'Sho Time' for Cincinnati as Reds land Japan's Akiyama


Washington (AFP)

Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama was unveiled on Wednesday as the first Japanese player in the history of the Cincinnati Reds, whose Major League Baseball heritage dates to 1882.

Akiyama, a 31-year-old left-handed hitter who batted .301 over nine seasons for Japan's Saitama Seibu Lions, signed a three-year deal worth $21 million on Monday.

"The fact there has never been a Japanese player here in Cincinnati was something that was very attractive," Akiyama said. "I feel like this is going to be a great place for me to play."

Akiyama donned his number four jersey before a host of US and Japanese media on Wednesday as he was welcomed by Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams.

"Now that Shogo has got the jersey on and he has got the hat, the contract is signed, it's now safe to say it's officially 'Sho Time,'" Williams said.

Reds supporters have been waiting a while for the club to show them something special.

The Reds haven't had a winning season since 2013, the last time they reached the playoffs, and have managed only three winning campaigns since 2000. They haven't won a playoff game since 1995 and haven't captured the World Series crown since 1990.

Cincinnati led the major leagues last year with 33 one-run defeats and the Reds look for Akiyama to reach base and hit early in the batting order.

He also figures to see time in all three outfield spots.

"You can mix and match with certain guys," Reds general manager Nick Krall said. "We told him he would get regular playing time and he would play all three outfield positions."

Akiyama is ready for whatever challenge is given him by the Reds, who were the first North American team to make him an offer.

"Wherever the team needs me to play is what I will do," Akiyama said. "I was very inspired by their passion, how much they really wanted me. I wanted to respond to that. That's why I chose the Reds.

"It's definitely going to be a big adjustment but I'm actually looking forward to taking on that challenge."

Akiyama is excited by the prospect of facing such Japanese pitchers as Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees and Kenta Maeda of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"We're about the same age. In that sense, there is a level of familiarity in terms of our relationship," Akiyama said. "I look forward to playing, getting ready for the Major League Baseball season and hopefully facing them during the season."