Baseball / Japanese Baseball | NPB NOTEBOOK

Laird closing in on 40-homer year

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Brandon Laird has become a favorite among Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters fans for his home run celebration, not to mention the homers themselves, which sees him mimic a chef making sushi.

There was a lot to celebrate on Saturday night, when he hit three home runs against the Orix Buffaloes to bring his season total to a Pacific League-best 35, three ahead of the Seibu Lions’ Ernesto Mejia through Saturday’s games. When he was asked to give a message to the fans, Laird, who usually professes his love of sushi during his hero interviews, said simply, “sushi paradise.”

The Fighters slugger is moving closer to the first 40-homer season in the PL since the Lions’ Takeya Nakamura hit 48 in 2011.

He was in the zone on Saturday, going 5-for-5 at the plate.

Laird hit a two-run shot to right in his first at-bat.

“I knew the wind was blowing out to right, and I knew I hit it well. Once I saw it go out it was a good feeling,” Laird said during the hero interview.

His second was a three-run homer to left.

“That one felt good too,” he said. “That was more on a line and I was just hoping I hit it high enough.”

He sent a ball over the wall in left, a two-run blast, later in the game for his third homer of the night.

“I knew that one was definitely gone,” he said. “It’s a good feeling.”

Mejia isn’t too far behind Laird and there’s a chance the Pa. League could have two players with at least 40 homers for the first time since 2009, when Nakamura hit 46 and the Orix Buffaloes’ Tuffy Rhodes slugged 40.

Last call: The impending retirement of Chiba Lotte Marines star Saburo Omura, 40, will mark the end of two eras for the team.

Not only does it bring the curtain down on Omura’s career, but fans will no longer hear public address announcer Emi Taniho’s famous “Saburoooo” calls during games.

Taniho has become notable for the way she introduces Omura (who is registered by only his first name) during the starting lineup announcements and before his at-bats. Her elongated delivery has become a fan favorite and made the veteran PA announcer the subject of print and television reports on numerous occasions. She hasn’t gotten to use it this season, as Omura has yet to make an appearance with the top team.

Thunder stolen: Orix Buffaloes outfielder Yoshio Itoi was leading the Pacific League in stolen bases with 48, four ahead of the Seibu Lions’ Yuki Kaneko through Saturday’s games.

That puts both in position to steal the title away from the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

The last time a non-Fighter led the league in stolen bases was in 2012, when the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ Ryo Hijirisawa finished the year with 54.

The Fighters’ Daikan Yoh topped the league with 47 in 2013 and Haruki Nishikawa with 43 the next year. Takuya Nakashima grabbed the title with 34 last season.

Nakashima is the closest Fighter in this year’s race, sitting third with 34.