Sunday, June 28, 2020

Card Of The Week June 28

This past week was not a good one for the Orix Buffaloes.

The Pacific League is trying to cut back on travel this season and is having teams play six game Series, at least for the next couple months.  Some people were on the record saying that it was very unlikely that a team would get swept in a six game Series.  HOWEVER - Orix managed to do it (at the hands of the Chiba Lotte Marines) in the very first week that there were six game Series.  And they did it in excruciating fashion, dropping five of the six after having led at some point in the game - including losing two of them on walk offs.

Let's recap the week...

On Tuesday the Buffaloes led the Marines 5-4 going into the bottom of the ninth but Lotte managed to push across the tying run and load the bases on a couple hits and a couple walks.  And then this happened with Takashi Ogino at the bat:

A walk-off hit-by-pitch! A painful way to end the game for both the Buffaloes and Ogino.

On Wednesday the Buffaloes had a 4-3 lead after the top of the second but gave up two runs in the bottom of the third and ended up losing 6-4.  On Thursday the Marines scored five runs in the bottom of the first and that turned out to be all the runs scored in the game.

On Friday Orix was leading 5-2 in the bottom of the eighth before they gave up a pair of runs.  But they were on the verge of getting out the inning when Yudai Fukioka stepped up with two outs and runners on first and second and did this:

A two run double to put Lotte up 6-5 which was how it ended.  Even worse than the loss was the fact that starting pitcher Taisuke Yamaoka had to be taken out of the game after throwing only three pitches after he suffered some discomfort on his left side.

In yesterday's game both teams scored single runs in the first inning and the game remained tied after nine innings.  Extra inning games this year will only go 10 innings so after Orix didn't score in the top of the tenth the best they could do was a tie.  The Marines got a couple runners on but were down to their last out when rookie Toshiya Satoh stepped up to the plate.  Satoh had never had a hit at the top level which isn't quite as bad as it sounds as it was only his second at bat at that level.  This is how it turned out:

First career hit and it's a game-winner!  Final score - 2-1 Marines.

Finally in today's game Orix scored three runs in the top of the first and had ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto on the mound.  Yamamoto had pitched a great game last Sunday for the Buffaloes only win so far this season and Orix fans had to be feeling good.  But the Marines got to him for five runs in five and two thirds innings and he left the game down 5-3.  The Buffaloes tied it up in the top of the eighth but then Brandon Laird led off in the bottom of the inning with this:

That made it 6-5 which was how it ended.

I thought I'd share cards of the heroes of the four games I've highlighted here:

2018 Epoch One #203/CM-018

2018 Calbee ES-06 (Fujioka)

2019 Panini USA Baseball Stars & Stripes "Rack Pack" Japanese Collegiate All Stars #12

2020 BBM 1st Version #097

Saturday, June 27, 2020

2004 Japanese Olympic Baseball Team

The Sydney Olympics, the first Olympics to allow the use of professional baseball players, was an embarrassment for Japan.  The country with the second highest professional league in the world came in a dismal fourth in the competition, the first time in the five Olympic baseball tournaments that Japan didn't bring home a medal.  To avoid a repeat of this in the 2004 Athens Games, the All Japan Baseball Conference decided that for the first time the entire Olympic baseball team would be made up of professionals.  They also decided that the team would be managed by someone with a professional background and chose Shigeo Nagashima who had retired as manager of the Yomiuri Giants after the 2001 season.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #01
The Asian Baseball Championship tournament had served as the Asian qualifier for the Olympics every four years starting in 1983 (with 2007 being the final time).  The 2003 tournament was held in Sapporo, Japan in early November and Team Japan came loaded for bear with their first all professional National team.  The team featured stars like Kazuo Matsui, Kosuke Fukudome, Michihiro Ogasawara, Kazuhiro Wada, Yoshinobu Takahashi, Kenji Johjima and Shinya Miyamoto along with staring pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka, Koji Uehara and Hiroki Kuroda.  The tournament format consisted of an initial round robin tournament between China, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines.  China won this round and moved onto to the final round which was another round robin tournament with Japan, Korea and Taiwan.  The top two teams after the final round would qualify for Athens.  Japan dominated this round, beating China 13-1, Korea 2-0 and Taiwan 9-0 - outscoring the opposition 24-1 in the three games.  Taiwan came in second due to their 5-4 defeat of Korea in 10 innings in the opening game of the round, qualifying for the Olympics for the first time since the 1992 Barcelona Games.

Once again there would be eight teams competing at the Olympics.  In addition to Japan and Taiwan, the other countries were Greece (automatic qualification because of their host status), Cuba, Canada (which had qualified for the first time since 1988 when baseball was still a demonstration sport), Australia, Italy and the Netherlands.  Team USA, the Gold Medal winners from the 2000 games, did not qualify - they were knocked out by Mexico in a single-elimination round of the America's qualifier in the fall of 2003.  This made Japan the only country to qualify for every Olympics baseball tournament.

The games would be played at two baseball venues built specifically for the Olympics.  The larger of the two facilities could seat 8,700 people and is still in use as Hellinikon Stadium.  The smaller ballpark could only seat 4,000 fans and I don't think it's still in use.

