Thursday, November 19, 2020

Study Abroad - The Dragons and Marines in Visalia (And Other Places)

The last instance of NPB teams sending players to play in North America was a slightly more complicated case than all the others.  It involved two Japanese teams - the Chunichi Dragons and the Chiba Lotte Marines - and several minor league teams across several MLB organizations although mostly the California League team in Visalia, California.

The Dragons had sent some players (most notably Masahiro Yamamoto and Takeshi Yamazaki) to play in the Dodgers' organization for three years in the 1980's but that had stopped after 1989.  In 1994 they worked out a deal with the Colorado Rockies to send two pitchers to Visalia which at the time was the Rockie's High-A affiliate and went by the name the Central Valley Rockies.  The two players were Shigeki Noguchi and Kenichi Sasaki.  The 20 year old Noguchi had a pretty good season - he went 8-3 in 26 games, 21 of which he started.  He led the team in innings pitched with 137 2/3 and was second on the team in wins.  I think his 2.55 ERA was the best on the team among pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the league ERA title although the cut off was probably 135 innings - he may have been the ONLY pitcher on the roster to qualify for the ERA title.  Overall he had the fifth best ERA on the team and the second best in the league behind Steve Lemke of Modesto's 2.32.  His 161 strikeouts not only led the team but they led the entire California League.  Noguchi was seventh on Baseball America's post-season California League Top 10 Prospects list.  Sasaki wasn't as successful - he went 2-4 with an ERA of 4.67 in 52 innings across 27 games including four starts.  He also notched a save.  The two players were accompanied by coach Tomoyoshi Ohishi.  One of their teammates, Angel Echevarria, ended up spending two seasons with the Nippon-Ham Fighters in 2003 and 2004.  

At the end of the 1994 season the Rockies switched their High-A affiliate to Salem, Virginia in the Carolina League, leaving Visalia without a working agreement with a major league team.  They operated as an independent team in 1995 and had to scrounge for players where ever they could get them.  The Dragons again provided two players while the Chiba Lotte Marines sent over nine players.  I suspect but don't know for sure that the Marines' involvement was spurred by their new manager Bobby Valentine.  The Dragons and Marines appear to have been attempting to increase their presence in North America that year as both teams did training camp in Peoria, Arizona that spring.  The Mariners hosted the Dragons while the Padres hosted the Marines.  Lotte would also hold spring training in Peoria the next three seasons and have some sort of working agreement with the Padres - which is why Hideki Irabu was originally headed to San Diego.

For the second year in a row a pitcher from the Dragons was Visalia's best starter.  Masataka Endo went 9-9 with an ERA of 3.76 in 28 games  The nine wins led the team as did the nine losses.  His 27 starts and 186 2/3 innings also led the staff.  His 178 strikeouts led the entire league, making it two consecutive years that a Chunichi Dragon led the California League in strikeouts.  The other Dragons pitcher was less successful.  Kenichiro Idemoto went 5-6 with a 4.10 ERA in 31 games.  The nine players the Marines sent included five pitchers.  Junichiro Mutoh had probably the best performance out of these five, going 1-2 with a 3.52 ERA and five saves in 17 games out of the bullpen.  Atsushi Yoshida had a 5-7 record and a 3.60 ERA in 13 starts.  30 year old Kiyokazu Seki led the team with 35 appearances - he went 5-6 with a 4.94 ERA and three saves mostly out of the bullpen.  Takashi Wada went 1-0 in 17 appearances with an ERA of 4.62 while Yasuhiro Enoki with 4-7 in 13 starts with a 5.45 ERA.  

Shoji Toyama put up the best showing of the four position players the Marines sent, hitting .297 with two home runs and 24 RBIs in 54 games.  Hiroyasu Hayashi hit .268 in 40 games, Iwao Omura hit .261 in 41 games and Takashi Tachikawa hit .176 in 47 games.

