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By Shihou Sasaki The North American Post
Nori Aoki, right, joins the Seattle Mariners for the 2016 season and is introduced by General Managner Jerry Dipoto on Dec. 3 at Safeco Field. Photo by Ben VanHouten/Seattle Mariners
Seattle’s Japanese icon for the next year will be a new face — Nori Aoki. The 33-year-old Japanese baseball player signed with the Mariners for $5.5 million in 2016 in addition to an option for 2017. Aoki joined a press conference last Thursday with General Manager Jerry Dipoto at Safeco Field, saying that he joined the team to enjoy “coffee” but also to “win the World Series.” Aoki was born in Hyuga, Miyazaki, and played for the Yakult Swallows for eight years in Japan where he was named as an All-star seven times. His consistent stats have continued in the big leagues as he has played for the last four years as a leadoff hitter. “Adding Nori addresses our desire to be more athletic in the outfield, as well as more contact oriented in the batter’s box,” said Dipoto. “His consistency, versatility and energetic style of play will fit us very well.” Dipoto added that the team plans to rotate five outfielders depending on their situation and opponent, but Aoki will play most every game and all three positions. Aoki will be the ninth Japanese player to play for the Mariners following Mac Suzuki, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Ichiro Suzuki, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Masao Kida, Kenji Johjima, Munenori Kawasaki and Hisashi Iwakuma. Iwakuma was expected to stay in Seattle as Dipoto said resigning him was a priority, but media reported that the Japanese pitcher who played for the Mariners for four years and pitched a no-hitter this year will leave for the Los Angeles Dodgers and a $45 million contract for three years. The local community has had a good relationship and memories with Iwakuma through an annual community Japan Night with the Mariners and his welcome party in 2013. The community has already started discussing how to build the same good relationship with Aoki. The Nikkei Community Network, a coalition of the local Nikkei community organizations and businesses, had a meeting last Thursday and agreed to reach out to Aoki and the Mariners about a welcome event as the group did for Iwakuma and former manager Don Wakamatsu.
Hisashi Iwakuma marked 47-25 and two saves with a 3.17 ERA from 2012 – 2015, including a memorable no-hitter on Aug. 12.