Preparations for the Olympic games did not go smoothly.  Nagashima suffered a stroke in early March of 2004 and would be unable to manage the team.  Eventually Kiyoshi Nakahata, who had been a coach with the team for the Asian qualifier, was selected to manage the team.  His coaching staff had also been coaches for the Asian qualifier - Yutaka Ohno and Yutaka Takagi.  A bigger issue arose in negotiations with NPB in selecting the players for the roster.  NPB was not suspending their season for the duration of the Olympics so in fairness it was decided that each team would send two players.  Here's the final roster for the team:

Number Position Player Birthdate Team
59 Catcher Aikawa, Ryoji 7/11/1976 Yokohama Baystars
16 Pitcher Ando, Yuya 10/27/1977 Hanshin Tigers
25 Infielder Fujimoto, Atsushi 10/4/1977 Hanshin Tigers
1 Outfielder Fukudome, Kosuke 4/26/1977 Chunichi Dragons
61 Pitcher Ishii, Hirotoshi 9/14/1977 Yakult Swallows
20 Pitcher Iwakuma, Hisashi 4/12/1981 Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes
13 Pitcher Iwase, Hitoki 11/10/1974 Chunichi Dragons
9 Catcher Johjima, Kenji 6/8/1976 Fukuoka Daiei Hawks
8 Infielder Kaneko, Makoto 11/8/1975 Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
27 Outfielder Kimura, Takuya 4/15/1972 Hiroshima Toyo Carp
30 Pitcher Kobayashi, Masahide 5/24/1974 Chiba Lotte Marines
15 Pitcher Kuroda, Hiroki 2/10/1975 Hiroshima Toyo Carp
18 Pitcher Matsuzaka, Daisuke 9/13/1980 Seibu Lions
17 Pitcher Miura, Daisuke 12/25/1973 Yokohama Baystars
6 Infielder Miyamoto, Shinya 11/5/1970 Yakult Swallows
23 Outfielder Muramatsu, Arihito 12/12/1972 Orix BlueWave
5 Infielder Nakamura, Norihiro 7/24/1973 Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes
2 Infielder Ogasawara, Michihiro 10/25/1973 Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
11 Pitcher Shimizu, Naoyuki 11/24/1975 Chiba Lotte Marines
24 Outfielder Takahashi, Yoshinobu 4/4/1975 Yomiuri Giants
10 Outfielder Tani, Yoshitomo 12/9/1973 Orix BlueWave
19 Pitcher Uehara, Koji 4/3/1975 Yomiuri Giants
55 Outfielder Wada, Kazuhiro 6/19/1972 Seibu Lions
21 Pitcher Wada, Tsuyoshi 2/21/1981 Fukuoka Daiei Hawks

Despite the restrictions the team ended up with 16 of the 21 players on the roster from the Asian qualifier (there had originally been 22 players on that roster but Norihiro Akahoshi ended up not playing due to an injury.  He was not replaced.)  The five players from that roster who didn't make the Olympic roster were Hirokazu Ibata, Hiroshi Kisanuka, Kazuo Matsui (who was now playing for the Mets in MLB and was unavailable), Tomohiro Nioka and Motonobu Tanishige,  The eight new players were Aikawa, Fujimoto, Iwakuma, Kaneko, Miura, Muramatsu, Nakamura and Shimizu.  Four of the players on the roster had played in previous Olympics - Fukudome (1996), Matsuzaka (2000), Nakamura (2000) and Tani (1996).

The format of the tournament remained the same as it had for each Olympics since 1992.  The Preliminary Round of the tournament would feature a round robin format where each team would play a game against each of the other seven teams.  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 resounding 12-0 thumping of Italy.  Koji Uehara and Daisuke Miura combined to hold the Italians to just four hits in a game shortened to seven innings by the slaughter rule.  Norihiro Nakamura and Kosuke Fukudome both homered.  Here are highlights from the game (which the IOC is not allowing me to embed).

They took on the Netherlands the next day.  The two teams both scored runs in the first inning and the Dutch took a 3-1 lead with two more runs in the top of the second.  But Japan came back with a single run in the bottom of the second and took the lead with two runs in the fifth.  They put the game away with four more runs in the eighth, two of them courtesy of a home run by Atsushi Fujimoto.

Their third game was with their biggest rival - Cuba.  Kazuhiro Wada put Japan up 2-0 in the top of the second with a two run home run and Japan extended that to 4-0 on solo home runs from Nakamura and Kenji Johjima in the fourth.  A couple of single runs in the seventh and ninth made the score 6-0 going into the bottom of the ninth.  Daisuke Matsuzaka had started the game and took a shutout (with seven strikeouts) into the ninth before giving up a couple of runs.  Hirotoshi Ishii came in to keep the Cubans from scoring any more than three runs and got the save.  Japan had defeated Cuba for the first time ever in Olympic play.

Matsuzaka pitching against Cuba (Image swiped from this publication)
The next day they took on Australia who took a 3-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning.  Japan scored one run in the bottom of the fourth then took the lead on a three run home run from Fukudome in the fifth.  But Australia came back with three runs in the seventh off Miura to take the lead and extended it with three more runs off of Yuya Andoh in the eighth (including one on a solo home run from former Chunichi Dragon Dave Nilsson).  Japan was unable to come back against Australian relief pitcher (and current Hanshin Tiger) Jeff Williams and was handed their first loss of the Olympics, 9-4.

