The 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics were the first Olympics to allow professional baseball players to participate. As usual there were eight teams that took part. An African nation - South Africa - qualified for the tournament for the first time so the eight teams represented five of the six populated continents. The US and Cuba represented North America, Italy and the Netherlands represented Europe, Japan and South Korea represented Asia and of course the host Australia represented itself. Japan and the US continued to be the only two teams to play in every Olympics to date.
As in 1992 the games would be split between two venues. The primary one would be
which was built in the late 1990's specifically for the Olympics and was part of the Olympic Part. The ballpark was the home of the Sydney Storm of the original Australian Baseball League in 1998 and 1999 and hosted the semi-finals and medal games for the Olympics. No baseball has been played there since however. The secondary venue was
located around 15 miles west of the Olympic Park. This park was also built specifically for the Olympics but has continued to be used as a baseball park ever since. The Sydney Blue Sox have called it home since 2010 when the Australian Baseball League resumed.
In addition to the inclusion of professional players, there was another change to the Olympic rosters - they were expanded from 20 to 24 players. Being able to use professional players should have provided a huge opportunity for Japan but they don't appear to have taken advantage of it as much as some of the other teams did. South Korea sent a team made up almost entirely of players on KBO team rosters including stars like Lee Seung-Yeop and Lee Byung-Kyu (the KBO actually shut down their season for the duration of the Olympics) while the US team was entirely made up of players in major league organizations rather than collegiate players. Australia, The Netherlands and South Africa's rosters all included players from major league organizations as well as US indy league players and the Dutch and Italian teams featured professional players from the two countries' domestic leagues. I'm not entirely sure what happened but I think there was some reluctance on the part of NPB teams to allow their players to play and some reluctance on NPB players to take part. Ultimately the roster only included eight players from NPB teams - one each from the six Pacific League teams and two Central League teams. The remainder of the team was made up of 11 industrial league players and five collegiate players. Again I'm not entirely sure what happened but it looks like the professionals and the amateurs were not able to practice together before the tournament itself took place.
The team's head coach was Kozo Otagaki from Toshiba who had been one of the coaches on the 1996 team. The rest of the coaching staff was made up of another coach from an industrial league team (Hiroyuki Hayashi from Mitsubishi Nisseki) and two former professional players (Osamu Nomura and Keiichi Nagasaki).
For the third straight Olympics the format of the tournament remained the same. Each team would play the other seven teams in a round-robin fashion during the Preliminary Round. The top four teams would move on to the Medal Round with the first place team playing the fourth place team and the second place team playing the third place team in the semi-finals. The two winners would square off in the gold medal game while the two losers would meet in the bronze medal game.
Japan opened the Preliminary Round with a heart breaking loss to Team USA, losing 4-2 on a 2 run walk off home run by Mike Neill in the bottom of the thirteenth inning. They followed up with four straight victories against The Netherlands, Australia, Italy and South Africa before losing to Korea 7-6 in another extra inning game. The highlights of this game can be seen here
(apparently the IOC will not allow this video to be embedded). Daisuke Matsuzaka started the game for Japan and gave up a two run home run to Lee Seung-Yeop in the first inning. That's Shinnosuke Abe grounding into a double play to end the game.
Japan finished the round with a 6-2 loss to Cuba.
Japan's 4-3 record in the Preliminary Round tied them with Korea for third best but since Korea had defeated them Japan ended up in fourth place overall. Similarly Cuba and the US tied for the best overall record at 6-1 (Cuba was beaten by The Netherlands for their first ever Olympic loss) but since Cuba beat the US in their game they were ranked number one and were Japan's opponent in the semi-final game.
Cuba defeated Japan 3-0 to move on to the Gold Medal game against Team USA who had defeated Korea 3-2 on a walk off home run from Doug Mientkiewicz in the bottom of the ninth (it was the second home run Mientkiewicz had hit against Korea in the tournament - his grand slam accounted for all of Team USA's runs in their 4-0 victory against Korea in the Preliminary Round). Japan then lost the Bronze Medal game to Korea 3-1 while Team USA shutout Cuba 4-0 to win the Gold Medal for the first time since 1988 (and the first time since baseball had become an official Olympic sport). Japan would end the Olympics medal-less for the first time. Otagaki took the brunt of the blame with the accusation that he hadn't worked with the professional players very well. As we'll see in the next post in this series, the 2004 Olympic team would look very different.
