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Shooting for the 'Stars / After flirting with Hanshin, Miura back to raise bar in Yokohama

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Shooting for the 'Stars / After flirting with Hanshin, Miura back to raise bar in Yokohama

by John E. Gibson (Apr 2, 2009)

YOKOHAMA--Nearly everyone in the baseball world expected Daisuke Miura to shoot from the 'Stars in the offseason.

The 35-year-old Yokohama right-hander was a free agent last autumn and the Hanshin Tigers were wagging their tongues--not to mention a lucrative offer--at him. Meanwhile, the BayStars were coming off a 94-loss season, their second since 2003.

It was a chance to bolt from the failure of his team's fifth last-place finish of the decade and become a Central League-pennant and Japan Series contender. But Miura turned down a reported three-year deal worth 900 million yen for a four-year deal at 1 billion yen and stayed put.

To hear the Yokohama ace tell how he arrived at his decision, it all makes sense.

Sure, his father was a member of the Tigers' boosters club and the pitcher adored Hanshin as a child growing up in Nara Prefecture.

The idea of leaving a loser and joining an established winner with a shot at the postseason looked like a no-brainer...from a distance.

His ties to the Kansai area are deep and Miura said he pained over the decision throughout the negotiation period. But as it turned out, the ties from his childhood didn't have enough pull.

Miura said having lived about half his life in Yokohama, his roots are now firmly fixed here.

"This was my second chance at free agency, but the first time I had no intention of declaring myself a free agent," Miura told The Daily Yomiuri.

"That was six years ago and a lot had happened since then, so this time, the first issue was whether or not to file for free agency. But I saw this as a chance to see how other teams evaluated me," said the 2005 CL strikeout and ERA leader, nicknamed Hama no Bancho.

"Honestly, though, I feel like I have two hometowns. I've been here for 17 years and Yokohama's part of me now," said Miura, who added that his two children are in elementary school here.

In the end, Yokohama's likely Opening Day starter said helping his team climb the CL ladder on its own would be more rewarding than getting a boost.

"We were pretty awful last year and we finished last. But it's very important to get stronger yourself.

"If I had gone to the Tigers, certainly I'd probably be involved in the pennant race right away. But you have to question leapfrogging over the other CL teams.

"In the end, I just couldn't do that. I think you should work your way up to the top," said Miura, who also pointed to the passion of longtime Yokohama fans who asked him to stay with the club as another reason for shunning Hanshin's offer.

Miura said he understands the challenges that lie ahead, but pointed to last season's Pacific League success story that featured the Saitama Seibu Lions, who won the Series after finishing fifth in 2007.

"They did it, so it's not like there's a zero percent chance," said Miura, who added that the BayStars aren't thinking about a hop from worst to mediocrity.

"It's going to be tough, but no one goes into a season looking to finish in third place," he said. "You focus on getting to the top. It's easy to say, but we want to do anything we can to try and make it happen.

"I think you aim for the top position. The teams that don't win the title end up settling for a playoff spot.

"We might be laughed at, but I think we have to be part of the pennant race. And I want to do something to contribute to that."

Miura said the most important thing is to keep up the fight.

"In baseball, there's no clock, so you can never give up," he explained. "As a pitcher, the mentality when you're on the mound is, if you give up five runs, until you get taken out you do all you can to make sure you don't allow the sixth run.

"If you give up seven, you do everything to keep that eighth run from scoring--you just battle and keep that feeling."

Miura has experienced an assortment of feelings on the diamond. He was part of the 1998 BayStars team that won the Japan Series. He has won personal awards and seen a lot of team failure. Now, the hurler says he wants to help rebuild, and he's sincere in his actions, actually getting his hands into the mix.

"I think that--like a lot of the good Japanese players I've met--he's just the consummate professional," said former Nippon Ham Fighters hurler Ryan Glynn, who moved to Yokohama in the offseason.

"He's very humble and definitely works really hard. And he helps the young guys. I remember at camp, one time I went to the convenience store and I walked downstairs and he's down there doing motion drills with rookies.

"He's taking the time out to do that--he didn't go to dinner that night; those guys probably asked him for help and he was more than willing to help them."

As for how the CL pennant race might go, Miura wouldn't make any predictions, saying: "As far as that goes, I really don't care much about the other teams.

"It might be rude, but I'm concentrating on my own team and how we can be the best. I can't project what the other teams are going to do," said Miura, who added that his main goal is to give the loyal Yokohama fans something to cheer about.

"I really want to do something for the fans. Even with the kind of situation we had last year, the fans cheered us with a lot of passion."

"I'm only thinking about a championship to share with those fans."

And the fans are certainly wishing upon these 'Stars.

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