BRADENTON — Every day Pirates second baseman Akinori Iwamura commutes to his new job, it's hard for him not to think about his old one.
Iwamura, 31, a Ray the past three seasons, said that when he drives from his St. Petersburg-area home to Pirate City, he passes Tropicana Field on the way.
"It's a different feeling," he said.
To Iwamura, Tampa Bay will always be his second home. It's where he acclimated to life in America after the Rays signed him out of Japan in 2006. It's where his first child, Taiki, 21/2, was born. It was where Iwamura helped lead the Rays to the 2008 World Series; he still has the ball from making the final out in Game 7 of the ALCS against the Red Sox.
But Iwamura, traded to the Pirates in the offseason, said he's excited to start over, to learn about a new city, new teammates and fans. It's also going to be a new situation, going from a playoff contender to a Pirates club that has had a record 17 straight sub-.500 seasons. But, as he said he found out with the Rays, anything is possible.
"I know this team has been struggling, but I'd like to be part of a winning team, just like the '08 Tampa Bay team," Iwamura said through interpreter Toshi Nagahara. "I believe this team is getting better and can be better, and I'm very happy to be part of this team."
Iwamura took a trip a couple of weeks ago to Pittsburgh, which was blanketed with a record snowfall. He went to PNC Park and posed for a picture in the home dugout with the snow-covered field, scoreboard and city skyline in the background.
"Crazy," he said. "Too much snow."
With Iwamura gone, one of the Rays' big questions in spring is who will fill the second base and rightfield spots. They have options, which is why they didn't pick up Iwamura's $4.85 million option for this season and traded him to the Pirates.
Another question is whether Iwamura stays longer than a year in Pittsburgh. That remains to be seen, but he has made an impression after being one of the first position players to report.
"The way he plays the game, he plays hard, he has some charisma, has some class to him," Pirates manager John Russell said. "You can tell when he's out on the field, he enjoys it."
Iwamura, who had left knee surgery last season, said his knee is "getting better and better every day." He looks forward to the Pirates' first meeting with the Rays on March 11 in Port Charlotte and to fulfilling his fans' expectations of him.
How about a Pirates-Rays World Series?
Iwamura smiled and said, "I hope so."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.