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Old man Omichi makes Giant contribution

by Jim Allen (Sep 6, 2008)

In one sense, the Giants' Noriyoshi Omichi is a dinosaur--the last active player to have worn a Nankai Hawks uniform.

"The knowledge that I'm the last just motivates me to keep going, trying to add another year to my time in the game," the pinch-hitting specialist said Friday at Jingu Stadium before the Giants took on the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.

On Thursday, the 38-year-old added another clip to his highlight reel season off the bench: a two-run, eighth-inning double that iced a win against the remarkably resilient Hiroshima Carp.

"It's fun," Omichi said of his role off the bench. "I think getting a big pinch-hit feels four times better than if you get that hit as a starter."

For eight seasons, Omichi had been a regular in the outfield in Fukuoka, where the Hawks moved in 1989 after being purchased by Daiei. In 2004, he made the transition to the bench, where his line-drive, pinch-hit singles and doubles ignited scores of celebrations.

"And somehow I've managed to hit those [liners] while choking up on my bat, too," Omichi added.

In 2006, however, Omichi came to a crossroads. A career .285 hitter, he simply failed far too often.

"After the playoffs, they told me I would be cut," said Omichi, who had dreamed of playing out his career with the Hawks. "But fortunately for me, the Giants were interested. I was half happy and half sad."

Joining the Giants in 2007, an elbow injury delayed Omichi's Central League debut until June 9, when he whacked a line single in interleague play at Tokyo Dome. Eight days later, he got his second hit as a Giant--in Fukuoka with a ninth-inning, leadoff double against the Hawks, against whom he's now 4-for-6.

"I've done well against them, and you want to, but the at-bats are not any different from those against other teams," he said. "What was different is the response I got from the fans, who stood up and cheered me. That choked me up."

Omichi came out of the game for a pinch-runner who scored the winning run on a double by Yoshitomo Tani, the man who stood in front of cameras for the on-field postgame interview instead of Omichi.

"I didn't do it once all last year," Omichi said. "This year, I've done it about five times."

Thursday's double lifted Omichi pinch-hit RBI total to 16, the most in Japan this season and his highest career total off the bench. Hanshin Tigers veteran Shinjiro Hiyama has 14.

Omichi is 15-for-45 in the pinch this season with seven doubles and two home runs. His second homer of the year, in a dramatic win at Tokyo Dome over the Yokohama BayStars, caused Omichi, who looks more like a green grocer than a pro baseball player, to break into a peculiar celebration.

After he gave the Giants the lead, Omichi returned to the bench, held his hands up and rotated his palms in an imitation of the rotating lights atop a fire engine--an allusion to the siren that ushers closer Marc Kroon into the game.

"I've been talking with some of the other guys about those kinds of things," Omichi said. "It's exciting to be in it and aiming for the top."

There is no mistaking how much the veteran keen on pushing his career to the limits is savoring this season.

"When you get to this point, you don't have any time to waste," Omichi said.


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