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HARD DRIVES: Pressure's really on for closer Kroon

by John E. Gibson (Mar 12, 2008)

It don't mean a thing if you ain't got that bling. Blazing fastballs have landed closer Marc Kroon a place in Japan pro baseball history and made him a household name, although he has no jewelry to show for it.

Heaters that zip through the air at 161 kph tend to attract attention, even with the Yokohama BayStars--Japan's version of the federal witness protection program.

Somewhat of a novelty, Kroon now has a leading role and some Giant spikes to fill with Yomiuri.

His acquisition allows the pout-prone Koji Uehara to go to the mound as a starter again, and gives Japan's G-men a closer who relishes the job.

Despite his disdain as the savior, Uehara was effective, going 4-3 with a 1.74 ERA and 32 saves at the back of the pen.

Kroon's life in the ninth-inning fast lane will see him without the facial hair and the bling, but it gives him a golden opportunity to compete on the big stage and slide on a championship ring at the end.

Still, it won't be easy even for a guy with 196 punchouts (in 143-2/3 innings) and 84 career saves in three years with the BayStars.

Three outs as the Yomiuri closer could be the equivalent of three saves in Yokohama when you look at the fame factor.

"This is probably one of the most famous teams in the world," Kroon told Hard Drives last week in Nagoya.

"Everyone knows the Tokyo Giants--I knew about the Tokyo Giants when I was a young man," said the 34-year-old right-hander, who is confident about coping with the pressure of Tokyo's bright lights and win-needy fans.

"I feel like I strive in big moments," Kroon said. "And it's not going to do me any good to feel the extra pressure.

"Do I feel pressure? Of course I feel it. But what I try to do is take that pressure and turn into a positive energy to go out there and pitch.

"If you go out there and pitch scared, you ain't going to get the job done."

Kroon said he knows firsthand that visiting players come into Tokyo Dome revved up.

"Pitching against the Giants, you go in there--it's always sold out and they're the best team--and you get a little extra adrenaline," he said.

"People expect bigger things here than they do in Yokohama, but I'm just going to go out there and continue to do what I do and prepare the way I prepare. And every time I take the mound out there I'm going to give it my best, and whatever happens, happens."

What Giants fans don't want to see happen is blown saves--something they've seen all too much of this decade.

But Kroon said he's bound to stumble at some point.

"It's going to happen. Look at [Kyuji] Fujikawa last year," Kroon said.

"He's probably one of the best closers in the league and last year what'd he have? Three, four losses?"

Well, actually five, but not many remember when a guy has 46 saves and a 1.63 ERA in 71 games.

"The best players are going to strike out with the bases loaded. This game is played every day, and you can't be perfect every day.

"I have a lot of expectations for myself--I'm very hard on myself and I expect to go out there and get every save."

So instead of testing radar guns nationwide, Kroon said he will test his ability to work hitters.

He has worked on a curve and a slider and plans to fine tune his control to set hitters up more often.

"Everyone's studying me like I'm studying them, so I have to go out there and try to do different things every year in order to be successful," Kroon said. "So going into it, I'm looking into the location part of it."

With all the talent the Giants have, blowouts might be commonplace and leave Kroon making more stay-sharp appearances than pressure-packed outings.

"If they don't need me, that's a good thing. I'm here to win a championship," Kroon said, smiling.

"To me, that's all that matters. Whether I get 20 saves or 40 saves, as long as we win a championship, I feel like I've done my job."

With that, Kroon will happily sport a little championship ring bling.


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