Of the 16 non-professional players on the roster ten would go on to play in NPB - all five collegiate players and five of the 11 corporate league players.
For the first time ever there were baseball cards for the team. All the players except the five collegiate players appeared in Upper Deck's set dedicated to the entire Japanese Olympic team and the eight professional players appeared in their National Team uniform in a subset in the 2001 Calbee set. I'm going to show the Olympic card or cards for each player (including the corporate league players) along with the most recent "regular" card I have the player (if I have one) along with a blurb about them.
|2019 Epoch NPB #302|
Shinnosuke Abe unquestionably had the best professional career of the five collegiate players on the roster. He was a star at Chuo University in the Tohto University League, winning a Best 9 award but he didn't play much in Sydney. He only started three games and only one of those was behind the plate - the others were at first base and designated hitter. He ended up only going 2 for 18 - both hits coming against South Africa. He was the first round pick of the Yomiuri Giants in the fall 2000 draft and he was the team's Opening Day catcher the following March. He quickly established himself as a star, winning Best 9 and Golden Glove awards in his second season in 2002. Abe would go on to win nine Best 9 awards in all (2002, 2007-14) and four Golden Glove awards (2002, 2008, 2013-14). He led the Central League in batting and RBIs in 2012 and was named MVP that year, the first catcher to win the league's award since Atsuya Furuta in 1997. He was a 13 time All Star (2003, 2004, 2006-2015, 2017) and is a member of the Meikyukai due to having over 2000 hits in his career. He would play again for the Japanese National Team in the 2008 Olympics and the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics. He retired at the end of last season and was named the Giants ni-gun
manager for 2020.
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #229|
|2009 BBM 2nd Version #674|
Norihiro Akahoshi didn't expect to become a baseball player. He was viewed by many scouts as too small to play professional baseball when he graduated high school so he went to Asia University to study to get a teacher's license. He joined the university's baseball team and played very well, winning three Tohto University League Best 9 awards. His size (he was 5'7" in height and weighed 145 pounds) was still viewed as too small by professional baseball scouts and he joined the JR East team in the corporate leagues after graduating college. The Hanshin Tigers ended up drafting him the fourth round of the 2000 draft because manager Katsuya Nomura was impressed with Akahoshi's speed despite his small size. He made his NPB debut on Opening Day of 2001 (in the same game Abe debuted in). He quickly became a regular for the Tigers, taking over the center field spot left vacant by Tsuyoshi Shinjyo's departure to the New York Mets the previous off season. He let the Central League in stolen bases with 39 that year and won the Rookie Of The Year award. A broken leg limited him to only 78 games in 2002 but he still led the league in steals with 26. He also led the league in steals in 2003, 2004 and 2005 - his five consecutive stolen base titles is a Central League record and second in NPB to Yutaka Fukumoto's 13 straight Pacific League titles. He was a three time All Star (2003, 2005, 2006), two time Best 9 award winner (2003, 2005) and six time Golden Glove award winner (2001, 2003-2006, 2008). He suffered a spinal injury in a game late in the 2009 season and ended up abruptly retiring after being warned by doctors that further injury might be fatal. He's been a baseball commentator since retiring.
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #222|
Yoshikazu Doi had a 12 year career pitching for Nippon Life in the corporate leagues. He joined the team after graduating from Tokai University in 1992 and became a coach for the team in 2005. He made three appearances in Sydney, taking the loss in the Preliminary round game against Korea.