Visalia kind of picked up a working agreement for the 1996 season.  As best I can determine they were a co-op team working with both the Detroit Tigers (who had a High-A affiliate already in Lakeland of the Florida State League) and the Arizona Diamondbacks (who would not start play at the major league level until two years later).  As a result they only received two players from Japan, both from the Marines.  Makoto Itoh got into 34 games out of the bullpen, going 0-1 with a 3.94 ERA.  Takahisa Hoshiba was one of the better starters on the team, going 8-6 in 16 starts.  His 4.43 ERA was the best on the team for a pitcher with over 100 innings (there were only four such pitchers), his 108 strikeouts was third highest on the team and his eight wins was second best.  He also notched a save in his five appearances out of the bullpen.  (Those ERAs may seem high but keep in mind that the entire staff's ERA was 5.47 and the entire league had an ERA of 4.88.)

Visalia was not the only team to host a Japanese player in 1996 although this is where things get a little odd.  30 year old Tsuyoshi Wada was traded from the Chunichi Dragons to the Chiba Lotte Marines during the season.  He ended up playing in nine games with the Memphis Chicks, the Double-A Southern League affiliate of the Padres.  I don't know if he was sent to Memphis before or after the trade although given that the Marines had the agreement with the Padres I suspect it was after.  It was not a good experience for Yoda - he posted an ERA of 11.72 in 7 2/3 innings.  He may have made the acquaintance of several players who would go on to play in NPB although I don't know for sure if his time with the team overlapped with any of theirs.  Rob Mattson spent 1997 and 1998 with the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes.  Jeff Barry played in 48 games with the Marines in 2000.  Greg LaRocca spent seven seasons in Japan with Hiroshima (2004-05), Yakult (2006) and Orix (2007-10) and made two All Star teams.  Marc Kroon spent six season in Japan split evenly between the Yokohama Baystars (2005-07) and Yomiuri Giants (2008-10), making the All Star team four times and leading the Central League in saves in 2008.  In addition, the team's roster also included future All Star Derrek Lee, who's father Leon Lee had a long career in Japan.

By 1997 Visalia was now a full fledged Oakland Athletics farm team, one of two the team had in the league (the other one was in Modesto, 130-ish miles to the northeast along California highway 99) so they weren't available as a place for an NPB team to send anyone.  The Marines ended up sending two players to play for the Padres' Arizona Summer League team in Peoria, San Diego's spring training home they had shared with the Marines the past few seasons.  Neither player covered himself in glory.  Pitcher Masashi Iida went 0-2 with an ERA of 11.25 in 11 games.  Third baseman Ryosuke Sawai only got into three games, hitting .100 in 10 at bats although he drew four walks to have an On-Base-Percentage of .357.  One of their teammates, Rick Guttormson, would later pitch in Japan for four seasons, two with Yakult (2005-06) and two with Softbank (2007-08).  The highlight of his time in Japan was the no-hitter he threw against Rakuten in 2006.

As usual I don't know why the Marines stopped sending players to the US after 1997 (or the Dragons after 1995 apparently).  It may be that the Hideki Irabu incident may have soured relations between the Marines and Padres although the Marines did still do spring training in Peoria in 1998.  It may also have been that the performances of Iida and Sawai were so poor that neither team felt they were getting anything out of the relationship.  Whatever the reason the Marines didn't send anyone to North America again after 1997.

Actually, it wasn't just the Marines.  In each of the 16 years between 1982 and 1997 at least one NPB team had sent players to play in North America.  Ultimately ten of the twelve teams (everyone except Hankyu/Orix and Nippon-Ham) had players over here for at least two of those years.  But since 1997 no NPB team has sent any players to play in the North American minor leagues.  The only overseas leagues NPB teams have sent their players to have been fall/winter leagues both in the US (Arizona Fall League, Hawaiian Winter League) and other countries (Mexico, Australia, etc).