With Cuba and Japan having both suffered one loss, the top team halfway through the Preliminary Round was the undefeated Canadian team which was Japan's next opponent.  The team appeared to have taken out their frustration from losing to Australia on Canada, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first on a two run home run by Yoshinobu Takahashi and then another run in the second on a solo shot from Yoshitomo Tani.  They scored yet another single run in the third and then three more in the fourth - two on a home run by Kazuhiro Wada.  Another single run the next inning made the score 8-0 after five innings.  Tsuyoshi Wada pitched seven shutout innings, striking out seven before giving way to Hitoki Iwase in the eighth.  Japan scored again in the bottom of the eighth before Canada finally put a run on the board off Masahide Kobayashi in the ninth, making the final score 9-1 Japan.

Japan's next game was against Taiwan.  Dodgers prospect Chin-Feng Chen put Taiwan up 3-0 in the third inning with a three run home run off of Uehara.  Japan tied the game in the sixth inning - helped by Takahashi's second two run home run in as many days.  The game went into the tenth inning before Japan pushed a run across for a walk off win.

Ogasawara and Tani celebrate the walk-off win against Taiwan (Image swiped from this publication)
They wrapped up the Preliminary Round the next day against Greece.  Japan took a 1-0 lead in the second and added an additional run in the sixth before exploding for four runs in the seventh on two two run home runs by Fukudome and Takahashi (his third straight game with a two run home run).  Greece got a run back in the bottom of the seventh on a solo home run by 38 year old former St Louis Cardinal Erik Pappas (who had last played in MLB in 1994) but that was all they ended scoring.  Japan won the game 6-1 and finished the Preliminary Round with a record of 6-1.

That 6-1 record tied them with Cuba for the best record and because they had beaten Cuba they ended up with the top seed going into the Medal Round.  It was the first time in the four Olympics that Cuba had played in that they were not the top seed for the Medal Round.  Canada (5-2) and Australia (4-3) were the third and fourth seeds respectively which meant that Japan's semi-final matchup would be against the only team that had beaten them in the tournament - Australia.

Daisuke Matsuzaka started the game and pitched brilliantly, striking out 13 Aussies in his 7 and 2/3 innings of work.  He only gave up one run when Brendan Kingman hit an RBI single with two outs and runners on the corner in the top of the sixth.  Hitoki Iwase relieved him in the eighth and kept the Australians scoreless in his 1 and 1/3 innings.  But Japan was unable to get any offense going that day against Padres farmhand (and future Hanshin Tiger) Chris Oxspring during the 6 and 2/3 innings he was on the mound before Jeff Williams came in to get the final seven outs.  Japan lost 1-0, putting them into the Bronze Medal game against Canada which lost to Cuba 8-5 despite having led the game 3-2 going into the eighth inning.  While undoubtedly a disappointment to the Japan, this game is considered the greatest moment in Australian international baseball history.

For the second time in the tournament, Japan took out their frustrations on losing to Australia on Canada.  Johjima's two run shot gave Japan a lead in the top of the first that they would never relinquish.  Japan extended that lead to 7-0 before the Canadians finally got on the board in the fourth and put the game completely out of reach with a four run eighth inning.  The final score was 11-2 and Japan wrapped up the Bronze Medal, their first Medal since 1996.  Meanwhile Cuba defeated Australia 6-2 to win the Gold Medal for the third time in the four Olympics they had participated in.  Australia won Silver for their only Olympic baseball Medal ever.

Nine of the players on the roster ended up playing at least one season in North America.  Four members of the team are still active as of 2020 - Fukudome, Iwakuma, Matsuzaka and Tsuyoshi Wada.

Somewhat surprisingly there were no baseball cards issued for the 2004 Japanese Olympic baseball team, even though there were cards for the 2003 Asian qualifier team.  I used to think that this was because the team having to settle for the Bronze Medal was very disappointing but since there are cards for both the 2000 and 2008 squads whose results were more disappointing I don't think that's the case.  For the players on the team I'm going to share the Asian Championship card if the player was on that team along with the player's most recent Japanese card and my usual quick blurb.

2017 Epoch Giants #20
Ryoji Aikawa was the backup catcher to Kenji Johjima at the Olympics.  He only ended up getting into three games and didn't get any at bats.  He was a fourth round pick of the Baystars in the 1994 draft out of Tokyo Gakukan High School.  He didn't make his ichi-gun debut until his fifth season with the team and spent a couple seasons as backup for Yoshinobu Tanishige and Takeshi Nakamura before becoming Yokohama's starting catcher in 2004.  He made the All Star team for the first time in 2007 and moved to the Tokyo Yakult Swallows as a free agent after the 2008 season.  He made the All Star team his first four seasons with the Swallows but he missed a lot of time starting in 2012 due to injuries and the development of Yuhei Nakamura.  He left Yakult after the 2014 season to join the only Central League team in Kanto he hadn't already played for - the Yomiuri Giants.  He spent three injury-plagued years with the Giants as a backup catcher before retiring after the 2017 season.  He's currently the battery coach for the Giants.  He also played for the National Team in both the 2006 and 2013 World Baseball Classics.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #08

2017 BBM Tigers #T06
Yuya Andoh's only appearance in the Olympic tournament was in relief in Japan's Preliminary Round loss to Australia.  He attended Hosei University and then spent a couple years with Toyota of the corporate leagues.  He was drafted by the Tigers in the "free player acquisition" round of the 2001 draft 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 retired after the 2017 season that he spent entirely with the Tiger's farm team.  He's been a coach with Hanshin ever since.

