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Newest Brewer Aoki eager go get going - JSOnline


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Newest Brewer Aoki eager go get going - JSOnline

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AP

Nori Ioki owns a .329 career batting average over eight seasons in Japan.

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Right: 85%

Wrong: 15%

Phoenix - Nori Aoki is ready for the challenge of playing for the Milwaukee Brewers, and apparently his dad is ready to try the beer.

Aoki reported for his first major-league spring training Thursday at the Brewers' training facility and was introduced to Milwaukee media as well as Japanese reporters covering his transition to baseball in the States.

The 30-year-old outfielder said it has long been his dream to play in the majors.

"When I first came over here in college (with Waseda University) to play baseball (against U.S. colleges), I really enjoyed my experience here, and I've been following the major leagues as well," Aoki said through translator Kosuke Inaji. "I just felt like right now was the right time for me to take on the challenge.

"It's a brand new feeling, being able to play in a new environment. I feel like a rookie again. I'm just excited about the opportunity to begin my career."

Aoki said he got a scouting report on the Brewers from pitcher Takashi Saito, who played for them last season, and liked what he heard.

"He told me a lot of good things about the team, the staff, the fans of Milwaukee," said Aoki, who signed a two-year deal with an option after a workout here in early January.

"So, today, even though it's been a pretty busy day so far, I was just excited to try on my new uniform. I've had a good impression so far of the team.

"I've heard team meetings are always an interesting part of the day. (Saito) told me (manager) Ron (Roenicke) is an excellent communicator; he tries to communicate with all the players. I've also heard the ballpark is a very nice field and very good environment to play in." 

Dad's happy, too

And, then, in a comment certain to play well back in Wisconsin, Aoki added, "I'm really excited to get to Milwaukee. My father, he is a big fan of beer. He's real excited about coming and trying all the beer in Milwaukee."

Because Aoki was so successful in Japan - three batting titles with Yakult, multiple Gold Gloves and a .329 career batting average over eight seasons - he was asked if he felt out of his comfort zone and if it took courage to make this move at this stage of his career.

"I've known since college that I wanted to play in America," he said. "In that sense, I wouldn't say it took a lot of courage to take the challenge over here. It's something that I've always wanted in my life. Basically, it's a new chapter in my life."

Aoki is well aware that he will be watched closely in camp to see how his skill set plays against major-league competition. But he didn't indicate he has set the bar too high at this point. 

"I've already made a lot of preparations during the off-season in Japan," said Aoki. "Even here, there's only going to be a week or so before the spring training games start. I'm preparing for that.

"What I'm trying to do now is trying to get used to living over here, the little tiny adjustments I have to make between life over here and life in Japan."

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who participated with Roenicke in the media session, quickly interjected, "We don't expect him to have performance right away. We know there will be an adjustment period."

No need to impress

But Roenicke doesn't want Aoki to feel he has to do everything at once.

"I'll have a conversation with him," said Roenicke. "Obviously, he wants to impress us because he wants to get as much playing time as he can. But he doesn't need to come into camp thinking he has to make our team.

"From what we saw from him and what we heard, he's a well-polished player. Because he can play all the outfield positions and can run and hit, that allows us to be very flexible with him. That's good for him because he should be able to get in more ball games."

Some people have compared Aoki's style of hitting to that of Ichiro Suzuki, who became a major-league superstar after coming from Japan. Roenicke said such comparisons were totally unfair to Aoki.

"There are no other Ichiros," said Roenicke. "He's a once-in-a-lifetime player."

During his first workout with the Brewers, Aoki took some batting practice with Rickie Weeks, also in camp for his first spring session. Weeks immediately was impressed by one aspect of Aoki's hitting style.

"The first thing that stood out to me was his hands," said Weeks. "A lot of guys come over here and their hands aren't as up to speed or accurate. You can kind of tell that he's a 'handsie' hitter. He finds the ball pretty well. That's the first thing you see."

Weeks also made an impression on Aoki, who at one point squeezed the second baseman's biceps with raised eyebrows.

"He was telling me that he's never seen a second baseman this big,'" said Weeks.

© 2012 , Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved.

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