Here's a list of all 18 players the Dragons and Marines sent to the US between 1994 and 1997:

Player Year Team Draft NPB Career
Masataka Endo 1995 Visalia Oaks 1993 4th Dragons Dragons 1994-2006, Swallows 2007-08
Yasuhiro Enoki 1995 Visalia Oaks 1990 6th Orions Orions/Marines 1991-97, Giants 1998-99, Marines 2000.  NPB Stats here.
Hiroyasu Hayashi 1995 Visalia Oaks 1989 6th Orions Orions/Marines 1990-98
Takahisa Hoshiba 1996 Visalia Oaks 1992 4th Marines Marines 1993-99
Kenichiro Idemoto 1995 Visalia Oaks 1991 5th Dragons Dragons 1992-99, Lions 2000
Masashi Iida 1997 AZL Padres 1995 3rd Marines Marines 1996-99
Makoto Ito 1996 Visalia Oaks 1991 6th Carp Carp 1992-95, Marines 1996, Swallows 1997
Junichiro Muto 1995 Visalia Oaks 1992 1st Marines Marines 1993-2001, Fighters 2002-03, Lions 2004
Shigeki Noguchi 1994 Central Valley Rockies 1992 3rd Dragons Dragons 1993-05, Giants 2006-08
Iwao Omura 1995 Visalia Oaks 1987 6th Orions Orions/Marines 1988-2003
Kenichi Sasaki 1994 Central Valley Rockies 1991 2nd Dragons Dragons 1992-95
Ryosuke Sawai 1997 AZL Padres 1995 1st Marines Marines 1996-2005
Kiyokazu Seki 1995 Visalia Oaks 1986 1st Orions Orions/Marines 1987-96
Takashi Tachikawa 1995 Visalia Oaks 1993 2nd Marines Marines 1994-2004, Tigers 2005-06
Shoji Toyama 1995 Visalia Oaks 1985 1st Tigers Tigers 1986-90, Orions/Marines 1991-97, Tigers 1998-2002
Takashi Wada 1995 Visalia Oaks 1992 3rd Marines Marines 1993-2002
Tsuyoshi Yoda 1996 Memphis Chicks 1989 1st Dragons Dragons 1990-96, Marines 1996-97, Fighters 1998-99, Tigers 2000
Atsushi Yoshida 1995 Visalia Oaks 1991 1st Marines Marines 1992-2003, Tigers 2003-04

The only players to appear in any US minor league team sets were Noguchi and Sasaki who appear in both the Classic Best and Fleer ProCards sets for the 1994 Central Valley Rockies.  There were no team sets issued for either the 1995 or 1996 editions of the Visalia Oaks or the 1997 Arizona League Padres.  There is a team set for the 1996 Memphis Chicks but it does not include Yoda.  I've swiped the images of Noguchi and Sasaki's Central Valley cards (along with their coach Ohishi) from  All 18 players have at least one Japanese baseball card (although I don't have Makoto Ito's card).

2003 Chunichi Sports #24 (Endo)

Masataka Endo's cousin Kazuhiko Endo was a star pitcher for the Yokohama Taiyo Whales and Masataka ended up wearing uniform number 24 in tribute to his cousin.  He was the Dragons' fourth round pick in the 1993 draft from the Kumagai Gumi corporate league team and he made his ichi-gun debut the following season.  Despite his success with Visalia as a starter in 1995, the Dragons moved him to the bullpen in 1996 and he remained there for most of the rest of his career.  He had a decent season in 1996 but his numbers declined in 1997.  That wasn't the worst thing that happened to him that year though - he was caught up in the "professional baseball tax evasion scandal" which broke that year.  He ultimately wasn't prosecuted due to the relative low amount of money involved but he was suspended by the league for the the first three weeks of the 1998 season and fined 500,000 yen.  The Dragons effectively buried him on the farm team for the next couple seasons as he only got into 22 games with the top team between 1998 and 2000.  He put up pretty good numbers out of the bullpen in 2001-03 but after posting ERAs over 7.00 in both 2004 and 2005 he spent the entire 2006 season on the farm team and was released at the end of the year.  He attended the 12 team tryout and ended up signing with the Swallows.  He spent two seasons with Yakult, the second of which exclusively on the ni-gun squad and was released after the 2008 season.  He attended the 12 team tryout again and drew some interest from some Korean teams but decided to retire to be able to spend more time with his small children.  He worked as a salesman for a Toyota dealer after retiring as a player.