2013 BBM Swallows #S49
Atsushi Fujimoto took an odd path to professional baseball.  He grew up a Tigers fan in Akashi, a city just west of Kobe in Hyogo prefecture.  He went to Asia University but had to drop out during his freshman year due to a herniated disk in his back.  Fujimoto's family ran a yakitori restaurant that was frequented by former Tigers player and Orix coach Akinobu Okada and Okada recommended that he attend the Koga College of Science.  Fujimoto played for the Dupro corporate team after graduation and was taken by the Tigers in the seventh round of the 2000 after Tigers manager Katsuya Nomura saw him in a game against Yamaha.  He split time between the top team and the farm team his first two seasons but became the Tigers regular shortstop in 2003, hitting .301 and making the All Star team.  Takeshi Toritani's arrival the following year eventually caused him to move to second base and he made the All Star team again in 2005 and 2006.  His batting average had declined since 2003 and he struggled to find playing time after 2007 due to the arrivals of Keiichi Hirano and Aarom Baldris in 2008 and Craig Brazell in 2009.  He left Hanshin for Yakult as a free agent after 2009 but his poor batting and another herniated disk limited his playing time with the Swallows.  He retired after the 2013 season and became a coach for Hanshin starting in 2015.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #21

2020 Calbee #050
Kosuke Fukudome had hit two home runs during the 1996 Atlanta games and added three more home runs in Athens, tied for the most on the team with Yoshinobu Takahashi.  He hit .316 and had 10 RBIs.  He's the oldest currently active player in NPB.  He also suited up for the National Team for the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #13

2009 BBM 1st Version #376
Hirotoshi Ishii was a teammate of Ryoji Aikawa at Tokyo Gakukan High School.  He was the fourth round pick of the Swallows in the 1995 draft.  He had issues with his control his first few seasons - enough that Yakult considered converting him to a position player - before he straightened things out.  He made a couple starts in 2000 but worked out of the bullpen the rest of his career.  He made four appearances during the Athens games, giving up no runs in five innings of work and notching a save against Cuba, the only save Japan had during the tournament.  He became the Swallows' closer in 2005, recorded 37 saves and made the All Star team for the second time (first time was 2002).  He got injured pitching against Korea in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and it doesn't look like he ever really recovered from it.  He missed the entire 2007 season rehabilitating after surgery and only made one appearance at the ichi-gun level in 2008.  He was limited to 21 appearances over the next three seasons and retired following the 2011 season.  He's been a coach for the Swallows ever since.

2019 BBM 1st Version #223
23 year old Hisashi Iwakuma was the youngest player on the roster.  He only made one appearance in the tournament, starting the second game of the Preliminary Round against the Netherlands.  The Dutch knocked him around a bit, scoring two runs off of him in 1 2/3 innings.  He was a fifth round pick of the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes in the 1999 draft out of Horikoshi High School.  He made his ichi-gun debut in 2001 and pitched well enough to start Game 2 of the Nippon Series that year against the Swallows (the only game Kintetsu won in the Series although Iwakuma didn't pitch particularly well - giving up three runs in 2 1/3 innings of work).  He had his best season in Osaka in 2004, going 15-2 with an ERA of 3.01, leading the Central League in wins and winning a Best 9 award and the Most Valuable Pitcher award.  It was his last season with Kintetsu as the team "merged with" the Orix BlueWave ("was absorbed by" is more accurate).  He was taken by Orix in the distribution draft held for former Kintetsu players but refused to join the team as he wanted to join the new Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles as his father-in-law (Koju Hirohashi) was a coach with them.  Eventually a deal was worked out where Rakuten bought his rights from Orix.  He started (and won) the Eagles' first game ever in 2005.  After a couple seasons where he struggled with injuries he had another monster year in 2008, going 21-4 with an ERA of 1.87 ERA, leading the league in wins and ERA.  He cleaned up in awards that season as well, winning Best 9 and Most Valuable Pitcher awards again along with the Sawamura Award and the Pacific League MVP.  Rakuten posted him following the 2010 season but he was unable to reach an agreement with the winning bidder Oakland and he returned to Sendai for the 2011 season.  He joined the Seattle Mariners as a free agent for the 2012 season and spent seven seasons with them, although he missed a lot of 2017 and 2018 with injuries.  He threw a no-hitter against the Orioles in 2015.  He returned to Japan for the 2019 season, signing with the Yomiuri Giants although he again missed most of the season due to injuries.  He's made four All Star teams - three in Japan (2003-04, 2008) and one in the US (2013).  He also played for the National Team for the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #06

2018 BBM 2nd Version #555
Hitoki Iwase is the NPB career saves leader with 407.  His entire baseball career - both amateur and professional - has been played in Aichi prefecture.  He attended Nishio Higashi High School (for whom he threw a no-hitter in the 1992 Koshien tournament), Aichi University (where he was mostly an outfielder) and then NTT Tokai of the corporate leagues (where he switched back to pitching).  He was the Chunichi Dragons' second pick in the 1998 draft.  He pitched very well in a middle relief role for the first five years of his career but he really took off when new Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai made him the closer in 2004.  He led the league in saves five times (2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2012) which is tied for the most times with Yutaka Entatsu, Motoyuki Akahori and Kazuhiro Sasaki.  His 46 saves in 2005 was the record for most saves in a season at the time, breaking the record Saski set in 1998 with 45 (it's since been tied by Kyuji Fujikawa in 2007 and broken by Dennis Sarfate in 2017).  The biggest save of his career was Game 5 of the 2007 Nippon Series when he relieved Daisuke Yamai and pitched a scoreless ninth inning, preserving both the win and the perfect game and clinching the Dragons' first Championship since 1954.  He's a 10 time All Star (2000-01, 2003, 2005-07 and 2010-13) and holds the record for most appearances by a pitcher in NPB history (1002).  He retired after the 2018 season and has been a baseball commentator since then.  He returned to the Olympics in 2008.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #15

