The atmosphere was electric when Shigeo Nagashima waved to the crowd at Tokyo Dome on July 3 before and during that evening’s Yomiuri Giants-Hiroshima Carp game.
“Mr. Giants” or “Mr. Japanese Baseball” or just “Mister,” the most popular figure in the history of the game in this country, was making his first public appearance since suffering a stroke a year and a half ago.
Nagashima, just by his presence, inspired the Giants for whom he played (1958-1974) and managed (1975-1980 and 1993-2001) and the 43,763 spectators in attendance, as he waved from the owner’s box below the Big Egg’s upper deck.
One by one as they took the field, the Kyojin players tipped their caps and bowed toward their beloved former mentor, and fans gave Nagashima a standing ovation.
“He’s a god,” said one fan.
“I came just to see him,” said another.
Nagashima appeared chipper with that trademark charismatic smile as he sat next to his son, Kazushige.
He waved to the crowd with his left hand, as his right hand, paralyzed by the stroke, was tucked into his trousers pocket. He reacted with delight when a Giants player got a hit or made a fine defensive play.
Unfortunately for the Giants and their fans, however, Nagashima could not deliver a victory, as Yomiuri lost to the Carp 4-1.
Still, the comeback of “Mister” excited the Giants faithful during this most mediocre of seasons for the team.
Diamond Dust: The Giants will play their annual home-away-from-home series in Hokkaido this week when they host the Chunichi Dragons at Sapporo Dome July 12-13.
It was the Giants and Dragons who played the first-ever pro game in that ballpark when it opened on June 26, 2001.
(Trivia question: Who was the Yomiuri pitcher who gave up a home run to what Chunichi batter on the first pitch ever thrown at an NPB game at Sapporo Dome? Answer below.)
One remembrance of that 2001 series was the fact Sapporo Dome sold out its entire three-game supply of beer before the first game had ended, and they had to scramble to order more suds to quench the fans’ thirst during the final two contests.
Speaking of beer and Sapporo, that brewery will introduce a new product later this month.
Bobeer, named after Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine, will go on sale nationwide on July 27.
Yakult Swallows slugger Alex Ramirez, himself a candidate for the Central League home run and RBI titles, says there is no doubt about it. His teammate, center fielder Norichika Aoki, will win the league batting championship this season.
Aoki, 23 (that’s his age and uniform number) and a second-year player, was batting .338 through games of July 6 and ranked second in the CL behind leader Hitoshi Tamura of the Yokohama BayStars.
Tamura was hitting .344 but is out of action after having been hospitalized for injuries sustained in a June 29 car crash.
Julio “Get Back” Zuleta and teammate Nobuhiko Matsunaga of the red-hot Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks are the leaders in the Pacific League home run derby, and both are amazing.
Through games of July 8, Matsunaga, last year’s Triple Crown batting winner, had 28 dingers with 73 runs batted in.
Zuleta, the Panamanian pounder, was right behind with 27 homers and 66 RBIs.
Moreover, Zuleta was second in the PL batting race with a .336 average (Seibu’s Yoshihito Ishii leads with .352) and is a Triple Crown threat himself this season.
Julio was named the Pa League Player of the Month for June, during which he hit .389 with nine homers and 18 ribbies.
If these guys maintain their current pace, Matsunaga would end the 2005 season with 46 homers and 120 RBIs, while Zuleta’s stats would be 44 homers and 108 RBIs.
The latest addition to Japan’s Meikyukai is Hiroshima Carp infielder Kenjiro Nomura who stroked his career 2,000th hit on June 23 at Hiroshima.
The Meikyukai (Golden Players Club) is for batters who mark 2,000 hits or pitchers who rack up 200 victories during their active careers in Japanese baseball.
Among those congratulating Nomura was former teammate Luis Medina who played for the Carp in 1993-1995.
Now a scout with the Kansas City Royals who often travels to Japan, Medina phoned “Kenny,” as Nomura is known to his foreign friends, to offer his “Omedeto.”
Nomura, 38, has been mentioned as the next Carp manager, and there has been speculation in the press he may be offered the job as early as this fall if current skipper Koji Yamamoto decides to step down.
However, Nomura has said that, when he retires, he would like to go to the U.S. and study American baseball strategy and techniques before going into coaching or managing here.
Finally this week, a tip of the cap to Wayne Terwilliger, an old-timer who was once a back-up second baseman for Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers and also played for the New York Giants, Washington Senators, Kansas City Athletics and Chicago Cubs.
(At least one of the clubs for whom he played is still in existence!)
Terwilliger also coached with the Minnesota Twins and is currently the manager of the Ft. Worth Cats of the Independent Central League in the U.S.
The reason for the mention here, besides his being named Wayne, is that he turned 80 years old on June 27 and is the second known man (the other is the legendary Connie Mack) to manage a team in organized baseball after becoming an octogenarian.
Happy Birthday, and congratulations on this unusual feat.
Trivia answer: Yomiuri Giants lefty Darrell May (now with the New York Yankees and reunited with former Tokyo teammate Hideki Matsui) threw the first pitch in the first pro game played at Sapporo Dome four years ago.
Chunichi Dragons outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, then batting leadoff, parked May’s initial serve into the right-field stands to record the stadium’s first hit, run scored, home run and RBI.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.