Familiar face met Aoki in camp

Norichika Aoki takes his first swings in a Brewers uniform during a Spring Training workout Thursday. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Japanese import Norichika Aoki reported to Maryvale Baseball Park just after 8 a.m. on Thursday and dove into a flurry of activity. There were handshakes and awkward bows from his new Brewers teammates. A brief hello from manager Ron Roenicke. Athletic trainers asking questions. Clubhouse attendants holding uniform pants, jerseys and helmets to fit.

Finally, the most unlikely of familiar faces.

“Hisashiburi ne,” said Brewers right-hander Frankie De La Cruz.

Long time, no see!

De La Cruz and Aoki were teammates in 2010 with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, and are now reunited with the Brewers as Aoki begins a new chapter in his career. He’s was three-time batting champion in Japan, a six-time Gold Glover, a star, but now he’s fulfilling a dream by starting over in the U.S.

“I actually feel like a rookie again,” Aoki said.

He spoke through interpreter Kosuke Inaji, who returns to Milwaukee after working alongside reliever Takashi Saito last season. Saito, who has since signed with the D-backs, offered Aoki positive reports about the Brewers, the city of Milwaukee and playing at Miller Park, a conversation that made Aoki more comfortable in signing an incentive-rich, two-year contract with the Brewers, who will wait to determine exactly how he’ll fit in until they see him in action.

That process began Thursday, when Aoki met the media, then took batting practice with second baseman Rickie Weeks on a back field at Maryvale Baseball Park.

Check out Brewers.com later today for the full story of Aoki’s debut day in camp. Here’s a photo of Aoki and Weeks:

AP Photo/Morry Gash

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