It was a cool, crisp spring day. Many in the crowd were bundled with blankets wrapped around their legs as if one was at a Packer game in November. Fifty-five degrees may not seem cold to some, but to those who live in Arizona, it is down right winter. It is one of those temporary cooler days in the calendar where the sun shines brightly for over 300 days of the year. It was during this climate change where two old foes met face to face in Surprise, Arizona on Monday afternoon.
Norichika Aoki played for the Yakuit Swallows of the Japanese Central League. Yu Darvish played for the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League. They had only faced each other four times prior to this day. Darvish is now playing for the American League Champion, Texas Rangers, one of the most powerful teams in baseball. Aoki is now playing for the Central Division Champions of the National League, Milwaukee Brewers. In the four innings Darvish pitched, the only hit was by Aoki, a ground ball up the middle which drove in the Brewers first run. For Aoki, it must have felt like being back home in Japan. He went 3 for 3, including a triple driving in two RBI which broke the game open and allowed the Brewers to win. He also had a stolen base and scored a run, just like a three time batting champion should.
Standing on first base, after his first hit of the game for the Brewers, Aoki while taking off his batting glove, took a deep sigh as if finally all the weight of the baseball world was lifted off of his shoulders. Although not one to show emotion, you could almost see a smile on his face. Here he had faced one of the biggest names in all of Japanese baseball and came out on top. All the Brewers were on their feet in the dugout. He must have felt like he was back on the Meiji-Jingu Stadium field, where Gehrig and Ruth played during an exhibition tour of Japan in the ’30s and where he ruled up to this year.
Aoki had his first day of triumph. For Brewer fans there is hope for many more to come his season.