Sun, Nov 12, 2017 - Page 10 News List

‘Japanese Babe Ruth’ announces move to the US

AFP, TOKYO

Japanese baseball superstar Shohei Otani yesterday voiced his wish to continue playing both on the mound and at the plate in the US, saying he has not given up either pitching or batting.

The 23-year-old right-handed pitcher and left-handed hitter formally announced his plan to move to the MLB next year a day after his team, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, accepted “his dream” to play in the country.

“I’m glad to have done both,” the two-way player, dubbed the “Japanese Babe Ruth” by US media, told a news conference in Tokyo.

“I want to further improve what I have done,” Otani said in a business suit with a navy-blue tie — the team color of the Fighters.

“At this stage I don’t think I will give up one of them,” he said.

Otani hit .322 with 22 home runs and 67 runs-batted-in in 104 games and had a 1.86 earned run average and 174 strikeouts in 140 innings for the Nippon Ham Fighters last season.

He missed two months early this season and another stretch in July and August with injuries to his ankle and thigh — but has still batted .332 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs this season, according to the latest update on the team’s Web site.

Otani, who had ankle surgery last month and is undergoing rehabilitation, is soon to start negotiations with US teams seeking him through his agent. The 1.93m player, whose fastball tops 161kph, inked a one-year US$2.37 million contract with the Fighters in December. He will not become eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season, and therefore needed the team’s approval to negotiate with Major League teams.

“As long as I play baseball, I want to be a No. 1 player,” Otani said. “The greatest happiness for players is that fans and people say he is No. 1. I work hard aiming to be such a player,” he added.

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