Julio Ernesto Zuleta Tapia (born March 28, 1975 in Panama City, Panama) is a former professional baseball player. He played parts of two seasons in Major League Baseball, from 2000–01, for the Chicago Cubs, and six seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball from 2003–08, primarily as a first baseman. He graduated from the Colegio Javier in Panama City and speaks five languages: Spanish, Portuguese, French, English and Japanese. He is 197 cm (6 ft 5⅝ in) tall and weighs 113 kg (250 lb).
He was signed as a free agent by the Chicago Cubs on September 15, 1992 and spent a year with the GCL Cubs in 1993. He began 1994 in Huntington before going back down to play with the GCL Cubs. Zuleta made his major league debut with the Cubs in 2000, ultimately playing in 30 games, hitting .294 with 3 home runs and 20 hits overall.
Zuleta began playing professional baseball in Japan in 2003 with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. His best year with the Hawks came in 2005, when he hit 43 home runs with a .319 batting average. He holds a club record with the Hawks for most home runs for a foreigner.
After the 2006 season, Zuleta was released by the Hawks and signed with the Chiba Lotte Marines as a free agent. He signed a two year contract with the Marines, and later resigned with the Marines after the 2008 season. During the 2007 season, Zuleta was hit by a pitch which broke his finger. He continued to play for several months and led the team in home runs with 15 home runs. He came back after his injury to hit for the cycle. During the 2008 season, Zuleta spent most of the season deactivated for various reasons, which has been a point of controversy.
The Japanese fans gave Zuleta the name "Samurai" because of his perseverance. He has hit the most home runs in the league over the last three seasons (109). He is one of only three players in Japanese baseball to hit three home runs in one game. He achieved this twice: once against the Orix BlueWave (2003) and another time against the Seibu Lions (2006).
Zuleta is a three-time All Star. On September 22, 2007, in a game against the Rakuten Golden Eagles, he became the 61st player in Japanese professional baseball history to hit for the cycle. On June 7, 2008, he blasted a hit on the roof light in Tokyo Dome and was grounded home run, becoming the second player to ground a home run in the dome after Ralph Bryant. He was released by the Marines after the 2008 season, though had subsequently chosen to play for the Panamanian national team at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
In 2009, Julio founded "Zuleta's Indoor Batting Cages" in Fort Myers Florida, providing an upscale indoor facility for baseball and softball training and instruction, which he later sold in 2012. Julio lives in Florida with his wife Stacey and their two children, Gabriella and Kenzo.
Photo Credit: Panamá América