Chris Marrero sent a ball over the fence in left field at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium, rounded the bases, and did a small hop to land on home plate with two feet during a game against the Chiba Lotte Marines on Sept. 29.
It’s one thing to have what should’ve been your first NPB home run later ruled to be a triple because of missing home plate. But when it comes to the 100,000th home run in NPB history, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
The Orix Buffaloes infielder can look back at that first would-be home run and laugh now. He’d joined the Buffaloes in late May, and was making his debut on June 9 when he crushed a pitch from the Chunichi Dragons’ Shinnosuke Ogasawara. The ball left the field of play, but the Dragons noticed Marrero had missed home plate as he finished his trot around the bases.
In the Orix dugout, Marrero was in disbelief as everything played out, from the Dragons appealing the play to his home run being downgraded to a triple. He got over it quickly, hitting a home run the very next day and touching home plate with both feet.
He’s had a good sense of humor about it since then, and the Buffaloes even later printed up shirts depicting a footprint missing home plate across the chest.
“The shirt has been selling out, so I can’t complain,” Marrero told The Japan Times last week at Sapporo Dome. “The next day, I was cool. I was mad I didn’t get a homer, but the next day when I hit a home run, I was happy.”
As fate would have it, that home run coming off the board would months later end up putting him in line to hit Japanese baseball’s milestone 100,000th homer. Meaning had that first home run counted, it might have been teammate Takahiro Okada, who homered against the Marines before Marrero did that night, who hit the milestone shot.
“It’s odd, but I wouldn’t change it,” Marrero said. “If not for that (missing home plate), it wouldn’t have happened. It’s a fun thing to laugh about. It’s a joke, people know I can play. It’s just something I can laugh about with my teammates.”
There have been a lot of good vibrations going around the Orix clubhouse since Marrero arrived. He’s played in 82 games for the Buffaloes and has a .290 average with 20 home runs and 50 RBIs with only Monday’s makeup game against the Marines left on Orix’s schedule.
“It’s been up and down,” he said of his first NPB season. “I’m just getting used to it and getting into a routine. Getting to face the pitchers more than once, I think I got a better idea of what to expect. I’m having fun out here. I’m here with my girlfriend and we’ve enjoyed our experience here in Japan.”
Marrero played for the San Francisco Giants and Sacramento River Cats (the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate) this season before coming to Japan. Since he arrived in the middle of the season, he had to hit the ground running and adjust to the way Japanese pitchers attacked him on the fly.
“It’s kind of the same way they approach me in the States,” he said. “Pitchers here are smart and they make their pitches. Maybe the velocity might be a little different, but there are guys here who could easily pitch in the big leagues.”
There wasn’t a lot of time for Marrero to solicit advice before making the move either.
“I kind of had an idea (about playing in Japan), but I don’t think you know what to expect until you get here,” he said.
He certainly didn’t expect to hit a historic home run.
Marrero said the team knew Okada’s blast put NPB’s all-time tally at 99,999 homers, and there was a chance one of them would hit the fateful home run.
“It was crazy,” he said. “I’m not going to say I was trying to do it, but it was in the back of my head. I was thinking ‘man, it’d be awesome to be remembered forever,’ and the cash (¥1 million) they’re going to give you if you hit the home run. It was fun and it was great.”
He also said he was honored to write his name in NPB history.
“The Japanese take a lot of pride in everything. So to be part of the record books, to be a part of all the guys who have come through this league, I’m honored to be part of that group,” Marrero said.
Marrero’s play this season caused the Buffaloes to swiftly lock up him for the 2018 campaign on a deal believed to be for one year. He’s hoping to use this year’s head start as a springboard into next season.
“I hope it helps me a lot,” he said. “I know what to expect, I have a idea of the teams we’re playing, stadiums, everything. I’m hoping for a big year next year.”
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