Yakult’s much-traveled blond bomber

Aaron Guiel of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows has had a career in baseball that has taken him on a journey around the world – and up and down in the rankings.
Now 37, this Vancouver, British Columbia native is currently a pro-baseball outfielder for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, having come a long way and several thousand kilometers since the time he was picked up in the 21st round of the 1992 Major League Draft by the California Angels. Starting off as a pro the following year as a member of the Idaho-based Boise Hawks, he was initially assigned to a slot playing second base or outfield and put in a reasonable but not overly impressive .298 over 35 games that season.
The next few years he moved around various levels of ‘A’ ball, playing at different times for Cedar Rapids, Lake Elsinore and Midland. His time with Midland proved to be the period in which he put himself in the baseballing spotlight by hitting .329 whilst also sending the ball out of the park 22 times. Add to these figures an 85 RBI, and the reason he was picked up by the San Diego Padres – two-time National League Winners – becomes obvious.
He never really hit it big with the Padres though, and spent the last couple of years of the 20th century plying his trade in Nevada with the AAA Las Vegas. His form dipped but he still managed to be picked up by the Oakland A’s – albeit for a grand total of 12 days – in early 2000.
A couple of months in the baseball wilderness followed when he joined a Mexican League team called the Oaxaca Warriors. Of this time he says, “I was down there all alone with no access to what was going on back in the US. Family were far away so it became time to make a choice, to think if this really was the thing I should be doing.”
He stuck with baseball and moved back to the US when he was picked up in June of the same year by the Kansas City Royals, upping sticks and moving once more to play in Omaha with the delightfully named farm team, the Golden Spikes. 2002 saw him playing with the Kansas first team in the Majors, as did 2003 when he fell just shy of playing 100 games, putting in a .277 along the way.  2004 arrived and he improved on this score with a .294, before becoming one of the Team Canada members a couple of years later in the World Baseball Classic, which Japan eventually won.
A move to the New York Yankees followed and Guiel knew he had hit the big time, claiming with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye that “Walking out at Yankee Stadium was something special.” The first appearance he made for the Yankees saw him go 1 for 3 and his career at the top of the US baseball’s tree in the Big Apple eventually ended with a 4-homer, 11 RBI, .256 record, primarily playing first base and outfield along the way.
By 2007 he was looking at a move to Japan where he signed for the five- time Japan Series winners Yakult to hit a very healthy 35 home runs in his first season. The following year injury took its toll but he still re-signed for the recently completed 2009 season. In what has been the latest stage of an eventful career to date, both he and the team started pretty well, and when asked mid-season how he thought the remainder of the season would pan out, he correctly predicted a (Yomiuri) Giants, (Chunichi) Dragons, and Swallows 123 to enable each team to secure a place in the post-season play-offs.
As it was, as part of the regular season, Yakult took it right down to the wire, having stumbled through much of the late summer and early autumn – all but wiping out a huge lead it had over the chasing pack in 4th, 5th, and 6th place. Push came to shove, and the Swallows did eventually book their post-season place, thanks to crucial victories over Hanshin at the death.
Though it hasn’t been an easy road, Aaron seems to take it all in stride. When interviewed in Tokyo after a mid-season defeat to the Central League’s perennial cellar-dwellers, the Yokohama Baystars, his sentiment reminds us that this is, after all, just a game: “You just move on, you can’t focus on the defeats in a game like baseball. [Form and] seasons go up and down.”
When he’s not waxing poetic about his game, Aaron comes across as just a regular guy: ”I like going out with my friends, a group of expats from [various nations] to have a couple of beers. That said, during the season we get off [after a night game] and only have a couple of hours before bed.”
Now nearing the big 4-0, the future must be playing more and more on his mind. He will eventually return to North America where he has homes in the US and Canada. “I like it here in Japan, the fans have been great and are really into the team, and we get to travel a lot, but I will head back one day.” Whether Aaron Guiel remains with the team next season remains to be seen, but for now, at least one of Japan’s sports newspapers is reporting that all of the foreign entourage in the Yakult dugout will be kept on for another season. If AG is among them, keep an eye on this one, the Swallows’ Blond Bomber.

Story by Mark Buckton
From J SELECT Magazine, January 2010