Norichika Aoki feels quite comfortable in the batter’s box. The native of Hyuga City, Japan, proved as much Sunday, when he hammered a full-count, two-out offering from Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw over the fence for a homer.
That round-tripper was part of a stretch in which Aoki produced 10 hits in 16 Cactus League at-bats with his new squad, the Brewers — much to the delight of his new manager.
“This guy’s pretty special,” Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke said of Aoki. “He can do what he wants to do.”
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So far this spring, Aoki is batting .327 with 8 RBIs and 3 triples in exhibition play.
“I feel like I’m getting a little bit better every day,” Aoki said, through an interpreter.
Aoki came to the Brewers in January, after signing a two-year deal. The left-fielder, nicknamed “Nori,” was a three-time Japanese batting champ, and had a .329 career average from 2004-2011, playing for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
Like most Japanese imports, Aoki is under a lot of pressure and scrutiny. Yet, the 30-year-old appears well-equipped to handle the bright lights of the big leagues. After all, he’s used to fairly intense media attention after his years in Tokyo, where his wife, Sachi Ohtake, was a popular television sports anchor from 2006-10.
“I’ve gotten used to it now, but being in camp (earlier), there was a lot on my mind,” Aoki noted, when asked how he’s adjusting to life in Major League Baseball.
Aoki was all smiles during an interview outside the Brewers’ clubhouse Monday.
“Everyone around me is just very helpful,” said Aoki, the sixth Japanese player to suit up for Milwaukee. “It’s just a fun environment to play in, not only the teammates, but the coaches and staff and everyone — it’s just a great place to be.”
At 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, Aoki isn’t likely to duplicate Sunday’s home-run heroics often this season at Miller Park. His speed, however, should be on display daily.
Roenicke said Aoki has the green light to run whenver he feels like it on the base-paths.
“Whenever I’m on base I like to be as aggressive as possible,” Aoki noted.
Yes, life in the big leagues is treating Aoki A-OK, so far.
Now, he can’t wait for his first taste of life at Miller Park.
The Milwaukee Brewers provided interviews for this story.