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #226|
Jun Heima was partly responsible for Japan qualifying for the Sydney Olympics. The Asian qualifier had been the 1999 Asian Baseball Championship in South Korea the previous year. Heima's RBI single in the bottom of the ninth broke a 1-1 tie against Taiwan in the opening game of the super round. Japan would ultimately come in second in the tournament after losing to Korea - if they'd lost to Taiwan as well then Taiwan would have come in second and earned a spot in the Olympics instead of Japan. Heima had attended Yokohama High School (Daisuke Matsuzaka's alma mater although they weren't there at the same time) before going to Hosei University. He joined Toshiba of the corporate leagues after graduating in 1998 and played for them until 2009. He became a coach for the team in 2012 and was named head coach in 2018.
|2016 BBM Carp #C60|
Jun Hirose was teammate of Heima's at Hosei University during the latter's final two seasons there. He won the Triple Crown in the spring season of 1999. He was the second round pick of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in the fall 2000 draft. Although he also made his NPB debut on Opening Day of 2001 it took him until 2010 to establish himself as a regular with the Carp. That was by far his best season, hitting .309 with 12 home runs. He made the All Star team that year and won his only Golden Glove award. Injuries cut short his season the following year and he struggled to get regular playing time after that, although he played well enough in 2013 to make the All Star team again. He retired after the 2016 season and worked as a baseball commentator for year before taking a coaching position with the Carp starting in 2018.
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #230|
Tomohiro Iizuka had been a teammate of Norihiro Akahoshi's at Asia University where he won two Tohto University League Best 9 awards. After graduating in 1998 he joined NTT Kanto of the corporate leagues before transferring to NTT East. He wrapped up a nine year playing career in 2007 and then became a coach for NTT East in 2009.
|2020 Calbee #068|
Masanori Ishikawa is one of only two players from the roster who is still active (Daisuke Matsuzaka is the other). He was the only third year collegiate player on the team - the other four collegiate players were in their fourth and final year. He had an outstanding career at Aoyamagakuin University, going 23-8 with a 1.63 ERA and winning three Best 9 awards along with a Tohto University League MVP award. He was taken by the Swallows in the "freedom acquisition" portion of the 2001 draft and immediately moved into the starting rotation for the defending Nippon Series champions. He went 12-9 with a 3.33 ERA in his rookie season, good enough to win the Central League Rookie Of The Year award. He's been a steady if not spectacular rotation mainstay for the Swallows ever since, making at least 20 starts a year for them for the past 18 seasons. He's a two time All Star (2006 & 2008) and has won one Golden Glove award (2008). He's the active NPB leader in wins (171) and losses (162) along with several other categories.
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #228|
Yoshihiko Kajiyama had over 10 years of experience with Mitsubishi Motors Kawasaki of the corporate leagues at the time of the Sydney Olympics, having joined the team after graduating from Shizuoka High School in 1989. He'd had some experience in international competition before this tournament, having played for Team Japan in the 1997 IBAF Intercontinental Cup and was the team captain for the 1999 Asian Games. He played for Mitsubishi until the team stopped operating in 2009, becoming a player-coach in his last couple seasons. I think he became a player-coach for a club team called Warriors 41 in 2011 but I don't know how long he continued to play.
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #219|
|2001 Calbee #J-06|
|2001 Upper Deck #45|
Masato Kawano was enjoying his best year as a professional in 2000. He was the Carp's third round pick in the 1996 draft out of Saga High School and made his debut with the ichi-gun
team in mid-1998. The Carp made him their closer in 2000 and he got into 45 games, notching 9 saves with a 5.65 ERA. He suffered an elbow injury in 2001 and his career never recovered. The Carp released him after the 2003 season and he retired at age 26 after spending a season with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks. He played and coached for the Saga Soul club team after retiring along with coaching youth baseball. Tragically he passed away from a heart attack at age 39 in 2017.
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #214|
|2001 Calbee #J-08|
|2007 BBM 1st Version #121|
Tomohiro Kuroki was the second pick by the Marines in the 1994 draft from the Oji Seishi Kasugai corporate league team. He split his first two seasons with the team between the bullpen and the starting rotation before becoming a starter for good in 1997. He had his best two seasons in 1998 and 1999, going 13-9 with a 3.29 ERA in first year and 14-10 with a 2.50 ERA in the second. Those 13 wins led the Pacific League in 1998. He made two starts in the Olympics, getting the win against Australia (and striking out nine in eight innings) but took the loss in the semi-final game against Cuba despite giving up just two runs in seven innings. He was well on the way to another good season in 2001 - 11-4 with a 3.02 ERA - before a shoulder injury ended it early. He attempted to rehab the shoulder without surgery and missed the next two seasons (or at least spent it exclusively on the farm team) and only made it into 16 games with the ichi-gun
team in the last four seasons of his career. The Marines released him after the 2007 season and he retired after no other team offered him a contract. He was a three time All Star (1998, 1999 & 2001). He's been a baseball commentator since retiring and also coached for the Fighters between 2013 and 2017.
