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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Yokohama's Miura values long tenure with BayStars


Staff writer

Daisuke Miura didn't really take to being called "Hama no Bancho" initially.

News photo
The Boss: Pitcher Daisuke Miura, who has been with the Yokohama franchise for 21 years, has posted an 8-4 record this season for the BayStars. KYODO

The phrase roughly translates into "Boss of Yokohama," which is all well and good except that bancho is usually used for the leader of a street gang or similar band of delinquents.

The moniker was attached to Miura over 20 years ago, mostly because of his regent hairstyle, which admittedly does make him look the part.

"Since I started wearing the regent, someone in the media began calling me that and it spread," said Miura, whose hair on this day was hidden underneath his Yokohama BayStars hat. "I didn't like it at the beginning, because bancho was, even back then, outdated, and I felt it was a little too old to use. But eventually people, including little girls, began calling me that, and I came to think, 'OK, if it's that popular already.' "

The BayStars pitcher embraces the name now, if only because it gives long-suffering Yokohama fans someone to rally around.

"Back then, there was only one person who was called 'Hama no something' in (Kazuhiro) Sasaki, who was called 'Hama no Daimajin,' and there was nobody after him," Miura explained in an exclusive interview. "So I appreciated it."

If anyone has earned a place in such lofty company, it's Miura.

The veteran pitcher has stuck with Yokohama through thick and thin, long enough to be the lone player to have suited up for the Yokohama Taiyo Whales, Yokohama BayStars, and Yokohama DeNA BayStars, the most recent iterations of a franchise that began play as the Taiyo Whales in 1950, in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

"It's the team that's raised me," Miura told the Japan Times. "That's how I feel. It's so fortunate that I've been able to play in one place. That's why I stayed with the team despite having a chance to go to somewhere else through free agency, because I felt like I wanted to make Yokohama stronger.

"This is the team I know everything about, no matter whether it's good or bad, winning or struggling. So I desperately hope to change the current situation and make this team stronger."

The current situation is a dire one. Yokohama has finished last in the Central League four years running and has had a losing record 10 times since Hiroshi Gondo and his "Machine Gun" offense marched to the Japan Series title in 1998.

Miura has suffered through a few lean campaigns himself recently, but is having a resurgent season and was named to his fifth All-Star roster this year.

"He's a great pitcher," said Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger Wladimir Balentien. "He still throws the ball well, he can still get outs. It looks like he's never getting old, he's in great shape."

The 38-year-old is 8-4 (matching his win total of the last two seasons combined) with a 2.72 ERA. He's tossed four complete-game victories, has a 1.08 WHIP, and carried a no-hitter into the ninth against the Hanshin Tigers on May 12.

"I didn't want to admit it, but looking back, last year and the year before, I don't think I was able to overcome the fatigue that had built up throughout my career," Miura said.

"However, I pretty much got rid of it by the end of the first half of last season, and I felt good in the latter half, which gave me the confidence to think I could still do it. So when last year ended, I had confidence that I could perform well from the start of this season."

Miura's first win of the year was also the first by a pitcher under the DeNA banner. Later, on July 4, he beat the Yomiuri Giants for the 150th win of his career.

"I haven't played to reach 150," Miura said. "It's only a number. But at the same time the fans and people around me were pleased, so I was happy for them."

Miura's loyalty to Yokohama (he's in his 21st season with the team) is admirable, especially since, given his talent, he probably could have competed for titles and compiled impressive numbers elsewhere.

"I think Miura is a true leader," BayStars outfielder Alex Ramirez said. "This is a guy who really appreciates the fans and what this organization has done for him and his family. He doesn't see his future anywhere else other than here.

"He goes out there every single time and gives his best. Not only for his career, but for the people who are watching him. I really feel a lot of respect for him."

News photo
Through thick and thin: Daisuke Miura, who was a member of the 1998 Japan Series champion Yokohama BayStars, admires the team's loyal fans. KYODO

Miura's stance is especially impressive given the recent defections of superstars Seiichi Uchikawa and Shuichi Murata, who left Yokohama as free agents after the 2010 and 2011 seasons, respectively.

Uchikawa helped the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks win last season's Japan Series while Murata, now with the first-place Giants, figures to be in the thick of the postseason race this year.

Miura could have left too, and there wouldn't have been a better time than in 2008, when he hit free agency and the Hanshin Tigers, the team he idolized as a child, made a strong push for his services.

"It may have been one of the biggest moments in my life," Miura said. "I grew up as a Tigers fan and would go to Koshien Stadium to watch the team often when I was a little boy.

"Also, my parents are living in Nara, which is in Kansai, so I felt like it would be my last chance to be dutiful to them by playing nearby. But I thought it over and considered that Yokohama had raised me since I became a pro, and that I had always wanted to beat those stronger than me.

"In high school (Miura attended Takada Shogyo), when there was a powerhouse team like Tenri, I was always looking forward to facing and beating them. So at the end of the day, I asked myself what I really wanted to do, and I wanted to win a championship by beating stronger teams, and making Yokohama a strong team once again. That's how I felt and that was the biggest reason (to stay in Yokohama)."

Most times, "bancho" probably has a negative connotation, but Miura has embraced it as his own, turning it into a symbol of his loyalty.

"I hope to be someone who'll be remembered, not just by the numbers I put up," Miura said. "Hopefully, everybody remembers me as a player who had so much love for Yokohama.

"I really do love the Yokohama fans, because they give us a lot of support no matter how we are, not just when we are winning, but when we are losing, too. They've supported us no matter what. They are like our treasure. They are such important presence to us."

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.


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