Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Right-Handed Phoenix

Phoenix is not just a city in Arizona. It's also the mythological bird that arises from its own ashes. There's a phoenix on San Francisco's city flag (to pay homage to the city's rebirth after the 1906 disaster), and there could be one in the Giants bullpen this year.

That's him on the right. His name is Marc Kroon, and even if you're a pretty serious baseball fan, you've probably never heard of him.

That's because the 37-year-old pitcher has been toiling in Japan the last several years. Sure, it says "Giants" on his jersey--but those are the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants.

Kroon wound up in Japan after a half-dozen Major League teams gave up on him. Oh, he has an arm--but it was a wild one. He figured it out in Japan, averaging nearly 30 saves a year by relying on a serious sokkyu (Japanese for "fastball"). He hit 101 MPH on the radar gun a few years back, leading to the URL on his website: www.kroon161.com (101 MPH translates to 161 KPH, which sounds even faster).

Kroon's 4.26 ERA last year in Tokyo was the highest of his Japanese career, but he still struck out almost one-and-a-half batters per inning.

The Giants (the ones in San Francisco) have signed Kroon to a minor league contract. His invitation to spring training could open the door to the Major Leagues and a deal that could pay Kroon more than $2 million this year. The World Series champs are already pretty well set in the bullpen, but you never know.

Kroon's agent calls him "The Phoenix" because he arose from the ashes to succeed in Japan. How fitting would it be if he could write the next chapter in a ballpark where a flag bearing the phoenix flies above the outfield wall? The folks who made the movie "The Rookie" about the came-from-nowhere Texan pitcher Jim Morris should start taking notes.

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