TOKOROZAWA, SAITAMA PREF. – History has seen lots of baseball players play for long periods of time — Chunichi’s Masahiro Yamamoto, in his 29th season, and Jamie Moyer, still pitching in the U.S. at age 49, to name a pair — but no one has yet figured out how to play forever.
Alex Ramirez has been around long enough to understand that, and in his 12th season in Japan, after playing from 1993-2000 in the U.S., Ramirez is paying special attention to everything around him, storing even the smallest details away for future use.
“I’m trying to learn as much as I can, soak up as much as I can,” Ramirez said at Seibu Dome Saturday before his Yokohama BayStars took on the Seibu Lions. “Because in the future, I want to be a manager in Japan. So I’m trying to do my stuff, while also taking in as much as I can.”
The longer a great player’s career lasts, the finer the line between effective and just hanging on becomes — Hideki Matsui is currently straddling that line.
Ramirez is still on the right side of things.
He got off to a slow start to the season, but has heated up with the weather. Ramirez hit .215 with three doubles in 22 games in March and April, but is batting .315 with five doubles, four home runs and 16 RBIs since then. Ramirez is putting the ball in play a bit more, striking out just four times in his last 23 games.
“The thing is, I’ve always started slow, and around this time started hitting the ball better,” Ramirez said. “My preparation is helping me get better. I think the approach that I have now is a little bit different than what I had at the beginning of the season.
“At the beginning of the season, I was taking a lot of pitches early in the count, and they were throwing me a lot of strikes early in the count. What I did was watch some videos and stuff like that, and I realized those things. So I needed to change my approach and try to swing early in the count. That is helping me to hit the ball better and produce better.”
Less than an hour after saying that, Ramirez swung at an 0-1 pitch from Lions pitcher Fumiya Nishiguchi and connected on a two-run home run.
Ramirez is currently hitting .273 with four home runs and 22 RBIs overall.
“I’m on a good pace right now,” Ramirez said. “When I think about it, at this point each year, I probably have about 10 to 15 home runs and 30 or 40 RBIs. Just because of the ball, it doesn’t carry as much, everybody’s numbers are down. So I think my numbers are OK. I think I’m OK right now, but I also think I should be doing better.”
Ramirez is among the most, if not the most, accomplished foreign players in NPB history.
A two-time Central League MVP (2008 and 2009), Ramirez has twice led the CL in home runs and won the batting title in 2009.
The six-time All-Star won the Japan Series with the Yakult Swallows in 2001 and captured another in 2009 with the Yomiuri Giants.
Ramirez has had much more success than the majority of the BayStars, which gives his words weight in a clubhouse used to losing, but he feels it’s better to lead by example.
“The only thing that you can show, is what you do on the field,” Ramirez said. “I can’t come here and say ‘I’m going to be the leader of this team.’ What I can show is my leadership on the field. By doing that, the players can follow those things and the team is going to do better. I cannot put anything in anyone’s mind, but I can show (them) what I can do, and let everybody see and let everybody follow.”
Ramirez has also taken a slightly hands-off approach with the team’s younger players, hoping to keep things simple for them.
“At the beginning of the season, I was helping some of the guys and I’m still helping some of the guys,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to help some of the young players because we also have our coaching staff, which is new, and they’re trying to do their jobs. I don’t want to be the guy who’s going to put two things in the players’ minds.”
Ramirez thinks the best way he can help the team is to focus on his own performance. He also says it’s important the BayStars remain confident and take a game-by-game approach to the rest of the season.
“This team has great guys, great players,” Ramirez said. “Young players. I think this team is going to be one of the best in the Central League in the near future. But we have to put it together. It’s going to take some time.
“I may have one or two more years left, and I’m going to try to put on the best performance I can to fulfill my responsibilities.”