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The Financial Times Limited
Asia Africa Intelligence Wire

Valdes Keeps Up With Joneses On Swing-From-Heels Hawks

By Asahi Shimbun/Asahi Evening News

July 5, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Asahi Shimbun. All rights reserved.

When you're a member of the fearsome Fukuoka Daiei Hawks batting order, you have two choices: hit a ton or stick out like a sore thumb

That's the situation Pedro Valdes finds himself in as the No. 3 hitter for the Hawks' offensive juggernaut

Pedro's type of pressure is not so much to carry the team offensively as it is to keep up with the Joneses-or in his case Jojima

"Phew! Everybody on the team hitting for average and power-(Kenji) Jojima, (Nobuhiko) Matsunaka, (Tadahito) Iguchi,'' said Pedro, with a shake of his head. ``You feel like you better do your part or you'll look bad.'' The Hawks, as has been their wont in recent years, are knocking the cover off the ball. At .292 clubwide, they are once again flirting with what would be a phenomenal .300 team average

Burly first sacker Matsunaka, healthy again after knee travails a year ago, incredibly was over the .400 mark for the first 2 months of the season. He's ``slumped'' recently to a still Pacific League-leading .361

All-Star catcher Jojima is white hot, having clouted 29 round-trippers to share the PL lead with Fernando Seguignol of the Nippon-Ham Fighters

Matsunaka, also an All-Star, is not far off the Hawk backstop's pace with 26 dingers himself

In all, five of Valdes' teammates garnered All-Star berths. Other Hawks named as PL luminaries were second baseman Iguchi (.312), shortstop Munenori Kawasaki, who is hitting at a .318 clip, and DH Julio Zuleta, who has gone yard 20 times

Valdes may not have made the All-Star team, but he's got the numbers

Thirty-one-year-old Pedro is currently hitting .283 with 14 home runs out of the No. 3 spot

It's a spot he has earned with a .300 plus career average with the Hawks over his first three years with the club, with 68 homers in that same span

Except for a slow start a year ago, Valdes has not been conspicuous by his absence of production

"It was embarrassing,`` said Valdes of his 2003 stumble out of the gate. ``I was hitting around .250 after the first three months and everybody else was over .300.'' ``Fortunately, I had a good July and August and eventually caught up (he ended up hitting .311 with 26 homers and 104 RBIs).'' To prevent future initial wheel-spinning, Valdes has ceased playing winter ball in his native Puerto Rico. It matters not if his countrymen now deem him too big for his britches

"I can't afford to, my family comes first,'' Pedro said. ``Our season has been finishing at the end of October. And it starts up again in February. I need the time to rest my body.'' ``They asked me if I would play just half the season or one month and I said no. I need the time off so I won't be worn out at the beginning of the season here.'' As potent as the Hawks attack has been, though, the defending Japan Series champs didn't reclaim first place from the fast-starting Seibu Lions until two months into the season, when their pitching staff finally started to get it together

"The starters have really been doing good lately,'' Valdes said

Still, when compared to their prodigious hitters, a deficient Hawk hurler gains about as much notice as a hangnail

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