2012 Calbee #129
Kenji Johjima grew up in Kyushu so it was no surprise that he was drafted by the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks in the first round of the 1994 draft.  After a couple seasons spent mostly on the farm team (and a stint with the Maui Stingrays of the Hawaiian Winter League in 1996) he became the Hawks starting catcher in 1997.  He hit four home runs in the 2000 Nippon Series and another four in the 2003 Series - that's tied for the record for most home runs in a Series.  In 2001 he and Tadahito Iguchi, Nobuhiko Matsunaka and Hiroki Kokubo became the first quartet of Pacific League teammates to hit each hit 30 home runs in a season.  He won the PL MVP award in 2003 after hitting .330 with 34 home runs and 119 RBIs.  Following the 2005 season he left the Hawks as a free agent and joined the Seattle Mariners.  He played in the US for four seasons although he missed about half of the 2009 season to injury.  He opted out of his contract with the Mariners despite having two years left and returned to Japan for the 2010 season, signing on with the Hanshin Tigers.  He put up good numbers his first year with the Tigers - .303 with 28 home runs and 91 RBIs - but he suffered a knee injury late in the season that cost him a lot of time over the next two seasons and he retired following the 2012 season.  He's apparently been making a lot of appearances in fishing-related TV shows in the years since his career ended.  He was a nine time All Star (1997-2001, 2003-05 and 2010) and six time Best 9 Award winner (1999-2001 and 2003-05) and an eight time Golden Glove Award winner (1999-2005 and 2010).  He also appeared in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

2013 BBM Classic #040
Makoto Kaneko was the third round pick of the Fighters in the 1993 draft out of Joso Gakuin High School.  He became the Fighters' regular second baseman at age 20 in 1995 and won the Pacific League Rookie Of The Year award.  He shifted to shortstop in 2002.  He won a Best 9 award in 1999 and Golden Glove Awards in 1998, 1999 and 2009 and made the All Star team in 2002, 2004 and 2009.  He retired after the 2014 season and has been a coach for the Fighters ever since.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #24

2009 BBM Nippon Series #S16
Takuya Kimura might be the only professional player who ever played in the Olympics who was signed outside of the draft.  He was undrafted out of high school and signed on with the Nippon-Ham Fighters in 1991 as a catcher.  They converted him to outfielder in 1992 and then traded him to the Carp after the 1994 season for Hiroshi Nagadomi.  He didn't become a regular until 2000 by which time he was now playing second base.  He made the All Star team for the first time that year and then did it again in 2001.  The Carp moved him around a bit as he spent most of 2001 playing outfield and split 2002 between the outfield, second base and shortstop before moving back to second base (mostly) in 2003.  He became basically a super-sub starting in 2004, a role he remained in for most of the rest of his career with the exception of 2008 when he was primarily a second baseman again.  He was traded to the Giants in the middle of the 2006 season for Shinsuke Yamada and played for them until he retired after the 2009 season.  He became a coach for the Giants for the 2010 season.  Tragically he suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage and collapsed on the field just a few weeks into the 2010 season.  He passed away a few days later at the age of 37.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #12

2011 Bandai Owners League 02 #058
Masahide Kobayashi attended Nihon Taiiku University intending to become a high school baseball coach after graduation.  He pitched well enough there though to change his plans, going 16-7 with a 2.40 ERA and winning two Tokyo Metropolitan Area University Baseball League Best 9 awards along with one Best Pitcher award during his collegiate career.  He spent two seasons with Tokyo Gas of the corporate leagues and was discovered there by a Lotte scout.  He was the Marines top pick in the 1998 draft and spent much of the 1999 season working out of the ichi-gun team's bullpen before making 10 starts late in the season.  He opened the 2000 season in the starting rotation but after losing his first three starts the Marines moved him back into the bullpen and he never started another game.  He had a great year out of the bullpen and finished the season as the Marines' closer - going 11-6 with a 2.13 ERA and 14 saves.  He made his first All Star team that year.  He remained the Marines closer for the next seven seasons, running off a streak of seven years with at least 20 saves, the first pitcher in Japan to do that.  He led PL in saves with 29 in 2005 and again made the All Star team in 2001, 2005 and 2006.  He left the Marines as a free agent after 2007 and signed a two year deal with the Cleveland Indians. He didn't pitch particularly well for the Indians and was released midway through the 2009 season.  He had hoped to catch on with another MLB team but it didn't happen so he returned to Japan for 2010, signing on with the Yomiuri Giants.  He was released after another poor season and was signed by the Orix Buffaloes after attending the 12 team tryout.  After one more poor season in 2011 Orix released him and he ended up retiring.  He coached for Orix from 2012-14 and then the Marines from 2015-18.  Since 2019 he's been a "general pitching coach" for the Japan Women's Baseball League.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #07

