Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Hiroki Uemoto

Yet another player who retired after the 2020 season was Hanshin Tigers infielder Hiroki Uemoto.  Uemoto had been a star player with Koryo High School in Hiroshima and played in several spring and summer Koshien tournaments and won the 2003 spring one.  He moved on to Waseda University and was a star there as well, making the Best 9 team as the second baseman five times and playing on several collegiate national teams.  The Tigers took him with the third pick in the 2008 draft.

He spent his first year and half with the Tigers on the farm team, not making his debut on the top team until July of 2010.  He appears to have mostly been a backup infielder his first few seasons and had some difficulty staying healthy.  He missed the first half of the 2012 season with an elbow injury and then missed most of 2013 after hurting his ankle in an outfield collision in an exhibition game against Samurai Japan that spring.  

He was healthy in 2014 and became the Tigers' starting second baseman when Tsuyoshi Nishioka was injured in a outfield collision with Kosuke Fukudome.  He played in 131 games, the most of his career, and hit .276.  He started all five of the Tigers games in the Nippon Series that year against the Hawks.  He was the starting second baseman on Opening Day of 2015 but suffered hip and back injuries diving for a catch in August and missed most of the rest of the season.  

He lost his starting job at second to Nishioka in 2016 and split the season between the ichi-gun and ni-gun teams.  He beat out Nishioka to win the second base job back in 2017 and had perhaps his best season, hitting .284 with 9 home runs.  He had ankle surgery after the season and the Tigers moved Takeshi Toritani from third to second the following spring over concerns about his recovery.  He managed to win the second base job back yet again by the beginning of May but then suffered a knee injury that cost his the remainder of the season.  He split the 2019 and 2020 seasons between the farm team and being a back up on the top team and was released by the Tigers last December.  He was hoping to get an offer from another team but when nothing materialized he decided to retire.

His younger brother Takashi has been a member of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp since 2013.

Uemoto's another of those rare Japanese players to have pre-rookie cards.  He had cards with Waseda in both the Spring and Autumn Versions of the 2008 BBM Tokyo Big Six sets and also appeared in the 2008 Japanese Collegiate National Team set and the Japanese Collegiate National Team subset from the 2008 Upper Deck USA Baseball box set.  His first NPB cards were 2009 BBM Rookie Edition #063 and 1st Version #287.  His first Calbee card was #026 in the 2013 Series One set.  Here's a selection of his cards:

2008 BBM Tokyo Big Six Spring Version #1

2008 BBM Japan College National Team #CN12

2009 BBM Rookie Edition #063

2009 BBM 1st Version #287

2009 BBM 2nd Version #M08

2013 Calbee #026

2015 BBM 2nd Version #508

2017 Epoch Tigers #23 (2 * variant)

2018 BBM 1st Version #202

2020 BBM Tigers #T45

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