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #215|
|2001 Calbee #J-03|
|2015 BBM Hawks #H46|
Nobuhiko Matsunaka was one of two players on the roster who had taken part in the Olympics before, having been part of the 1996 team in Atlanta. 2000 was his breakout season as he .312 with 33 home runs and 106 RBIs and won the Pacific League MVP award. He hit .371 during the Olympics, the highest average on the Japanese team. He won another PL MVP award in 2004 after he won the Triple Crown - the first player to do it since 1986. No one has done it since. He retired after the 2015 season although injuries had severely cut into his playing time after the 2009 season. For more details of this career, read the blurb I wrote for him in my post for the 1996 team
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #213|
|2001 Calbee #J-07|
|2020 BBM 1st Version #005|
Daisuke Matsuzaka turned 20 years old just before the Sydney Games started but he'd already spent two seasons in NPB. He was perhaps the hottest name in Japanese baseball at this time. He had burst on the scene with a spectacular performance with Yokohama High School in the 1998 Summer Koshien tournament. He threw all 250 pitches in their 17 inning quarterfinal victory against PL Gakuen, picked up the win in relief the next day when Yokohama rallied from a 6 run deficit to beat Meitoku Gijuku in the semi-finals and then threw a no-hitter against Kyoto Shisho in the final a day later. He was selected by three teams in the first round of the 1998 draft with Seibu winning the lottery for his rights over Nippon Ham and the Baystars. He won the Pacific League Rookie Of The Year award in 1999 after going 16-5 with an ERA of 2.60. He made three starts at the Olympics and pitched well but Japan ultimately lost all three games (although the only game Matsuzaka got the decision in was the Bronze Medal game against Korea). His 25 strikeouts led all Olympic pitchers that year. He put up a number of good seasons for Seibu over the next few years before heading to MLB and joining the Red Sox in 2007. He went 15-12 for the eventual World Champions that year and followed that up with an 18-3 record in 2008. Injuries and ineffectiveness characterized his last four seasons in Boston and he joined the Cleveland Indians in 2013. He was released mid-season and spent his last year and a half with the New York Mets before returning to Japan for 2015. He spent three injury-plagued years with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks before moving to the Chunichi Dragons for 2018. After two so-so seasons in Nagoya he re-signed with the Lions for 2020. He won a Sawamura Award in 2001 and three Best 9 awards (1999-01) and was named to the All Star team nine times (1999-06 and 2018 although he had to withdraw in both 2002 and 2003 due to injury). He pitched for the National Team again in the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics (he was named MVP of both WBC tournaments).
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #218|
|2001 Calbee #J-04|
|2014 Calbee #077|
Norihiro Nakamura was taken in the fourth round of the 1991 draft by the Kintetsu Buffaloes. It was the most productive fourth round (and second most productive round in NPB history) as it also included Shinjiro Hiyama (Tigers), Tomoaki Kanemoto (Carp) and Ichiro Suzuki (BlueWave). He got his first opportunity to play regularly in 1994 when he stepped in for the injured Yoshiaki Kanemura. By 1995 Kanemura had moved onto the Chunchi Dragons and Nakamura was the Buffalo's regular third baseman, a role he would hold for the next ten years. He almost left for the New York Mets after the 2002 season but when the deal became public before he'd had a chance to tell Kintetsu he decided to stay in Japan instead. He ended up going to MLB a couple years later, spending the 2005 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization before returning to NPB to the (now) Orix Buffaloes in 2006. He moved on to the Chunichi Dragons in 2007, winning MVP honors in the Nippon Series as the Dragons won their first championship since 1954. He also spent two years with the Rakuten Eagles (2009-10) and four with the Yokohama DeNA Baystars (2011-14) before he retired after 2014. He led the Pacific League in home runs once (2000) and RBIs twice (2000-01), won five Best 9 (1995, 1999-02) and seven Golden Glove (1999-2002, 2004, 2007-08) awards and made the All Star team nine times (1995-96, 1999-2002, 2004, 2012-13). He finished his NPB career with 404 home runs and 2101 hits, making him a Meikyukai member. He again played for the Japanese National Team in the 2004 Olympics.
