It only took a handful of games for Matt Dominguez to become the biggest thing to hit the Chiba Lotte Marines since the Nazo no Sakana (Mysterious Fish) mascot.
The fish burst onto the scene about this time last year and delighted Marines fans with its varied and weird antics. While Dominguez has sparked a catchphrase, “DO DO DO DO DOMINGO” (give or take a few “DOs,” depending on the excitement level at the time), among the Lotte faithful, his approach has been a lot more straightforward: come up with a big hit, hear the roars, rinse and repeat.
“It’s been fun,” he told The Japan Times late last week. “I’ve been able to get up here, contribute and help the team. It’s been a good start, so hopefully keep building on that and trying to help the team win.”
Dominguez made his NPB debut May 5 against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. His first NPB hit was a three-run home run off the Seibu Lions’ Yasuo Sano on May 11. He’s already added five more and has six home runs in 47 at-bats.
“It’s definitely a good way to start, was able to hit some home runs in some good moments,” he said.
Dominguez is hitting .255, but his power has the potential to help fill a gaping void for the Marines. As a team, Lotte only hit 95 home runs last season, making it the only Pacific League club to finish below 100. Among the holdovers from the 2017 team, Daichi Suzuki was the leading home run hitter with 11 last season.
The Marines have 24 homers this season and are the only PL team yet to crack 40.
In Dominguez, the club hopes to have found some help.
The 28-year-old was the 12th pick in the 2007 MLB Draft by the Florida (now Miami) Marlins. He hit 21 home runs for the Houston Astros in 2013 and had 16 in 2014. He spent most of the year in Triple-A last season, hitting 16 homers for the Pawtucket Red Sox, in the Boston Red Sox system.
He began this year on the Marines’ farm team, where he worked with the Lotte ni-gun coaches and got acclimated to Japan.
“Baseball-wise, they do a lot more,” Dominguez said. “Stretching is longer, everything just seems a little longer. More work is better I guess here. Living-wise, it’s been learning the trains, learning what food to get and just small stuff like that. I missed my train once, but I was able to hop on the next one.”
He said his method for handling so much new information has been to keep everything simple.
“You just gotta go up there with a simple plan,” Dominguez said. “They do a good job with showing us video and things. I’ve just been trying to keep it as simple as possible. I just try to keep one simple idea or thought in my head and just go from there.
“It’s a little different, they pitch a little more backwards. Velocity may not be as high, but their offspeed (pitches) are more consistent and good. I’m just trying to stay patient. It’s the same in the U.S., certain situations and times in the game, you just gotta think along with the pitcher.”
The atmosphere at Japanese games, where coordinated cheering sections on both sides sing and play music throughout, was another new experience.
“It’s way different here,” he said. “First it took me awhile to kind of get used to it, because you’ve got people banging on stuff and yelling. Once you get a little used to it, you start calming down and just focus on baseball.”
He’s taken to the song the Lotte fans have created from him pretty quickly.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “They do a good job. I like it.”
The fan support he’s received has made an fast impression on the Lotte slugger, just like he has on the team.
“We have great fans,” he said. “They’re always on the road, they’re at home and they never stop the whole game, even when we’re behind. It’s pretty impressive. It’s definitely fun when they’re behind you, because it kind of gives you some more energy and you go out there and play hard and enjoy it.”