2016 BBM Carp Autographed Edition #02
Hiroki Kuroda had baseball in his blood - his father Kazuhiro Kuroda spent eight years in professional baseball from 1949-56, mostly with Nankai.  The younger Kuroda was the Carp's second pick in the 1996 draft out of Senshu University.  He spent his rookie season of 1997 as part of Hiroshima's starting rotation, going 6-9 with a 4.40 ERA in 23 starts.  He bounced between the rotation and the bullpen over the next few seasons before having a breakthrough year in 2001, going 12-8 with a 3.03 and making the All Star team for the first time.  He put together a string of three very good seasons starting in 2005, going 15-12 with a 3.17 ERA that season, 13-6 with a 1.85 ERA in 2006 and 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA in 2007.  He made the All Star team all three of those seasons, led the Central League in wins in 2005 and ERA in 2006 and won a Best 9, a Golden Glove and the Most Valuable Pitcher awards in 2005.  He signed a three year deal with the Dodgers following the 2007 season and eventually spent four year in LA before moving on the Yankees for the 2012 season.  He returned to Japan and the Carp in 2015 and had another All Star season, going 11-8 with a 2.55 ERA at age 40.  He helped the Carp to their first Central League title in 25 years in his final season of 2016, going 10-8 with a 3.09 ERA in 24 starts.  Late in the season he joined the Meikyukai by notching his 200th career victory between NPB and MLB.  He made his final career appearance in Game 3 of the 2016 Nippon Series against the Fighters.  The Carp retired his number after he retired.  He's been a TV commentator since his playing days ended.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #09

2020 Epoch Lions Rookies & Stars #07
Daisuke Matsuzaka's poor luck in the Olympics continued in the 2004 games.  After pitching well in three games that Japan ultimately lost in Sydney, he went 1-1 in the 2004 games.  He beat Cuba but took the loss in the heartbreaking semifinal game against Australia.  His 20 strikeouts in his two starts gave him a total of 45 in five starts (43 innings) pitched across the two tournaments.  I don't know if that's the record but if it isn't it's probably close.

2016 BBM 1st Version #303
Daisuke Miura was the last active Yokohama Taiyo Whale.  He was taken in the sixth round of the Whales in the 1991 draft out of Takada Shogyo High School and made his ichi-gun debut on October 6th, 1992, throwing two innings of relief in the final game the franchise played as the Whales before changing their name to the Baystars for 1993.  He spent the next few seasons working out of the bullpen before moving into the starting rotation in 1995.  He would remain in Yokohama's starting rotation for most of the next 20 years.  His best season was probably 2005, when he went 12-9 with a a 2.52 ERA and 177 strikeouts - both Central League leading numbers.  He was a six time All Star, being selected for the Central League squad in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2013.  Nicknamed "Hama no Bancho" (the boss of Yokohama), he was the Opening Day starter for the Baystars seven times, second in team history only to Masaji Hiramatsu's nine times.  But he lost all seven of those Opening Day games.  He retired following the 2016 season and has coached for the Baystars ever since.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #17

2013 BBM 2nd Version #491
Shinya Miyamoto was the captain of the Olympic baseball team and hit .500 in the tournament.  He attended high school at baseball powerhouse PL Gakuen and was a member of the Summer Koshien winning 1987 team.  He moved on to play college ball at Doshisha University in Kyoto and then played for Prince Hotels of the corporate league before being taken by the Yakult Swallows with the second pick in the 1994 draft.  He spent 1995 as a backup infielder but by the end of 1996 he had taken over shortstop from Takahiro Ikeyama.  He won his first of ten Golden Glove awards in 1997 but then was suspended early in the 1998 season due to his involvement in a tax evasion scheme.  He set the NPB record for most sacrifices in a season with 67 in 2001.  He won five straight Golden Gloves at short stop from 1999 to 2003.  He moved to third base in 2009 and started winning Golden Glove awards again, winning four straight from 2009 to 2012.  He also won a Best 9 award for the first time in 2011.  He got his 2000th hit in 2012, allowing him to join the Meikyukai.  He was also an eight time All Star (2002-03, 2007-09 and 2011-13).  He retired after the 2013 season and has mostly been a TV commentator since then although he spent two seasons (2018-19) as a coach for the Swallows.  He also played for Team Japan in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

2010 BBM 1st Version #319
Arihito Muramatsu was a teammate of Hideki Matsui's at Seiryo High School.  He was the sixth round pick of the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks in the 1990 draft.  He spent most of his first year in professional baseball in the United States playing for the California League team owned by the Hawks - the Salinas Spurs.  He made his ichi-gun debut in 1992 but his breakthrough season didn't come until 1996 when he lead the Pacific League in stolen bases, made the All Star team for the first time and won a Best 9 award.  He had perhaps his best season in 2003 when he hit .324, made the All Star team again and won his first Golden Glove award.  He became a free agent after that season and signed with Orix.  He had almost a carbon copy of his 2003 season in his first season in Kobe, hitting .320 and again making the All Star team and winning a Golden Glove award.  He stayed with Orix after the Kintetsu/Orix "merger" until he was traded back to the Hawks after 2008 for Naoyuki Ohmura.  He retired after the 2010 season and has been a coach for the Hawks since 2014.

