Thursday, November 30, 2017

Ryota Arai

Ryota Arai of the Tigers is another player who retired at the end of the past season.  Arai was the fourth round pick of the Chunichi Dragons in the fall 2005 draft out of Komazawa University (which is also the alma mater of his brother Takahiro).  He debuted with the ichi-gun Dragons in the summer of 2006 and was a part time player with them through 2010.  He got traded to the Hanshin Tigers in the 2010-11 off season for Keisuke Mizuta which allowed him to become a teammate of his brother Takahiro.  He had really his only two seasons as a regular in 2012 and 2013 - he hit .280 with 11 home runs in 110 games in 2012 and .238 with 14 home runs in 119 games in 2013.  His playing time with the top team dropped off after that due to injuries and poor performance.  He played in two Nippon Series - winning in 2007 with the Dragons and losing in 2014 with the Tigers.

His BBM rookie cards are #64 in the 2006 Rookie Edition set and #284 in the 2006 1st Version set.  His first Calbee card didn't appear until 2013 (#106).

2006 BBM Rookie Edition #64

2006 BBM 1st Version #284

2007 BBM Nippon Series #S19

2011 BBM Tohto 80th Anniversary #49

2011 BBM 2nd Version #441

2013 Calbee #106

2017 BBM Tigers #T51

Monday, November 27, 2017

Yuya Andoh

Longtime Hanshin Tigers pitcher Yuya Andoh announced his retirement back in the middle of September.  Andoh attended Hosei University of the Tokyo Big Six League and then joined Toyota's industrial league team after he graduated.  He was a member of the Japan National Team for the 2001 Baseball World Cup and was drafted by the Tigers (in the "free player acquisition" round) the day after the tournament ended.  He debuted with the Tigers in April of 2002 and worked out of the bullpen his first few years with the team.  He moved to the starting rotation in 2005 and remained there for most of the next eight years although he missed significant time in 2007 and 2011 with injuries.  He moved back into the bullpen in 2013 and got into at least 50 games a year for the next four seasons in a middle relief role.  He spent almost all of 2017 with the Tigers' farm team however - I'm not completely sure why but I think it had more to do with the Tigers preferring to use younger pitchers at the ichi-gun level than Andoh's performance. 

He played in three Nippon Series with the Tigers - 2003, 2005 and 2014.  He suited up for the Japan National Team three times as well - the aforementioned 2001 Baseball World Cup, the 2003 Asia Championship and the 2004 Olympics.

Because he was still an amateur when he played in the 2001 Baseball World Cup he's one of the few Japanese players to have a "pre-rookie" card as he appeared in the 2002 BBM set for the Japanese team in that tournament.  His first NPB cards are a draft pick card in the 2002 BBM Preview set (#P60) and a card in the 2002 BBM 1st Version set (#173).  His first Calbee card was #039 in the 2004 set.

02 BBM Japan National Team #8

2002 BBM Preview #P60

2002 BBM 1st Version #173 (Silver Facsimile Autograph Parallel)

2005 BBM Nippon Series #28

2007 BBM Tigers #T027

2009 BBM 1st Version #515

2010 BBM 2nd Version #769

2013 Calbee #184

2015 Tigers "Original Player Card" #02

2017 BBM Tigers #T06

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Card Of The Week November 26

I was looking at the box score from the Melbourne Aces' 6-0 shutout over the Adelaide Bite in the Australian Baseball League on Friday when I realized that the starting pitcher for the Aces was  Korean pitcher Hei-Chun Lee who I had not included in my list of Asian players in the ABL this season.  I think that the reason I missed him is that Melbourne added him to the roster after the first week of the season.

Lee is a veteran of both the KBO and NPB.  He was originally drafted by the then OB Bears out of high school back in 1998 and played for the Bears (who were bought by Doosan in 1999) until 2008.  He left the KBO as a free agent and went to NPB where he spent the next two seasons playing for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.  After the 2010 season he returned to Korea, spending three more seasons with Doosan (2011-13) and two with the NC Dinos (2014-15).  I'm not sure where he's played the past two seasons although he pitched for Adelaide in the 2016-17 ABL season.

I've got two cards of him from Korea and two cards of him from Japan:

1999 Teleca #11

1999 Teleca Premium #22

2009 BBM 1st Version #374

2010 BBM 1st Version #083

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Ryoji Aikawa

Another 2017 retiree is catcher Ryoji Aikawa of the Giants.  Aikawa was originally drafted out of Tokyo Gakakan High School in the fifth round of the fall 1994 draft by the Yokohama Baystars.  He spent the first four and half years of his career with the Baystars farm team as he didn't make his ichi-gun debut until August of 1999.  He was Yokohama's backup catcher for a couple of years before moving into the starting role in 2004.  He remained in that role for them for the next five years until he left the team as a free agent after the 2008 season.  He joined the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and was their starting catcher for them until he got injured in 2012 and lost the starting position to Yuhei Nakamura.  He became a free agent again after the 2014 season and moved a couple miles to the east to the Tokyo Dome and the Yomiuri Giants.  He spent his three seasons with the Giants as backup to Seiji Kobayashi.  He was a five time All Star (2007, 2009-12) and played for the Japan National Team on three occasions - the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 and 2013 World Baseball Classics.