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #224|
|2008 Lions Fan Club #64|
Kosuke Noda didn't get much opportunity to play in the Olympics. He was the third string catcher on the roster behind Fumihiro Suzuki and Shinnosuke Abe and ended up only getting four at bats in the tournament - half of them as a pinch hitter and the other half as a designated hitter. He was a sixth round pick by the Lions in the 2000 draft and spend most of his eleven year career on Seibu's farm team. He retired after the 2011 season and spent the next few years working in the Lions' front office before become a coach for the team in 2017.
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #227|
Like Norihiro Akahoshi, Osamu Nogami was thought to be to small to be a professional baseball player - he was about 5'5" and weight 147 pounds. Unlike Akahoshi he never became one, despite having won a batting crown and three Tokyo Big Six Best 9 awards during his time with Meiji University. He played for Nippon Life of the corporate leagues from 1997 until 2004 (I think) and coached for the team after that.
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #225|
|2007 Konami Baseball Heroes 3 White Edition #B07W084|
Yoshinori Okihara was another product of Asia University of the Tohto University League. He won a Best 9 award while playing for them and joined the NTT Kanto (later NTT East) corporate league team after graduating in 1994. He hit .312 with a home run in the Olympics and impressed Katsuya Nomura of the Tigers so much that Hanshin drafted him in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. Okihara had to convince his wife to allow him to play professional baseball as his salary as a professional would actually be less than what he was making with NTT East. He spent his eight year career as a backup infielder, first for Hanshin and then for the Eagles after being traded to Rakuten for Tadatoki Maeda in mid-season 2005. He retired after the 2008 season and has worked with Rakuten since then as a coach and scout.
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #221|
|2018 BBM Giants #G06|
Daisuke Matsuzaka was not the only pitcher on the Olympic roster to have thrown a no-hitter during the 1998 Summer Koshien tournament. Toshiya Sugiuchi threw one in the Opening Round, leading Kagoshima Minoru to a 4-0 victory over Hachinohe Institute of Technology. Ironically he was beaten by Yokohama and Matsuzaka in the second round and his team was eliminated from the tournament. He spent three years playing for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Nagasaki after graduating high school before being drafted by the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks in the third round of the 2001 draft. Sugiuchi was in and out of the Hawks rotation for a couple seasons before he really established himself in what was perhaps his best season in 2005 when he went 18-4 with a 2.11 ERA and 218 strikeouts in 196.2 innings and was named Pacific League MVP. He left the Hawks for the Giants as a free agent following the 2011 season and threw a no-hitter against the Eagles the next season. He injured his hip during the 2015 season and spent the next three seasons on the Giants' ni-gun
squad attempting to make a comeback before finally retiring after the 2018 season. He led the PL in wins and winning percentage that year and in strikeouts in 2008 and 2009. He also led the Central League in strikeouts in 2012. He won the Sawamura Award in 2005 and was named "Best Pitcher" in 2009 and 2010. He was named to the Best 9 team in 2005 and made the All Star team seven times (2005, 2007-12). He suited up for the National Team four more times - for the 2008 Olympics and the 2006, 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics.
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #223|
Masanori Sugiura spent nine years playing for the Nippon Life corporate league team after graduating from Doshisha University in 1991. He resisted numerous invitations to go professional, including one from Bobby Valentine and the New York Mets. He was probably the most famous player to exclusively play in the corporate leagues and was dubbed "Mr. Amateur Baseball". He played for Japan in any number of international tournaments, including the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. He was not just the team captain for the 2000 Olympic baseball team but the captain for the entire Japanese Olympic team. He only made two appearances in Sydney however, one against South Africa were he notched his record fifth Olympic victory and the other against Cuba. He retired after the Olympics and coached for Nippon Life for a number of years afterwards. He's also coached for the non-professional version of the National Team.
