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Rob Smaal

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Ya gotta wonder if . . .

by Rob Smaal (Mar 20, 2010)

. . . Orix Buffaloes infielder Greg LaRocca can stay off the DL this year. When he's healthy, LaRocca can hit for both power and average. The problem is that he's seldom been healthy for an entire season.

"I've had 10 surgical procedures performed on me over my career," said the 37-year-old slugger, entering his seventh season in Japan. "I'm baseball's version of 'The Six Million Dollar Man.'"

LaRocca's litany of injuries include a bizarre one when he suffered a torn pectoral muscle during an on-field brawl, he's had Tommy John surgery on his elbow, and last season his hand was broken when he was hit by a pitch for the 100th time in Japan. Ouch!

"The good news is I feel like a 20-year-old again, I've got so many new parts in me," said LaRocca, who has remained upbeat through all his travails.

"Baseball is a pretty good reflection on life in general," LaRocca said. "If you work hard and stay positive, things tend to work out. If you're negative, on the other hand ..."

* * *

. . . Rakuten Eagles new rocket-armed reliever Juan Morillo will be able to set a new speed record for NPB pitchers. Yomiuri Giants closer Marc Kroon currently holds that honor after he hit 162 kph on the radar gun, but Morillo, a 26-year-old Dominican who was with the Minnesota Twins organization last season, has reportedly been clocked at up to 167 kph in the past. Talk about a little radar love!

Morillo has had control issues--Greg LaRocca, you've been warned.

* * *

. . . Chiba Lotte Marines new South Korean slugger Kim Tae-kyun will eventually get used to the over-the-top media scrutiny that comes with being a baseball star in Japan. From the time Kim stepped off the plane at Narita, he was bombarded with some questions that--to him, at least--were a little offside.

Noticing his earring and sunglasses, Japanese reporters camped out at the airport wanted to know about his "yakuza fashion." They also wanted to know if Kim, who starred for South Korea in the World Baseball Classic last year, had any plans to hook up with a Japanese woman while here. Kim reportedly told them he was here to play baseball not chase girls, which came out in the press that he would be "abstaining."

Oh well ... welcome to Japan, Kim-san.

* * *

. . . highly touted rookie pitcher Yusei Kikuchi will make his first-team debut with the Seibu Lions this season. Kikuchi, the top draft pick out of Hanamaki Higashi High School, could probably give Lotte slugger Kim a few pointers on excessive media coverage.

The young left-hander was coveted by many MLB clubs, but buckled under the pressure to stay in Japan, signing with the Lions instead.

The kid had a rough go of it in spring camp and management decided that both he and the club would be best served if he started the season down on the farm in the Eastern League. Only time will tell if he gets the call-up in 2010, but we wouldn't bet against it.

* * *

. . . Softbank Hawks manager Koji Akiyama can still do those Ozzie Smith-style back-flips he made popular back in his playing days with the Seibu Lions in the 1980s and '90s.

At that time, Akiyama was a fantastic physical specimen and one of the best all-around athletes in the league. After hitting home runs, he would occasionally land a back-flip as he touched home plate, a move that was appreciated by the fans here but would no doubt have earned him a fastball in the ribs his next at-bat in the majors.

Odds are we'll never find out if he can still do them-- unless, perhaps, the Hawks win it all this year--but the man still looks like he's in playing shape at age 47.

* * *

. . . Nippon-Ham Fighters outfielder from the University of Mars Hichori Morimoto will regain the form that saw him thrill fans in Hokkaido a few years back with his antics both on and off the field.

Known for wearing outlandish Yoda-like masks and Coneheads, the outgoing Japanese-Korean once dressed up like pop star Michael Jackson at a Gold Glove ceremony.

The fleet-footed showman has seen his production drop off over the past two seasons due to various injuries, but he seems deter-mined to make it up to the Fighters faithful. Forsaking free agency, Morimoto took a 30 million yen ($328,000) pay cut to re-sign with the Hammies this year. Here's hoping he has a good season--Japanese baseball is much more fun with guys like Morimoto around.


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