1995 BBM #222

Yasuhiro Enoki became the ace pitcher for Tokaidai Kofu High School during his junior year and pitched for them in the 1990 Spring Koshien tournament.  He was drafted by the Lotte Orions in the sixth round of the 1990 draft and made his ichi-gun debut in 1991.  He had probably his best season in 1994, going 7-4 with a 3.77 ERA in 15 starts.  His numbers weren't good at either Visalia or Chiba in 1995 though and he ended up in the bullpen for the rest of his career.  He was traded to the Yomiuri Giants after the 1997 season for Shigeyori Koharazawa and spent two seasons with them before being released.  He returned to the Marines for the 2000 season and retired at the end of the year.  He worked for the Marines as a batting practice pitcher and in the publicity department for a while and then became a scout for the team in 2017.

1997 BBM #396

Hiroyasu Hayashi's biggest claim to fame was that he homered in his first ever NPB at bat, the 27th player in history to do so.  He was drafted in the sixth round of the 1989 draft out of Kagoshima Jitsugyo High School and made his debut in 1990.  Injuries kept him on the farm team for the next four seasons.  He started 1996 in Visalia and was actually called to the Marines from there in late May.  After playing 40 games with the Oaks that season he got into another 51 with Lotte.  Additional injuries limited his playing time after 1996 and he retired after the Marines released him at the end of the 1998 season.

1999 BBM #268

Takahisa Hoshiba hit 20 home runs as an outfielder for Takaoka Shogyo High School before switching to pitching in his junior year.  He spent a couple years playing for Mitsubishi Jiko Nagoya in the industrial leagues after graduation (and was a candidate for the 1992 Olympic team) before getting taken in the fourth round of the 1992 draft by Lotte.  He spent most of his seven year career with the Marines on their farm team - he appeared in more games in Visalia in 1996 (21) than he did in Chiba between 1993 and 1999 (20).  Lotte released him after 1999.  He attempted to join the Baystars but he failed their enrollment test and retired.  He's currently the secretary-general of the Toyama branch of the Japan Baseball Promotion Association (OB Club).

1998 BBM #146

Kenichiro Idemoto was the ace of the Tokaichi Kogyo High School staff for the 1991 Koshien tournament and beat Nobeoka Gakuen and future Marine Tomohiro Kuroki in the second round.  His third round game against Matsusho Gakuen was one of those legendary Koshien games.  The game was tied 3 to 3 after nine innings with both Idemoto and Matsusho starter (and future Nippon-Ham Fighter) Yoshinori Ueda still on the mound.  In the bottom of the 16th inning Matsusho loaded the bases and then Idemoto hit Ueda with his 238th pitch of the day to force in the winning run.  He was drafted that fall by the Dragons in the fifth round.  He made his ichi-gun debut late in the 1995 season after the end of Visalia's season.  He pitched well mostly out of the bullpen for the Dragons in 1996, going 1-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 19 games but his ERA jumped to 6.75 in 1997 and that pretty much condemned him to spent the rest of his time with Chunichi on their farm team.  He signed on with the Lions for the 2000 season after the Dragons released him but Seibu let him go at the end of the year.  He spent a couple seasons with the JR Central corporate league and later became a pitching coach for them.

1996 BBM #502
Masashi Iida played in two summer Koshien tournaments as a shortstop and reserve pitcher for Tsuruga Kehi High School.  His team made it to the semi-finals in the 1995 tournament before losing to the eventual champions Teikyo 2-0.  He was drafted as a pitcher by the Marines in the third round of the 1995 draft.  After two years as a pitcher he switched to being a shortstop but he was unable to get off the farm team at either position.  The Marines released him after the 1999 season and he retired after failing his enrollment test with the Carp.  He was active in youth baseball after retiring and was a high school baseball coach in Niigata prefecture at last report.

