PHOENIX -- After a first week in unfamiliar surroundings running through unfamiliar drills with unfamiliar teammates, outfielder Norichika Aoki arrived at Maryvale Baseball Park on Saturday to a welcome sight: His name on the Brewers lineup card, written carefully in Japanese kanji. "I'm just happy that they took the time to learn how to write my name in Japanese," Aoki said. "It's really good." That someone was Brewers bench coach Jerry Narron, whose lineup cards are daily works of art. He writes all of the names in calligraphy, and since 2001, when Narron was with Texas and Ichiro Suzuki debuted in Major League Baseball with Seattle, has used traditional symbols for the Japanese players. Narron consulted with Aoki's translator, Kosuke Inaji, to learn Aoki's name.
Why does he do it? "It's respect," Narron said. Aoki's symbol is far less complicated than Takashi Saito's, the veteran reliever who pitched for the Brewers last season. Saito was already a Major League veteran when he joined the Brewers, but Aoki is different. The Brewers won his rights from the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, then signed him to a two-year contract. One of Aoki's biggest adjustments has been the workouts themselves, which run far longer in Japan. Aoki typically reports early and stays late to take extra swings in the batting cage. He says he's felt welcomed in the clubhouse. "It's a great environment here," Aoki said. "I'm just trying to fit in as well as possible." The Brewers have another player in camp of Japanese descent in first baseman Travis Ishikawa, whose great-grandfather emigrated from Japan to California to work the railroads. Ishikawa said he was content seeing his name written in English.