(Image: Morry Gash/AP)
I would guess most Brewers fans think it’s a shame that the Norichika Aoki era came to an end earlier this week (unless he pulls a Betancourt). There are plenty of players that fans like to gripe about, but it’s hard to remember Aoki generating any animosity in his two seasons in Milwaukee. Even when he went through slumps or committed the odd error, it felt like Brewers fans appreciated the way Aoki handled himself. He seemed to have a good attitude, he made opposing pitchers work, and he produced in the leadoff spot of the batting order. It would have nice if the Brewers could have figured out a way to keep him.
Now that Aoki has moved on, it’s nice to reminisce about the good times. Feeling nostalgic, I went to MLB.com and perused Aoki’s video highlights. There are plenty of great plays and RBI hits, although not much in the way of big dramatic moments. I suppose that makes sense – Aoki was a solid, consistent player over the last two years, and didn’t have the high-highs or low-lows that guys like Rickie Weeks or Corey Hart have had. Also, leadoff hitters don’t have the same opportunities to impact a game offensively as hitters in the middle of the order. Still, there were plenty of moments to warm the heart. Here are five personal favorites.
April 20, 2012 vs. Rockies: Aoki’s first (inside the park) home run
Inside the park homers are always amusing, since they typically involve some kind of defensive misplay/poor judgment, and you’re thinking, “Can he make it? I think he’s going to make it.” Aoki made it.
Video highlight: Look at that guy go.
September 9, 2012 at Cardinals: Aoki blows Motte’s save
The Brewers would ultimately lose this game in the tenth inning, unable to complete the three-game sweep. (Seems strange to think the Brewers would ever be in a position to sweep St. Louis.) Even so, Aoki’s homerun in the ninth was as clutch as it gets, and it’s always nice to spoil the fun of the best fans in baseball, if only temporarily.
Video highlight: And the crowd went mild.
August 6, 2012 vs. Reds: Aoki says no extra bases for you
Aoki’s defense was consistently (there’s that word again) great in right field, and there are numerous video highlights of him robbing batters of hits and RBIs. This play stands out for me because it was another clutch situation. In the eighth inning of a three-run game, bases loaded with one out, Aoki had to make a diving catch, then pop up and get the ball back to the infield. The video also includes the Uecker call, which is always a bonus.
Video highlight: “Aoki with a beautiful back-handed diving catch!”
June 7, 2012 vs. Cubs: Aoki’s walk off
Aoki isn’t much of a power threat, but I suppose he’s a guy pundits would say has “some” pop – 18 homers in 1,117 at-bats. Going into this game, his only homerun was the aforementioned inside-the-parker against the Rockies. Aoki would explode with two homers against the Cubs, including the game-winner in the tenth. Just look at the smile on his face. If only the Brewers could play the Cubs every day.
Video highlight: “Who says he can’t hit ‘em over the fence?”
June 14, 2013 at Reds: Aoki gives fan a hand
I had forgotten about this little gem, and it’s just precious. During extra innings in Cincinnati, Aoki caught a foul pop right in front of the first row, coming face-to-face with a fan. The fan holds out his hands in a “Can I have that ball?” gesture. Aoki (kinda sorta) gives him five instead, and walks away smirking. The fans all have a good laugh, and it’s just one of those adorable moments that guys like Nyjer Morgan probably didn’t have a lot of on the road. Priceless.
Video highlight: Not yours.
I’m sure Brewers fans wish Aoki nothing but the best in his future endeavors. My only regret about Aoki’s Milwaukee career is we don’t know the origin of the “finger moustache” inside joke depicted above. It might be a you-had-to-be-there thing, but I’m still curious. It will be interesting to see if Aoki takes it to Kansas City with him.