NARITA, CHIBA PREF. – Former major league slugger Manny Ramirez was greeted with hysteria as he arrived in Japan on Tuesday to play independent baseball with the Kochi Fighting Dogs in the Shikoku Island League Plus.
In fashion normally reserved for Hollywood icons and Japanese superstar athletes, hordes of fans and media flocked to Narita airport, where they welcomed Ramirez and his wife.
Ramirez, a two-time World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox and a 12-time All-Star in MLB, said he wants to show he still has the swing that produced a career 555 home runs, 1,831 RBIs and a .312 batting average.
The Fighting Dogs begin their season April 1.
“I’ve always had a very good impression of Japan and I also played in Taiwan, which turned out to be a great experience,” Ramirez said.
“When I was with Boston, I came to Japan several times and I really liked the way they play baseball here. My first goal in Japan will be to prove that I can still play.”
While waiting for his transit flight to Kochi, where he will hold a news conference on Thursday, Ramirez put away a couple of tuna mayonnaise rice balls, a favorite of his that he used to share with former teammate Daisuke Matsuzaka during their Red Sox days.
Ramirez, now 44, played in Taiwan four year ago. He last played in the majors with the Tampa Bay Rays in April 2011, when he received a 100-game suspension for a second violation of MLB’s drug policy.
Ramirez eventually had the ban reduced to 50 games, but did not appear in another major league game.