2013 BBM 1st Version #150
Norihiro Nakamura had two home runs in the 2000 Sydney games and added two more home runs in the 2004 games.  He played in all nine of Japan's games in each of the tournaments, hitting .261 (18 for 69) with the four home runs and 18 RBIs.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #16

2015 Epoch Dragons x Mizuno #15
Michihiro Ogasawara spent a couple years with NTT Kanto of the industrial leagues after graduating from Gyosei Kokusai High School.  He was taken by the Nippon-Ham Fighters with their third pick in the 1996 as a catcher.  He moved to first base in 1999 and his career took off.  He hit .285 that year with 25 home runs and made the All Star team for the first of 11 times over a 12 year span (1999-2010 except for 2008).  He hit at least 30 home runs in a season every year from 2000 to 2010 except 2004 when he missed about 30 games due to a rib injury as well as playing in the Olympics.  He moved to third base in 2003 although he would play first in the Olympics.  He led the Fighters to their first Nippon Series championship in 44 years in 2006 and was named Pacific League MVP.  He left the Fighters as a free agent after that season and signed with the Yomiuri Giants.  He won a Central League MVP award in 2007, becoming only the second player ever to win the MVP in each league (after Yutaka Enatsu) and the first to do it in consecutive years.  Injuries cut into his playing time in his last three seasons with the Giants (2011-13) and he signed with Chunichi as a free agent.  He struggled to get playing time in his two years in Nagoya and retired after the 2015 season.  He coached for the Dragons for four years after he retired, including two years as the farm team manager before moving on to be the farm team manager for the Fighters this season.  He was a two time batting champ (2002 and 2003), led the league in hits twice (2000 and 2001), and home runs and RBIs once each (both in 2006).  He won seven Best 9 awards (1999, 2001, 2003-04, 2006-07 and 2009) and six Golden Glove awards (1999-2003 and 2006).  He is a member of Meikyukai due to his 2000 career hits.  He also played for Japan in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.

2011 BBM !st Version #302
Naoyuki Shimizu suffered a shoulder injury at Nihon University and only got one win in his collegiate career.  He spent a couple seasons with Toshiba of the corporate leagues before being drafted by the Marines in the second round of the 1999 draft.  He had a poor season in 27 games (16 starts) in his rookie season (3-6 with a 6.12 ERA) but had a decent year out of the bullpen in 2001 (6-2 with a 3.74 ERA) and moved back into the starting rotation in 2002.  He had at least 10 wins in each season from 2002 to 2008 except 2007 and made the All Star team three times over that period (2003, 2005 and 2008).  He was traded before the 2010 season to the Yokohama Baystars for Takumi Nasuno (another Nihon University alum) and Toshio Saito.   He went 10-11 with an ERA of 5.40 in his first season in Yokohama but knee injuries kept him from playing much the next two seasons and the Baystars released him after 2012.  He spent 2013 trying to rehab the knee and sign on with another team but no one picked him and he officially retired.  He was the pitching coach for the New Zealand National team from 2014 to 2017 and then spent two years as a coach for the Marines.  He was named the first manager of the Ryukyu Blue Oceans, the new independent team from Okinawa.  He also played for the Japanese National Team in the 2006 WBC.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #25

2015 Calbee #133
Yoshinobu Takahashi had been a star at Keio University.  He won a Triple Crown in the Spring 1996 season and is the career Tokyo Big Six league leader in home runs (23).  He was the number one pick of the Yomiuri Giants in 1997 and was runner up to Kenshin Kawakami for Central League Rookie Of The Year in 1998.  He had possibly his best season in 1999, hitting .315 with 34 home runs and 98 RBIs.  That season ended early due to a broken collar bone, setting the theme for the rest of Takahashi's career.  Takahashi put up very good numbers for the Giants over the next five seasons, hitting over .300 every year except 2000 and hitting a least 26 home runs each season except 2002.  He started to miss time due to various injuries after the 2001 season.  From 2005 to 2015 he was only able to play in more than 100 games once.  He had at one time or another injuries to his foot, shoulder, elbow, ankle, back, hip, ribs, calf and fingers.  He was very good when he was health, making the All Star team 9 times (1998-2004, 2007 and 2012) and winning two Best 9 awards (1999 and 2007) and seven Golden Gloves (1998-2003 and 2007).  He retired as a player after the 2015 season to become the Giants' manager after Tatsunori Hara resigned and managed the team for three seasons.  He stepped down after 2018 and became a special advisor to the team as well as a TV baseball commentator.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #23

2015 BBM Buffaloes #Bs60
Yoshitomo Tani hit very well during the 1996 Atlanta games, finishing with a .421 average, five home runs and 11 RBIs.  His performance eight years later wasn't nearly as good - .200 with only one home run and three RBIs.  Worse, he injured his right foot during the semi-final game against Australia and was unable to play in the Bronze Medal game or the rest of the regular season (although he still won both a Best 9 and a Golden Glove award that year).  He wasn't the only member of his household to bring home an Olympic medal from Greece as his wife Ryoko won a Gold Medal in the judo competion.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #10

