FUKUOKA — Game 2 of the Japan Series at the Fukuoka Decibel Dome.
With a recording of “Simply Irresistible” by the late Robert Palmer blaring intermittently over the public address system and the boisterous fans of the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks and Hanshin Tigers taking turns pounding their drums and megaphones and screaming their throats sore, you can hardly hear in here. I can’t hear in here.
For the man who made the biggest noise in Game 1 on Saturday night, Hawks’ designated hitter Julio Zuleta, being in the Japan Series is just the start of what he hopes will be a long career in Japanese baseball.
The 28-year-old, 197-cm tall native of Panama began the year with the Boston Red Sox Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket, R.I.
On Saturday night, he was king of Kyushu after delivering a “sayonara” hit in the bottom of the ninth to claim the title of hero in the Series opener.
Zuleta realized a few years ago he was being labeled as a career minor leaguer. Over four seasons with the Chicago Cubs, he made round trips from the majors the bush leagues eight times.
“I would always have a great spring training,” he said. “But I never made the big league squad.”
He tried to come to Japan three or four years ago and, when his contract was sold to a team across the Pacific last June, it was as if he’d gone to Paradise.
“Coming over in midseason to a first-place team, I think I did pretty good,” he said, pointing to his half-year stats of 13 homers, 43 RBIs and a .266 batting average.
“With a spring training and a full season next year, I should do a lot better,” he said. Just what opposing Pa League pitchers need!
“I love being in Japan and the city of Fukuoka. The fans are great. I hope to play the remainder of my career here,” he said.
While he was an early leading candidate for Japan Series MVP, Zuleta knows it will be tough to win that honor as a DH.
Central League rules go into effect for the next three games at Hanshin Koshien Stadium. The pitchers will hit, Zuleta will sit but will get the call as a pinch swinger.
Should he win the series MVP award and a 2 million yen bonus, Zuleta says he will make a donation to help people in need in his native Panama.
Meanwhile, the series moves to Koshien, that shrine of a stadium below the Hanshin Expressway between Osaka and Kobe, where at least we’ll be outdoors and crowd noise will have someplace to go.
If we come back to the enclosed Fukuoka Dome for a Game 6 on Oct. 25, I’ve got to get me some ear plugs.
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