Saturday, February 4, 2023

Ryosuke Hirata

Long time Chunichi Dragons outfielder Ryosuke Hirata announced his retirement at the end of last season.  

Hirata attended high school at baseball powerhouse Osaka Toin and hit five home runs in the 2005 Summer Koshien Tournament, including three in the quarter-final game against Tohoku High School.  Unfortunately for Hirata and Osaka Toin, they got knocked out the next day in the semi-final game by Komadai Tomakomai and Masahiro Tanaka.   Six weeks later he was taken by the Chunichi Dragons in the first round of the high school player portion of the 2005 draft.

He spent most of his first five seasons with Chunichi languishing on the farm team (although he did appear in both the 2007 and 2010 Nippon Series's)  but he made the top team to stay (more or less) in 2011, getting into 113 games and hitting .255 (and he played in the 2011 Series as well).  He had a solid season in 2013 where he hit .289 with 15 home runs in 118 games but this was sandwiched between two seasons where he missed time due to injuries - a sprained back in 2012 and a sprained ankle in 2014.  Healthy again in 2015 he played in 130 games and hit .285 with 13 home runs, good enough to make the All Star team and win a Best 9 award, each for the first time.  He also played in the inaugural Premier 12 that fall.

Hirata missed time due to injuries again late in the 2016 season (shoulder) and early in 2017 (knee) although he was healthy enough to play for Samurai Japan in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.  In 2018 he had what was probably his best season - hitting .329 in 138 games in the only season in his career where he didn't play on the farm team at all.  He made the All Star team again that year and won his only Golden Glove award.  

His last four seasons in Nagoya were less successful.  A combination of more injuries (left leg in 2019) and other ailments (asthma diagnosis in 2021 and COVID in 2022) along with poor performance started cutting into his time with the top team and the Dragons released him at the end of the 2022 season.  He had some offers from independent and corporate league teams but he preferred to try to remain in NPB.  When none of the other eleven teams expressed any interest he announced his retirement.  He signed on last week with the Ace Factory rubber baseball team.

Hirata's first BBM cards were (of course) in the 2006 Rookie Edition (#58) and 1st Version (#286).  He appeared in either the 1st or 2nd Version set (or both) for every season of his 17 year career.  It wasn't until 2012 that he got his first Calbee card - #114 in the Series Two set.  Here's a bunch of his cards:

2006 BBM Rookie Edition #58

2006 BBM 1st Version #286

2008 BBM 1st Version #064

2011 BBM Nippon Series #S55

2014 BBM 1st Version #262

2016 BBM Classic #064

2017 Calbee Samurai Japan #SJ-32

2018 Meito Central League Home Run Popsicles #29

2020 Calbee #206

2022 BBm 2nd Version #251

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