Whenever Brandon Laird hits a home run, Chiba Lotte Marines fans know it’s time for sushi.
Laird became famous for his sushi-making home run celebration while with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and brought it to Chiba when he signed in the offseason. He’s added a few flourishes to the routine — now he pantomimes catching a fish, slicing it up, making sushi and then serving it to a teammate — since joining the Marines.
The All-Star infielder had plenty of chances to show it off during the first half of the season with 24 homers. But Lotte’s resident sushi chef isn’t yet sure how much more he can serve up.
“I’ve heard 40 (homers overall) going around a lot,” Laird told The Japan Times before Game 1 of this year’s All-Star Series on Friday. “But I don’t like to think about too big of a number. I mean, 30 is a great number. So I’ll shoot for 30 and then anything after that is just bonus.”
Lotte fans have to be excited about what they’ve already gotten from the 31-year-old “Sushi Boy.” After a few seasons of searching for some foreign muscle, the Marines seem to have finally found their man.
In addition to his homers, Laird is hitting .271 with 59 RBIs. He’s fourth in the Pacific League with a .919 on-base plus slugging percentage and, according to Deltagraphs, third in isolated power (a sabermetric measure of raw power) at .289.
Laird said it was important to get off on the right foot in Chiba and attributed his start, in part, to his offseason adjustments.
“I changed my hands around a little bit, I’m staying a little taller,” he said. “It’s helped me not dive at the ball and chase pitches down in the zone a little better. I’ve been a little more patient this year, taking my walks.
“I feel like this year, it’s not all about home runs. When I’m best is when I’m hitting the ball up the middle, line drives. I feel like that’s when the home runs come and that’s pretty much been my approach this year.”
Laird’s more patient approach wasn’t born out of wanting to hit more homers, but from a desire to get the most out of all his at-bats.
“When I go home in the offseason and I get ready to start hitting, it’s the stuff I look at,” he said. “I go back and look at my year and say I could have a better on-base percentage, I could have more walks. I feel like a lot of that has to do with my timing, so I want to make an adjustment with my hands and help my timing. That’s what I focused on this offseason. It’s been showing this year.”
So far, everyone has been happy with the results. So much so that on Friday, Sports Hochi posted a report saying the Marines were preparing to offer Laird a multi-year deal to keep him around.
“The Marines have been great,” Laird said. “I enjoy playing there, living in Makuhari has been great for me and my family. That’s something I really haven’t thought about. I haven’t even heard anything about it. That’s why I have an agent. That’s their job and my job is to just perform. When the time comes, we’ll see what happens, but I’m definitely happy in Chiba.”
The Marines will begin the second half on Monday in fifth place in the PL but only 1½ games behind the second-place Fighters in the crowded standings.
Laird said he likes Lotte’s chances and expects to play a big role in a run for a spot in the postseason.
“Just continue doing what I’m doing now,” he said. “Just keep hitting home runs and driving in runs. I’m (also) playing good defense this year.
“From a team standpoint, I like our team. We have a good lineup, our pitching has been doing well. I feel like right here at the All-Star Break we’re right where we need to be. Everybody is kinda bunched up and I feel like we can be that little sneaky team that surprises a lot of people closer to the playoffs.”
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