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #220|
|2001 Calbee #J-02|
|2012 BBM 2nd Version #506|
The only time during Fumihiro Suzuki's 15 year NPB career when he was the starting catcher for his team was the two weeks of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He attended Tohoku Fukushi University where he actually led the league in steals one year and was drafted by the Chunichi Dragons in the fourth round of the 1997 draft. He started eight of the nine games that Japan played during the Olympics and hit .290 but allowed seven steals in seven attempts. Dragons manager Senichi Hoshino gave him the nickname "Sydney" after he played in the Olympics. He spent five seasons with the Dragons before they sold him to Kintetsu after the 2002 season. He remained with the Buffaloes after they "merged" with Orix until he retired after the 2012 season. He ended his career with just 935 plate appearances in 501 games and had a career batting average of .185. He's been a coach for Orix since 2013.
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #216|
|2001 Calbee #J-01|
|2011 BBM 2nd Version #543|
So Taguchi had 123 hits during his college career at Kwansei Gakuin University, the most ever in the history of the Kansai Big 6 league. He was the first round pick of the Orix BlueWave in 1991 and spent his first two seasons with the team trying to establish himself as an infielder. He had a lot of defensive lapses and played for an unforgiving manager (Shozo Doi) so it's no surprise that he didn't become a regular until 1994 when new Orix manager Akira Ohgi moved him to the outfield. In all he spent 10 years with Orix, making the All Star team four times (1995-97 & 2001) and winning five Golden Glove (1995-1997, 2000-01) and one Best 9 awards. He hit .359 during the Olympics, second on the team to Matsunaka. He left Orix as a free agent after the 2001 season and signed with the St Louis Cardinals. After eight years in the majors (six with St Louis and one each with the Phillies and Cubs) he returned to Orix and spent two injury-plagued seasons with them. The Buffaloes released him after the 2011 season and he hoped to be able to get healthy and sign on with another team but no team made an offer. He announced his retirement in September of 2012 and has been a coach with Orix since 2016 (and frequently rumored to be in line for the managerial position).
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #217|
|2001 Calbee #J-05|
|2007 BBM 2nd Version #512|
32 year old Yukio Tanaka was the oldest player on the 2000 Japanese Olympic baseball roster. He'd been a third round pick of the Nippon-Ham Fighters in 1985 out of Miyakonojo High School. He spent his entire 22 year career with Nippon-Ham, earning him the nickname "Mr. Fighters". He was a nine time All Star (1988-1991, 1994-1997 & 1999), four time Best 9 award winner (1988, 1990 & 1995-1996) and five time Golden Glove winner (1988, 1990-1991 & 1995-1996). He led the PL in RBIs in 1995 and his 2012 career hits earned him a spot in the Meikyukai. He retired after the 2007 season (his final appearance was in the 2007 Nippon Series). He spent some time since retiring as a coach for the Fighters as well as a TV commentator.
|2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #231|
|2013 BBM 1st Version #276|
Shunsuke Watanabe was a teammate of Kosuke Noda's with Nippon Steel Kimitsu. He spent two years with the corporate league team after graduating from Kokugakuin University. He made two appearances in the Olympics, getting the win in relief against Italy and taking the loss in the game against Cuba after giving up a three run home run to Orestes Kindelán. He taken in the fourth round of the 2000 draft by the Chiba Lotte Marines and made his ichi-gun
debut the following year. By 2003 he was in the team's starting rotation and remained there for much of the next nine years, making the All Star team twice (2004-05). He was the starter in Game Two of the 2005 Nippon Series against the Hanshin Tigers and threw a complete game shutout without giving up a walk. He again suited up for Team Japan for both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics. His numbers started to decline in 2012 and his playing time diminished in both that and the following season. He left the Marines as a free agent after the 2013 season and signed a minor league deal with the Boston Red Sox but was released during spring training in 2014. He spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the independent Atlantic League before returning to Japan to be a player-coach with his old corporate league team which because of a corporate merger was now called Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Kazusa Magic and has since been renamed simply Nippon Steel Kazusa Magic. He was named as manager for the team for the 2020 season.
