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Thursday, March 25, 2010

No regrets for Ogasawara three years after Giant leap


Staff writer

There are some who live by the saying, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

News photo
Risky business: Michihiro Ogasawara took a chance by leaving the Fighters to join the Giants in 2007. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO

Then there are people like Michihiro Ogasawara.

With the confetti still falling from a victory in the 2006 Japan Series, Ogasawara left a Hokkaido Nippon Ham squad poised to dominate the Pacific League to join a Yomiuri franchise that was running in place.

Three seasons later, the gamble finally paid off when Ogasawara helped guide the Giants to their first Japan Series win since 2002.

"In 2007, we lost in the Climax Series, though we won the regular season title," Ogasawara said. "In 2008, we advanced to the Japan Series after winning the pennant, but we fell short of grabbing the title.

"So our goal was simple in 2009. It was a pretty hard year, but we succeeded and I felt like we finally achieved our goal."

At 36 years old, Ogasawara drove in a career-high 107 runs, hitting .309 with 31 homers last season.

Batting third in the lineup, Ogasawara is one of the Giants' top players and has formed a devastating partnership with Alex Ramirez, who joined the team in 2008.

Together, the cleanup duo has won the last three CL MVP Awards — Ogasawara in 2007 and Ramirez in 2008 and 2009 — and combined to hit 143 homers and drive in 428 runs to power the Giants offense over the past two years.

Their production has conjured up memories of the O-N Cannon, the legendary duo of Sadaharu Oh and Shigeo Nagashima, who powered the Kyojin to nine straight Japan Series titles from 1965-1973.

"I'm honored," Ogasawara said of the comparison. "I'm not even on the same level as them. Yet to be compared with such former greats is a great honor.

"There is still a long way to reach them, but I'd like to get closer to them in terms of presence, statistics and character. To achieve that, I'm playing to the best of my abilities at every moment."

Ogasawara and Ramirez are both explosive at the plate, but that's where the similarities end.

Ogasawara has a blue-collar feel to his game, isn't really prone to outbursts and approaches his work with a cold efficiency.

Ramirez, meanwhile, is a crowd-pleaser who's often seen wearing a smile and gives short performances after hitting home runs.

Ogasawara says the differences are a positive.

"We have different characters," Ogasawara said. "But having different personalities in a group attracts people and makes things more interesting."

Ogasawara admits Ramirez's performances pump up the team and the crowd.

Just don't expect to see him joining in anytime soon.

"I'm clumsy and I'm not good at doing those performances in front of people," Ogasawara said. "My style is to always just play my best."

His best was on full display for Nippon Ham fans during the 2006 season.

The infielder hit .313 with 32 homers and 100 RBIs that year, leading the Fighters to their first Japan Series title in 44 years (when they were the Toei Flyers) and becoming the club's first PL MVP in 25 years.

With a solid core of players and young pitcher Yu Darvish just starting to emerge as a superstar, Ogasawara could've tasted success by just staying put with the Fighters, who have won the pennant twice since his departure.

He opted to make a change instead.

"One thing I can say is the Giants were desperate to get me," Ogasawara said. "So if they really wanted me that much, I thought it was worth the challenge of leaving Nippon Ham.

"I don't know if challenge is the right word, but I became curious about putting myself in a totally new environment and wearing a different team's color.

"It was a gamble and I didn't know what was going to happen. But you never know what's going to happen if you don't eventually try things. So I thought it was going to be a benefit to me, whether I succeeded or failed. I came to the decision to change teams because experiencing various things helps me grow."

Having won the title last season, Ogasawara has now set his sights on keeping up with the host of young rising stars the Giants have assembled this season.

"It stimulates me," Ogasawara said. "I'd like to play as much as I can and not be beaten out by those younger players.

"Hopefully, we can all raise our level by competing. I think that benefits both the ballclub and the players' growth.

"Plus us winning would please the fans."


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