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Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Ogasawara still swinging away as milestone draws near
There's little beauty in Michihiro Ogasawara's swing.
It lacks the silky smoothness of Ken Griffey Jr.'s sweet stroke, the finely-tuned precision of Shigeo Nagashima's or iconic status of Sadaharu Oh's flamingo-style swing.
Ogasawara's swing is more explosive, more powerful than those. It bursts forth with such violence it sometimes drives Ogasawara off his feet.
Throughout the years, he's lost his catcher's mask and shed his once-trademark beard. Still, that swing has remained. As quick and powerful as ever, summer after summer after summer.
After 1,733 games, it's brought him to the precipice of baseball immortality. Two more hits, and Ogasawara will record his 2,000th career hit. A feat that of the thousands to have played the game solely in Japan, only 37 others have achieved.
The pomp and circumstance that surrounds reaching the 2,000-hit plateau (or 200 wins or 250 saves for pitchers) is something the veteran hitter probably could do without.
Ogasawara is reserved in the public eye, barely even speaking during his own hero interviews sometimes. Loquacious Yomiuri slugger Alex Ramirez once remarked after a big game that his biggest accomplishment of the night was coaxing a grin and guts pose out of Ogasawara.
Still, the milestone hit will be a chance to look back at a career that, while not yet over, deserves a turn in the spotlight.
Ogasawara made his name with the Nippon Ham Fighters, coming up as a catcher with the team when the franchise still shared Tokyo Dome with the Yomiuri Giants. After a few years he moved to first base in the field and soon established himself as one of Japan's top hitters at the plate with the powerful swing that's become his signature.
Ogasawara's Nippon Ham years were ripe with personal success. He was a Best Nine selection at first base in 1999, 2001 and 2006, and at third in 2003 and 2004. Ogasawara won all six of his Golden Glove Awards with the Fighters, as a first baseman from 1999-2002, at third in 2003 and once more at first in 2006.
Ogasawara won the Pacific League MVP Award in 2006 while helping lead the Fighters, who had since made the move to Hokkaido, to the Japan Series title.
That led to a high-profile move to Yomiuri, the nation's glamour club, where he would go on to be named to the Best Nine team at third base in 2007 and 2009.
Adhering to Giants protocol, he shaved the facial hair he'd become known for but was still the offensive dynamo he was in the PL.
In his first year with the Giants, Ogasawara, won the MVP Award, becoming just the second player in history to be named MVP in both leagues.
Two seasons later, he helped the Giants capture the Japan Series title, perhaps ironically with the deciding victory coming in Sapporo against the Fighters.
"Guts" has had 12 straight seasons with at least 130 hits and has a career .315 batting average, the highest among active players and currently fifth-best all-time.
He hits balls up and away, down and in and almost anywhere in between. The man will more or less swing at almost anything in his immediate vicinity, and often he'll hit his mark.
Still going strong in his 15th season, Ogasawara has had a career to remember. With two more hits, he'll make sure no one ever forgets it.