His rookie card was #575 in the 1995 set.  He didn't have another card in a BBM flagship set until 2001.  His first Calbee card was not until 2005 (#153).  Despite playing for Team Japan three times I don't believe there are any cards showing him with the National Team.

I don't have his 1995 rookie card but I have his 2010 BBM 20th Anniversary set card which shows his 1995 card on the back:

2010 BBM 20th Anniversary #159
Here's an assortment of cards from his career:

2001 BBM ##86

2004 BBM Baystars #YB73

2005 BBM Baystars #YB34

2008 Calbee #104

2009 BBM 1st Version #378

2011 BBM All Stars #A54

2014 BBM 2nd Version #651

2015 Calbee #132

2017 Epoch Giants #20

2017 BBM 1st Version Secret Versions

BBM had a new gimmick with their sets this year - secret versions of cards.  What's a secret version of a card?  It's a short printed alternate version.  This is similar I guess to something that Topps has been doing for a number of years but it's a first for Japanese cards.

Well I say it's a first but BBM has kind of done something similar to this previously.  The 2013 Rookie Edition and Fighters sets and the 2014 1st Version set each had two cards of Shohei Ohtani that shared the same number.  However neither card was short printed and both cards were considered part of the base set.

The first set to have secret versions was this year's 1st Version set.  There were 12 in all - one for each team (of course).  It took me a while but I finally got all 12 of them - well I say it took ME a while but actually Ryan tracked down nine of them for me.  The other three I got off Ebay - two of them were very reasonably priced while I probably overpaid for the third and final one - Ohtani.  Here's all 12 with the normal version - in each case the secret version is on the right:

2017 BBM 1st Version #177

2017 BBM 1st Version #247

2017 BBM 1st Version #043

2017 BBM 1st Version #094

2017 BBM 1st Version #002

2017 BBM 1st Version #124

2017 BBM 1st Version #201

2017 BBM 1st Version #311

2017 BBM 1st Version #233

2017 BBM 1st Version #058

2017 BBM 1st Version #284

2017 BBM 1st Version #152
So there are two questions that these raise for me.  The first one is how do I know which cards have secret versions and the second one is how do I know which card is the secret version?

The first question has a very simple answer.  Take a look at the back of the Fighters' checklist card:

The empty circle next to the listing for card #002 (Ohtani) indicates that this card has a secret version.  (And just for completeness the "*" indicates that the card has signature parallel versions and the stars indicate that the rookie card has a parallel as well.)  I believe that the secret versions can have same plethora of signature parallels as the regular cards.

For the second question...I have no idea.  When Epoch took this concept and went nuts with it for their team sets last summer they added one or more stars on the back of each of the variants to clearly indicate if the card was a variant or not.  It doesn't look like BBM did anything like that, at least not for the 1st Version set.  Here's the backs of Tomoya Mori's cards - I can't see any difference.

The only card where the back is different between the normal and secret versions is Ohtani's - since the secret version shows him batting the back of it has his batting stats:

BBM issued secret versions for 14 cards in their 2nd Version set in August - one player for each team plus Ami Imamura's "Ceremonial First Pitch" card and the Marines team card (the normal version shows the Marines' main mascot Mar-Kun while the secret version shows their new lantern fish one).  The just released Fusion set has secret versions for nine cards - five OB players and four active ones (including Ohtani and Hayato Sakamoto).

The secret versions have been kind of fun I'm a bit nervous on how BBM's going to handle this going forward.  I worry that they're going to decide that more is better and go complete overboard like Epoch did last summer (and like Topps apparently has).  A handful of cards with secret versions is fun and doable - a large number is frustrating and impossible.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Daisuke Fujimura

Giants infielder Daisuke Fujimura is another player who retired at the end of the season.  Fujimura was the Giants' first pick in the 2007 high school draft out of Kumamoto Industrial High School.  He spent his first three seasons exclusively with their farm team.  He made his debut with the ichi-gun Giants on May 10, 2011 and he made the most of his rookie season - he got into 119 games and lead the Central League with 28 steals despite only hitting .222.   That was probably the highlight of his career - he never got into that many games in a season again.  After hitting .252 in 109 games in 2012 (and appearing in that year's Nippon Series), his playing time dropped to 40 games in 2013 and 21 games in 2014.  He only got into 5 games at the ichi-gun level in the past three seasons (all in 2016).  He's taking an unspecified role in the Giants organization.

His BBM rookie cards are from the 2008 Rookie Edition (#1) and 1st Version (#031) sets.  He only had two Calbee cards ever, both from 2012 (#194 and #T-18 from the "Title Holders" subset).

2008 BBM Rookie Edition #1

2008 BBM 1st Version #031

2011 BBM 2nd Version #444

2012 BBM 1st Version #336

2012 Calbee #194

2012 BBM Nippon Series #S18

2017 BBM Giants #G52