Makoto Itoh is the one player of this group who I don't have a baseball card of.  His only card is from the 1995 Takara Carp set (#59).  Itoh went to Yachiyo Kokusai University and helped found the school's baseball team.  He was taken by the Carp in the sixth round of the 1991 draft and made the only ichi-gun appearance of his career in 1994.  He was released by the Carp after the 1995 season and picked up by the Marines who sent him to Visalia.  Lotte released him after 1996 and he was picked up by the Swallows who released him after the 1997 season.  He then retired and became a batting practice pitcher for Yakult.

2001 BBM #233

Junichiro Mutoh pitched for the Prince Hotel corporate league team after graduating from Senshu University and was the Marines number one pick in the 1992 draft.  He posted ERAs above 10 in his first two seasons with Chiba.  After a decent season in Visalia in 1995 he returned to Japan and pitched in a couple games at the end of the season and got rocked.  After a couple seasons in the bullpen the Marines moved him into the starting rotation and he put up some good numbers in two seasons, going 8-7 with a 3.76 ERA in 1998 and 6-11 with a 3.46 ERA in 1999.  After two less successful seasons Lotte traded him to the Nippon-Ham Fighters for Junji Kuroki.  After two seasons with the Fighters he was released and signed on with the Seibu Lions for 2004.  The Lions released him at the end of the year and he spent 2005 in Taiwan with the Brother Elephants of the CPBL.  He went 6-10 with a 3.75 ERA with the Elephants and retired at the end of the season.  He later coached for the Baystars and the CPBL's Sinon Bulls.

1994 Classic Best Central Valley Rockies #14

1994 Fleer ProCards #3200

2000 Upper Deck Victory #34

Shigeki Noguchi had the most successful career out of all the players in this group.  He was a third round pick by the Dragons from Ehime Tanba High School in 1992 and spent his first season as professional with Chunichi's farm team.  He returned to Japan after his stellar performance with Central Valley a few weeks before the California League season ended and made his ichi-gun debut in August of 1994.  The next few seasons had their ups and downs for him - he threw a no-hitter in 1996 but missed much of 1997 with a shoulder injury.  He cam back healthy in 1998 and went 14-9 with a Central League leading ERA of 2.34, making the All Star team for the first time.  1999 saw him go 19-7 with a 2.65 ERA with the Central League Champion Dragons.  Not only did he make the All Star team for a second consecutive year but he was named Central League MVP.  After a mediocre season in 2000 he had another excellent year in 2001, going 12-7 and leading the Central League in both ERA (2.46) and strikeouts (187).  He made the All Star for the third (and last time) and won a Golden Glove award.  Another injury cost him most of 2002 and he had losing records and ERAs of more than 4.00 over the next three seasons.  He left the Dragons as a free agent after the 2005 season and signed with the Yomiuri Giants.  He only made one start in 2006 and got hammered by the Lions in it, giving up seven hits and five runs (only three earned) in three innings although the Giants ultimately won the game so he didn't take the loss.  He was somewhat successful working out of the bullpen in 2007, posting an ERA of 4.30 in 31 games but that was his last appearances at the ichi-gun level.  He spent all of 2008 with the Giants' farm team (Baseball-Reference incorrectly states that he made 6 appearances that year) and was released at the end of the season.  He failed in tryouts with the Eagles and Cubs that winter but had agreed to a minor league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays in February of 2009.  Unfortunately the deal was cancelled when he failed his physical due to issues with his elbow.  After two years of surgery and rehabilitation of his elbow he successfully tried out for the Mie Three Arrows of the Shikoku Island League in 2011 and went 1-4 with a 2.63 ERA in 10 games.  The team folded after the season and Noguchi retired after attending the 12 team tryout and getting no offers from NPB teams.  After retiring he coached for an industrial league team called the NPO Rookies and has done some TV commentary.

