Thu, Mar 18, 2010 - Page 19 News List

Former Mariners man Kenji Johjima set to lead Tigers

AP , TOKYO

Former Seattle Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima says he still has plenty to learn in Japan after returning from four seasons in the major leagues.

Johjima, the first Japanese catcher to play Major League Baseball, has returned to play for the Hanshin Tigers, one of the most popular teams in Japan.

Coming home may seem like an easy transition for the 33-year-old veteran, but Johjima knows there’s plenty to learn, including a new pitching staff in a league he’s never played in.

NEW BALLGAME

Before he left Japan, Johjima was a standout for the small-market Fukuoka Daiei Hawks of the Pacific League. Playing for the Central League’s Tigers is a whole new ballgame.

The Tigers, who open the season next Friday, haven’t won a Japan Series championship since 1985 and Hanshin’s notoriously vocal fans can be tough on the home team if things don’t go according to plan.

“There’s plenty to learn, a lot of new challenges,” Johjima said on Hanshin’s official Web site. “But without overcoming challenges an athlete can’t make progress.”

SLOW START

After a slow start in exhibition games, Johjima looks to be settling in. He went 3-for-4 with a home run in Hanshin’s 7-6 win over the rival Yomiuri Giants on Tuesday.

Johjima opted out of the final two seasons and US$15.8 million of his contract with Seattle to return home to Japan.

Hanshin manager Akinobu Mayumi, is thrilled to have Johjima on the team.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do for us,” said Mayumi. “He’s a player that can contribute both offensively and defensively.”

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