Baseball / Japanese Baseball | Sac Bunts

BayStars manager Alex Ramirez believes team has talent to contend

by Jason Coskrey

Alex Ramirez, the manager of the Yokohama BayStars, responded to the loss of his best player by declaring the dawning of a new generation.

Ramirez expects his BayStars to be good this year, even without Yoshitomo Tsutsugo in the No. 4 spot. He misses the MLB-bound slugger, as any manager would lament the loss of, for this franchise, a generational talent. He just isn’t dwelling on it. When he created the team slogan for this season, “New Generation is Here,” Ramirez was also turning the page on the Tsutsugo era in Yokohama.

“I felt we needed to start right from the beginning with the players we already have,” Ramirez said Saturday night in Yokohama. “This is the new start of this generation. The new generation is here. That is the reason why I came up with this slogan. I feel pretty good about it.”

In some ways, the upcoming season represents a new era for Ramirez as well. There were notions last year, silly as they should’ve been, Ramirez might not get a fifth season in Yokohama. But he got his new lease on managerial life — a one-year deal — less than an hour after being eliminated from the Climax Series.

Team owner Tomoko Namba, with the embers of the 2019 season still burning, met with Ramirez in the moments after that final game. She thanked him for his efforts and told him the next goal was to win the Japan Series.

Ramirez has already proven he can manage. Yokohama has finished in the top half of the Central League in three of his four seasons. In 2017, he guided the BayStars to the Japan Series, where they fell short in six games. Last season, Yokohama finished in second place for the first time since 1998.

Ramirez begins this era of his Yokohama career tasked with proving he can win titles, even while dealing with the loss of his best player.

He’ll also have to deal with the weight of expectations higher than they’ve been in Yokohama for some time. In the past, some teams expected to blossom from this position have instead wilted under the spotlight. Ramirez, though, says the seeds of a winner have already been sowed.

“We have everything we need,” Ramirez said. “This is the first time we don’t have to depend on a first-round pick. That means that the team is already complete. I feel we have a very strong team to compete right from the beginning with this new generation of players. So this is how we’re going to start this year.”

Ramirez has shown a great feel for the BayStars, even through some growing pains. As a player, Ramirez was such a showman and a big personality — he would perform dances with the team mascot after home runs — some fans might’ve forgotten just how brilliant he was at the mental side of the game and in his preparation.

As manager, he’s struck a balance between gregarious and serious. His predecessor, Kiyoshi Nakahata, had an effervescent personality that cut through the malaise that had hung over the franchise. But he didn’t win.

Ramirez has improved upon Nakahata’s foundation and fostered a belief the team can compete. He’s shown great faith in his players and they’ve played hard for him. The latest recipient of this unwavering belief is Keita Sano, who’ll try to fill Tsutsugo’s spikes both in the field and as team captain.

Sano is 25 and has just 180 games under his belt in three years. Ramirez, though, sees something in the young outfielder.

“One of the things that the captain needs, is self control, Ramirez said. “Self control and also the (ability) to communicate with the players and with the coaching staff, to be likable. Sano is very likable, everybody likes him, he’s a well-spoken person. He’s not afraid to speak. He knows how to control himself. Those things are very important for a captain.”

He’s also expecting Sano to bat over .290 and finish with at least 20 homers.

“I believe he can produce very well if he gets an opportunity to play every day,” Ramirez said.

The era of Tsutsugo has come to a close in Yokohama. With it, comes another chance for Ramirez to reaffirm he’s the right man for the job.

As the team slogan says, the new generation is here. Ramirez’s challenge, then, will be to find a way to show everyone just what they can do.

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