1994 BBM #428

Iwao Ohmura is perhaps somewhat unfairly remembered most as the reason that Saburo Ohmura used "Saburo" as his registered name while with the Marines.  Because there was already a player with the same surname (and because Ichiro had just gotten 200 hits while going by his given name) when he joined the Marines in 1995, Saburo decided to go by his given name as well.  Iwao Ohmura was originally drafted as a pitcher by Lotte in the sixth round of the 1987 draft from Tokaidai Number Four High School.  He converted to the outfield by 1989 and made his ichi-gun debut in 1992.  His playing time with the top team picked up in the seasons following his stint in Visalia and he became a semi-regular player, getting into 70 to 100 games each year from 1996 to 1999.  He was the cleanup hitter for the 1999 team and hit 13 home runs (third on the team after Frank Bolick's 26 and Kiyoshi Hatsushiba's 22).  Injuries and apparently a sudden loss of his hearing limited him to only 29 games with the top team between 2000 and 2002 and he retired after spending the entire 2003 season on the farm team.  He's coached for the Fighters, Baystars and Marines since retiring.

1992 BBM #462

1994 Classic Best Central Valley Rockies #21

1994 Fleer ProCards #3203

Kenichi Sasaki was the second pick of the Dragons out of Tokushima Shogyo High School.  He pitched in five games with the ichi-gun Dragons in 1993 including two starts, going 0-0 with an ERA of 4.50.  He suffered a career-ending injury in 1995 and retired at the end of the season at age 22.  His 1992 BBM card was his only card issued in Japan so he has more US minor league cards than Japanese cards.

2002 BBM 2nd Version #763

Ryosuke Sawai ended up as the Marine's first pick in the 1995 draft out of Choshi Shogyo High School in Chiba Prefecture but he wasn't their first choice.  Like six other teams, Lotte picked Kosuke Fukudome with their first round pick.  Kintetsu ultimately won the lottery for Fukudome but lost out when he decided to play corporate league ball instead.  The Marines and Swallows both picked Sawai as their consolation pick and Lotte won the lottery (the Swallows settled for Hajime Miki).  Sawai wasn't sure at first if he wanted to sign with the Marines as he was more interested in the Central League or possibly playing as an amateur for the 1996 Olympic team.  But the Marines' 2nd place finish in 1995 and the opportunity to provide for his mother who had raised him by herself convinced him to sign.  He made a brief appearance with the top team in 1998 but missed time in 1999 due to elbow surgery.  His playing time picked up over the following couple years and he was in the Opening Day lineup in 2002 but ended up only hitting .176 in 41 games.  I think shoulder injuries cut into his playing time and he spent his last two seasons with Lotte (2004-05) on the farm team before being released.  He went on to be player-coach for a couple club teams (Chiba Hot Blood MAKING and Southern Reef Ichihara) before coaching for the independent Baseball Challenge League's Gunma Diamond Pegasus in 2008-09.  He's worked for MetLife since 2010.

1987 Takara Orions #21 (Seki)

30 year old Kiyokazu Seki was one of the oldest players to be sent to North America by any NPB team.  Seki had been a star pitcher at both Hokota Number One High School and Senshu University before being Lotte's top pick in the 1986 draft.  He made his top team debut in 1987 and pitched pretty well, going 1-0 with an ERA of 1.93 in 14 games out of the bullpen.  His numbers declined as his playing time increased, going 3-4 with a 3.97 ERA in 25 games in 1988 and then 0-3 with a 6.54 ERA in 18 games in 1989.  He only made three more appearances with the ichi-gun squad the rest of his career - I think he had a lot of injuries but I don't know that for sure.  He retired after the 1996 season and became a salesman afterward.

2003 BBM Marines #M060

Takashi Tachikawa hit 32 home runs during his high school career at Takudai Koryo High School.  He hit a two run home run in the ninth inning of one of semi-final games of the 1992 Summer Koshien Tournament, propelling his team into the final against Nishi-Nippon Junior College High School (where they lost 1-0).  He was thrilled to be taken by the Marines in the second round of the 1993 draft because he had been born in Minami Ward in Chiba-City, home of Chiba Marine Stadium.  He made his ichi-gun  debut in 1996 and always seemed poised to become a regular for several seasons but it doesn't look like he ever hit well enough to do so.  The team apparently tried him as their cleanup hitter in 2002 but he hit .238 with 6 home runs in 89 games.  He was traded to the Hanshin Tigers in June of 2004 for Koji Hirashita but was released after spending the entire 2005 season on their farm team.  He joined the Macoto Cobras of the CPBL as a player-coach for 2006 although he never appeared in a game for them.   After leaving baseball he became a professional kick-boxer.  He appeared in six matches in 2007 and 2008, winning three and losing three.  He's also been a baseball commentator since retiring from baseball.

