If you follow me on Twitter, you know how frustrated I am as a Royals fan. Enough is enough. While KC has fluttered around .500 it hasn't been enough to keep me happy. Watching a mismanaged dismal offense (27th in OPS, last in HR's with a team total of 20) doesn't excite me enough to care on nights when James Shields or Yordano Ventura aren't pitching. A 4 AM insomnia internet search introduced me to my new love, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
|Japan is still all for using sex to sell things... no complaints.|
Why the Rakuten Eagles? Well they're the only team with an English language radio broadcast that can be found online. I synced that up with a stream from Justin.TV and had more fun watching baseball than I have in quite a while. Here's a breakdown of their roster and some players you should already know or should get to know.
The Eagles added John Bowker in the offseason as a backup OF/1B. Bowker made it to the majors with San Francisco in 2008 and spent time with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia before traveling overseas in 2012 to play for the Yomiuri Giants.
Andruw Jones, the former 10x Gold Glove winning, home run smacking silver slugger is a shell of his former self. You probably already knew that though.
Jones signed with Rakuten last season after bouncing around the majors for a few years. He's not nearly as mobile as he used to be and is almost exclusively a DH unless there's an interleague game, in which he plays a terrible first base. Nonetheless, Jones does what he was signed to do, and that's smack the ball around. He's on pace for a 40+ HR season and has an OBP of .380. Don't think that Andruw Jones is a bitter old fart just trying to make one more paycheck, because he's not. Jones is having the time of his life in Japan. The fans seem to worship the guy and he eats it up. From the moment he steps onto the field to the moment he leaves, he's smiling the entire time just like he always has.
I wish more sluggers would wrap their careers up in Japan. The balls are a bit smaller and the fences make right field at New Yankee Stadium look like center field at Old Yankee Stadium. Baseball games are a party in Japan, and nothing gets the party started liked a home run.
Kaz spent 9 years in the NPB before signing with the Mets in 2004. He had stops in Colorado and Houston before returning to the NPB in 2011. At 38 years old, Kaz is still delivering at a decent rate. Between the MLB and NPB he's raked in nearly 2,500 hits and nearly 450 stolen bases.
The "face" of the Golden Eagles is Motohiro Shima. I've never heard an interview from him, but judging by his body language, he's an incredibly cool guy. So far this year he's batting .324/.435/.380. At 29 he's likely never going to get a shot at the majors, but as beloved as he is in Sendai, I doubt he wants to leave.
|He points and smiles a lot|
The 36 year old Brian Falkenborg has entered his 6th season in Japan and 1st as the closer for Rakuten. Brian played for Baltimore, Los Angeles (not Anaheim), St Louis, San Diego and LA again during his MLB career out of the pen.
The most important name to remember is Takahiro Norimoto, the 2013 Puro Yakyu Rookie of the Year. At just 22 he dazzled scouts with 7.1 SO/9, 15 wins and a 3.34 ERA. The NPB is considered to be equal to AAA in talent and those numbers would be impressive for any 22 year old MLB prospect no matter the level. He was a bit overshadowed last year by a teammate named Masahiro Tanaka who went 24-0 in 2013. Keep an eye on Nori, he's following a nearly identical path so far.
The grandfather of the Golden Eagles is 44 year old Takashi Saito. Tasked with the job of replacing Eric Gagne, Saito recorded 22 saves and a 2.07 ERA as a 36 year old "rookie" with the Dodgers in 2006. He was a workhorse for LA, Boston, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Arizona before returning to Japan in 2013. Not many pitchers that at one time could scratch 100 MPH make it through 22 professional seasons.
If you're ever up at 4 AM CST, check Twitter to see if I am too. If so I'll send you a few links so we can cheer on the Rakuten Golden Eagles together!