|2010 BBM 2nd Version #761|
Akichika Yamada was one of the top collegiate pitcher at the time of the Olympics, having gone 17-6 with a 0.91 ERA at Ritsumeikan University of the Kansai Big 6 league. He made just three appearances in relief in the Olympics, giving up three runs in eight innings across games against Italy, South Africa and Cuba. He was the Fukuoka Daiei Hawk's second round pick in the 2000 draft and opened the 2001 season in the Hawks starting rotation. He didn't stay there for long, however, as his poor performance got him dropped to the farm team after about a month. The Hawks tried him again as a starter in 2002 but got similar poor results so they moved him to the bullpen in 2003. He pitched adequately in a set up role in 2003-04 but as the Hawks had a bevy of young pitchers at the time (Kazumi Saitoh, Tsuyoshi Wada, Nagisa Arakaki, Hayato Terehara and Toshiya Sugiuchi) he didn't really have a shot at moving back into the rotation. His final four seasons with the Hawks were severly curtailed by injuries - first in his shoulder, then his knee and finally his elbow. The team released him after the 2008 season and he joined the Fukuoka Red Warblers of the what was then known as the Shikoku/Kyushu Island League for the 2009 season. That fall he participated in the 12 team tryout and ended up signing with the Chiba Lotte Marines, becoming the first former NPB player to return to NPB after playing in an independent league. He spent three seasons with the Marines although the last two were only with the farm team. He got released after the 2012 season and he spent a couple years playing for the Miki House club baseball team. He's been the pitching coach for the Biwako Seikei Sport College baseball team since 2017.
|2013 Bandai Owners League 02 #129|
Yuji Yoshimi was the ace pitcher for Tohoku Fukushi University. He made two appearances during the 2000 Olympics, giving up just one run in eight innings of work and picking up the win in the game against The Netherlands. He was taken by the Baystars in the second round of the 2000 draft. His rookie season of 2001 was cut short by a shoulder injury. He came back with what ended up being the best season of his career in 2002, going 11-8 with a 3.64 ERA. That performance earned him the Opening Day starter spot in 2003 but he was unable to repeat those numbers, going 3-10 with an 8.38 ERA that year. He spent the next few seasons bouncing between the top team and the farm team and the bullpen and the starting rotation. He was sold to the Chiba Lotte Marines midway through the 2010 season and made two appearances in the Nippon Series that year. The Marines released him after the 2013 season and he signed on with the Hanshin Tigers. He spent all of 2014 with the Tigers farm team and was released at the end of the season. He was a batting practice pitcher for the Baystars for a few years before becoming a scout.
I wanted to briefly talk about the two former NPB players who were coaches on the team.
|1979 Calbee #7|
Keiichi Nagasaki was a two time Tokyu Big Six Best 9 award winner during his years at Hosei University. He was the first pick of the Taiyo Whales in the 1972 draft. His best season was 1982 when he won the Central League batting title with a .351 average and made the All Star team and won a Best 9 award. He spent 12 seasons with the Whales before being traded to the Hanshin Tigers for Yutaka Ikeuchi before the 1985 season. He won an Outstanding Player award in the 1985 Nippon Series and retired following the 1987 season. He was a coach for the Tigers for a few years in the 1990's.
|2004 BBM Golden Arms #025|
Osamu Nomura had a well traveled NPB career. He was taken in the first round of the 1968 draft by the Taiyo Whales but only spent three years with them before being traded to the Lotte Orions for Shinichi Etoh in 1972. He was only with Lotte for two seasons before he was traded to the Nippon-Ham Fighters for Tomehiro Kaneda, the younger brother of new Orions manager Masaichi Kaneda, before the 1974 season. He managed to stay with the Fighters for four seasons before being dealt back to the Whales for Tomotaka Sugiyama and Shigekuni Mashiba after the 1977 season. He was on the move one final time after the 1982 season, heading to the Hanshin Tigers for Hirokazu Katoh. He retired after the 1986 season, having made the All Star team four times (1972, 1976, 1978 and 1980) and having led the Central League in wins in 1978 with 17. He defeated all 12 NPB teams at least once during his career, becoming the first pitcher to ever do so. He's coached with the Tigers, Whales and Fighters since retiring.