1993 BBM #112

 Shoji Toyama had one of the more interesting careers of all of these players.  He was the ace pitcher and cleanup hitter at Yashiro Daiichi High School, going 69-3 while hitting .440 with 35 home runs.  If I'm understanding the Google translation of his Japanese Wikipedia page correctly, he threw 11 no-hitters in high school.  He was the number one pick of the Hanshin Tigers in the 1985 draft although only after the Tigers lost out on the lottery for Kazuhiro Kiyohara.  He had a decent rookie season for an 18 year old in 1986, going 8-5 with 4.22 ERA in 24 starts (27 games total) but he hurt his left shoulder the following year and only got into nine games.  He bounced back a bit in 1988, going 2-9 with an ERA of 3.84 in 42 games mostly out of the bullpen but his numbers and playing time deteriorated over the next two seasons.  He was traded to the Lotte Orions after the 1991 season for former Carp All Star Yoshihiko Takahashi but his shoulder injuries continued to cut into his playing time - he only got into about 75 innings with the ichi-gun team between 1991 and 1994.  After nine years as a professional pitcher he decided to switch to being an outfielder for the 1995 season.  The Marines shipped him off to Visalia for his first taste as a position player and as I mentioned earlier, he did pretty well, hitting .297 in 51 games with nine doubles, two triples and two home runs (and 38 strikeouts with only three walks).  However his success in the California League did not translate to success in Japan at the ichi-gun level.  He only hit .167 with the Marines in 1995 after returning from the Oaks and only hit .250 in four at bats in 1996 (while striking out three times) - despite leading the ni-gun Eastern League in hits that season.  The Marines released him after he spent the entire 1997 season with the farm team.  He ended up rejoining the Tigers and felt that since the three years away from the mound had allowed his shoulder to heal, he should return to pitching.  After spending most of 1998 with the Tigers' farm team (and posting a 7.59 ERA in the 11 games he got into with the top team) he put together the best two seasons of his career.  In 1999 he got into 63 games in middle relief and went 2-1 with a 2.06 ERA.  His first victory in 1999 was his first victory since 1989 - the ten year gap between wins was the longest at the time in NPB history.  He won the Comeback Player Award that season.  He followed that up in 2000 by going 2-0 with a 2.55 ERA in 54 games, all out of the bullpen again.  He was named to his only All Star game that season (as a replacement when Shinji Sasaoka of the Carp got injured).  He was particularly effective against Hideki Matsui, holding him hitless in 13 at bats and earning the nickname "Godzilla-killer".  He started suffering from some injuries - not sure if it was his knees or his back - in 2001 and the Tigers released him at the end of 2002 when he put up a 9,49 ERA in 23 appearances.  He retired and became a baseball commentator for a couple years before spending seven seasons as a coach for the Tigers.  He's been the head coach of the Naniwa High School baseball team since 2019.

2000 BBM Late Series #555

Takashi Wada threw a no-hitter against Asia University during his sophomore year at Toyo University.  He was a third round pick of the Marines in the 1992 draft and spent most of the next few years on the farm team.  He had a couple seasons working out of the bullpen with the top team, getting into 21 games with a 3.60 ERA in 2000 and 38 games with a 4.63 ERA in 2001 but he retired after only getting into 3 games in 2002.  He's worked for the Marines in a number of capacities since retiring including batting practice pitcher, advance scout and farm team pitching coach as well as in their front office.  He also ran a restaurant.   Since 2019 he's been the head coach of his alma mater's (Takudai Koryo High School) baseball team.

