches’ boundaries,” Ramirez said. “It was my mistake. But you learn through the years. Now that I’m on this side, I feel I have the knowledge to go out there and help these players.”

Orix has gotten off to a slow start to the year, but Ramirez, ever the optimist, doesn’t think its too late to turn things around.

“We have a very strong team,” Ramirez said. “Early in the season, guys got injured. Now they’re coming back and trying to get back in shape. I think this team has the potential to be an A-Class team. I keep telling some of the guys, let’s not focus on the games we’ve already played, let’s focus on from now on. Because we’ve still got the second half of the season, you never know what can happen. You just focus on today’s game.”

Ramirez has long talked about a desire to manage one day in Japan, where he plans to remain for the foreseeable future. Right now, however, he’s content to focus on the task at hand.

“This is the place for me,” Ramirez said. “I got married to a Japanese lady and I will stay here in Japan and live here in Japan. I’m really happy and I’m going to try to do the best that I can.

“When it comes to managing a team, of course, I have said in the past that it’s in my mind. It still is in the future. But right now, I’m just focusing on my job, trying to do my job, do the best that I can to help this team be an A-Class team.”