The Yomiuri Giants franchise has picked up a reputation for being pretentious and a little above it all during its long history — not unlike the New York Yankees, the MLB team the Kyojin are compared with most.
Today’s Yomiuri players don’t really fit the bill, but the organization as whole has had an image of not being very much fun affixed to it.
Apparently no one told Zelous Wheeler.
If there is one Giants player it should be impossible for opposing fans to really dislike, it’s the 34-year-old Alabama native, who incidentally also played for the Yankees.
Wheeler is a breath of fresh air in an organization with an image of being more than a little stuffy. He plays the game with a joy and effervescence that’s contagious.
“He’s been amazing. It’s his second year with the Giants and I think that’s his baseball style, or maybe his lifestyle, to be able to really enjoy everything and be relaxed,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said following Saturday’s 9-6 loss to the Chunichi Dragons at Tokyo Dome. “That’s also a plus for his technique.”
Baseball may be big business, but it’s also a game — and games are supposed to be fun. When Wheeler plays the game, it looks fun. Of course, that’s only natural with the way he’s been playing.
Wheeler had three hits against the Dragons on Saturday, including a two-run home run. He’s 27-for-52 (.519) overall this season and has three homers and 11 RBIs.
“He’s been doing his best since opening day,” Giants head coach Daisuke Motoki said. “He’s been amazing hasn’t he? He’s still hitting over .500.”
Wheeler is also currently on an 11-game hitting streak. He was especially potent at the plate this week, with at least three hits in three of the four games he played. He’s had at least two hits in nine of his 14 games this year.
“I’m seeing the ball really well,” he was quoted as saying by Sports Nippon on Saturday.
He’s also been darting around left field, showing off decent speed and making plays with his glove.
Wheeler was on full display against the Dragons at the Big Egg on Saturday.
Before the game, he filled the time between turns in the batting cage by joking around with some of the Dragons players who were stretching nearby.
Wheeler then recorded the first out of the game by racing in from left field and making a diving catch on a blooper by Yohei Oshima. Wheeler’s momentum sent him tumbling over a few times before he popped up with a huge grin on his face.
He hit a two-run homer in the seventh, admiring his work for a few seconds before rounding the bases.
Wheeler is like a big kid on the diamond. He plays with such energy and with such outward joy he’d fit right in on a dusty playground somewhere or in the middle of a little league game. He expresses himself with fist pumps on the bases and flashes a big smile when he or one of his teammates does something positive.
He was traded to the Giants last season and hit .243 with 12 homers in 98 regular-season games. While none of the Giants hit well during the Japan Series, when they were swept by the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, Wheeler hit Yomiuri’s lone homer and drove in three of the club’s four runs.
He’s off to a much better start this season. Wheeler was among the Giants sidelined for a while due to COVID-19 last month, but he’s back and showing no ill effects from the time off.
With Eric Thames’ season ending before it really began, Wheeler is probably going to keep playing a big role for the Giants going forward.
If he keeps playing like this, the fun isn’t going to stop any time soon.
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