1992 BBM All Stars #A8

Tsuyoshi Yoda was dogged by injuries during almost his entire baseball career.  He had surgery for a blood circulation disorder while he was in college at Asia University but he impressed the scouts with his pitch velocity when he was playing for NTT Tokyo in the industrial leagues after graduation.  He was the top pick of the Chunichi Dragons in the 1989 draft (they were one of only four teams to NOT pick Hideo Nomo in the first round).  Dragons manager Senichi Hoshino made him the team's closer in 1990 and he responded by leading the league with 31 saves, making the All Star team and winning the Central League Rookie Of The Year award.  He had a back injury that limited him to only 29 games in 1991 but he bounced back to appear in 41 games, notch 23 saves and make the All Star team in 1992.  An elbow injury held him to only 27 games in the next three seasons and his ERA soared - 9.78 in 1993 and 12.00 in both 1994 and 1995.  He was traded along with Kenji Yoshitsuru to the Marines in the middle of the 1996 season for Naoyuki "Gyaos" Naitoh and Koji Mori.  As I mentioned, I believe that it was the Marines who sent him to pitch in Memphis.  He never made an appearance with the ichi-gun Marines however and they released him at the end of the 1997 season.  He was picked up by the Nippon-Ham Fighters but missed most of the 1998 season due to elbow surgery.  He ultimately made only one appearance with the Fighters' top team in 1999, giving up one run in one inning of work.  Released again by the Fighters, he caught on with the Hanshin Tigers for the 2000 season and was named a candidate for the closer role by manager Katsuya Nomura.  He awoke the next morning after a good outing in training camp with back pain so severe that he couldn't get out of bed which prevented him from making the top team.  Between the back pain and a knee injury he only pitched in two games with the ni-gun team that year and retired after being released by Hanshin at the end of the season.  He's worked as a baseball commentator since retiring as well as having a number of coaching positions including with 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classic squads.  He's been the manager of the Chunichi Dragons since 2019.

2003 BBM 1st Version #302

Atsushi Yoshida was the first round pick of Lotte in the 1991 draft from Yamaha of the industrial leagues - he was the first draft pick ever by the newly renamed Marines.  He went 7-9 with a 4.07 ERA in 19 starts (21 games overall) in his rookie season of 1992 but shoulder and elbow injuries restricted him to only nine games over the next two seasons.  After proving himself healthy with 13 starts with Visalia the first half of 1995 the Marines moved him into a middle relief role in Chiba during the second half of the season and he went 1-0 with a 1.00 ERA and one save in 25 games.  He alternated good and not-so-good seasons over the next several seasons, still mostly working out of the bullpen.  He was traded to the Hanshin Tigers early in the 2003 season for Takehiro Hashimoto but suffered a calf injury almost immediately after the trade.  He spent the entirety of his almost two seasons with Hanshin on their farm team and retired when they released him at the end of the 2004 season.  He's coached for the Baystars and Orix since retiring as well as a couple independent league teams - the Baseball Challenge League's Shinano Grandserows and the Kansai Independent League's Wakayama Fighting Birds.  He's been the manager of the Shikoku Island League's Tokushima Indigo Socks since 2020.

1991 BBM #158

1994 Classic Best Central Valley Rockies #28

1994 Fleer ProCards #3221

I assume that the Dragons and Marines sent coaches over with their players every year but the only coach I know for sure is Tomoyoshi Ohishi who the Dragons sent to Visalia in 1994.  Ohishi was a third round pick of the Seibu Lions in the 1979 draft.  As a catcher he competed with Koichi Tabuchi and Katsuya Nomura in his first seasons with Seibu but really lost out on playing time when Tsutomu Itoh established himself a few years later.  He was traded to the Dragons along with Tadashi Sugimoto for Yasushi Tao after the 1984 season and spent seven seasons in Nagoya as the back up catcher to Takayoshi Nakao and Takeshi Nakamura.  He retired after the 1991 season and spent the next three seasons coaching for the Dragons (including coaching at Central Valley in 1994).  He's since coached for the Lions (1995-2001 although he had to sit out the 1998 season for his involvement in the same tax evasion scandal that netted Endoh), the Hawks (2002-08), the Lions again (2009-10) and the Eagles (2012-18).  

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