2019 Epoch NPB #293
Koji Uehara was Yomiuri's first pick in the 1998 draft out of Osaka Taiiku University.  He was the Central League Rookie Of The Year in 1999, going 20-4 with an ERA of 2.09 and 179 strikeouts.  He was a member of the Giants starting rotation for the next seven seasons but after starting the 2007 season with an injury, the Yomiuri moved him to the bullpen and made him the closer.  He recorded 32 saves that season with an ERA of 1.47.  He split 2008 between the rotation and the bullpen - he was a setup man for Marc Kroon when working out of the pen - and then left the Giants as a free agent to sign with the Baltimore Orioles.  He spent nine seasons in MLB, playing for the Orioles (2009-11), Rangers (2011-12), Red Sox (2013-16) and Cubs (2017).  He returned to Japan and the Giants for 2018 and retired in the middle of the 2019 season.  He's been a TV commentator since retiring.  He was a 10 time All Star (1999-2005, 2007 and 2018 in Japan and 2014 in MLB), a two time Sawamura Award winner (1999 and 2002), a two time Best 9 award winner (1999 and 2002) and two time Golden Glove award winner (1999 and 2003).  He led the Central League in wins in 1999 and 2002, ERA in 1999 and 2004 and strikeouts in 1999 and 2003.  He also played for Japan in the 2008 Beijing Olympics as well as the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #22

2015 BBM Dragons #D58
Kazuhiro Wada was another former collegiate star on the team, having won a batting crown, three Best 9 awards and a Sendai Big Six MVP award during his time a Tohoku Fukushi University.  He played for Kobe Steel after graduation and then was drafted by the Seibu Lions in the fourth round of the 1996 draft as a catcher.  He had difficulties getting playing time for his first few seasons, even after he moved to the outfield so it really wasn't until 2002 when he was 30 that he got a chance to play regularly.  He made the most of that opportunity, hitting .319 with 33 home runs and 81 RBIs.  That was the first of a string of six seasons where he hit .300 (or close to it - he "only" hit .298 in 2006).  He moved to the Dragons as a free agent after the 2007 season and continued to hit over .300, culminating in what was probably his best season in 2010 when at age 38 he hit .339 with 37 home runs and 93 RBIs (and won the Central League MVP award).  Age appears to have caught up with him in 2011 when his average dropped over a 100 points.  His numbers picked back up in 2012 when he hit .285 though.  He was able to remain a regular for the Dragons for another year before his playing time starting to diminish in 2014.  He joined the Meikyukai when he got his 2000th hit in the middle of the 2015 season and he retired at the end of the season.  He was a six time All Star (2003-05, 2008, 2010 and 2012), six time Best 9 award winner (2003-06 and 2010) and won a batting crown in 2005.  He's another player to become a TV commentator since retiring.  He also played for the National team in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #11

2020 BBM 1st Version #031
Tsuyoshi Wada was another player who had had a very good collegiate career.  He went 27-13 with an ERA of 1.35 and 476 strikeouts and won two Best 9 awards while playing for Waseda University.  The 27 wins were the most ever by a Waseda left hander and the 476 strikeouts are a Tokyo Big Six league record.  He was taken by the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks in the "free acquisition" portion of the 2002 draft.  He went 14-5 with a 3.38 ERA and 189 strikeouts in his rookie season of 2003, winning the Pacific League Rookie Of The Year award.  He also started Game Seven of the Nippon Series that year against the Tigers and beat them 6-2 in a complete game victory.  He remained in the Hawks rotation through 2011 and had double digit victory totals in each year except 2008 and 2009 when he was fighting some elbow injuries.  He won the Pacific League MVP in 2010 (making it an all-Wada MVP year as 2004 Olympic teammate Kazuhiro Wada won the Central League MVP that year) while leading the PL in wins with 17.  He left as a free agent after 2011 and signed with the Orioles but developed an elbow issue and ultimately had Tommy John surgery and missed most of 2012 and some of 2013.  He only got into 20 games with the Orioles' Triple A team in Norfolk in his two years in Baltimore's system before moving onto the Cubs in 2014.  He again spent most of his time in the minors for Chicago but he did make 20 starts with the big league team in 2014-15, going 5-5 with an ERA of 3.36.  He returned to the Hawks and Japan in 2016, and went 15-5 with a 3.04 ERA, leading the league in wins.  Elbow and shoulder issues cut into his playing time over the next three years but he's healthy enough this season to be back in the Hawks rotation, at least for now.  He won a Best 9 award in 2010 and made the All Star team five times (2003-04, 2010-11 and 2016).

I want to add a couple comments about the coaching staff for the team.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #04
Kiyoshi Nakahata had been the hitting coach of the 2003 Asian Championship team and was pressed into service as manager in June of 2004, just two months before the games, after it was finally decided that Nagashima was going to be unable to manage.  Nakahata ended up still being the hitting coach as well as the manager.  He had been the third round pick of the Yomiuri Giants in 1975 and had a 14 year career with them.  Later he was the first manager of the Baystars after DeNA bought them, running the team for four seasons from 2012 to 2015.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #03
Pitching coach Yutaka Ohno was signed by the Hiroshima Toyo Carp as an undrafted player in 1976.  He ended up having a 22 year career from 1977 to 1998 and was an star pitcher as both a starter and reliever.  He was also the team's pitching coach for the 2008 Beijing games.  He was elected to the Hall Of Fame in 2013.

2003 BBM Japan National Team #02
Yutaka Takagi was the defensive/baserunning coach for the team.  He had been the third round pick of the Yokohama Taiyo Whales in 1980 and spent 13 years in Yokohama before finishing his career in 1994 with the Nippon-Ham Fighters.