(aka "Guts, I think you screwed up".)
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Or the prefecture of Hokkaido, as the case may be.
My favorite Japanese baseball player, Michihiro "Guts" Ogasawara, the first-and-sometimes-third baseman for the Nippon Ham Fighters for the last ten years, has apparently agreed to be the third baseman for the Yomiuri Giants. (Japanball/Kyodo article.) This sucks. For anyone who's watched the Yankees sign away their favorite player from a team at some point, you can understand the feeling of the suckage -- but what's weirder about this situation is threefold:
1) He didn't actually get a salary raise at all to move to the Giants (according to most sources, it'll be a 4 year, 1.6-billion yen contract; the Fighters were offering 3 years, 1.5 billion yen)
2) The motivation for the move is theorized to be because his wife and daughters never moved up to Hokkaido, and have been bugging him to move back to the Tokyo region instead
3) He never came clear with the fans about his intentions. Everyone heard about this through the media, not from him. The media had been saying rumors that he was going to sign with the Giants on the 22nd over and over again, but since Ogasawara himself didn't actually say anything about it during the fan festival and parade weekend in Hokkaido, a lot of people held out false hope. One group went and got 30,000 fan signatures on a "Please stay with the Fighters" petition. Due to the timing, I don't think he even knew about them before he made his decision.
Things got even weirder because apparently he put up a long message on the Fighters' official web site... which was subsequently edited down in the next few hours. I only saw the latest version, which reads:
Translated (more for sentiment than accuracy): "To the Fighters fans all over the country: I know this is too late to be informing everyone, after the newspapers and TV shows already reported it, but I am leaving the Fighters. After experiencing three years in Hokkaido, I think I need to try to find a new dream to pursue, starting from square one. In Hokkaido, I grew a lot as a player and I will never be able to forget the experience here, because those three short years were some of the best of my life. Hokkaido has become like a "second home" to me, and I will never forget the place; all of you I have met can never be replaced in my heart. I may be leaving you now, but within the world of pro baseball I will certainly have the chance to come back to the Sapporo Dome to see all of you. At that time, I want to return to these grounds with pride, as the "Ogasawara who was raised by Fighters fans".
"I feel like I can't possibly apologize enough to the fans who have believed in me and cheered me until the end. Even now when I open my eyes towards the stands, I can almost hear the echoes of everyone's voices cheering. I will never forget that feeling, of everyone cheering for me, and I will never forget Hokkaido when facing future challenges. Furthermore, I believe that everything I ever accomplished for the Fighters came from the power given to me by the fans. Truly, I want to thank you all."
It's a nice sentiment, I guess, but yeah, I can see why a lot of people would have definitely liked to have heard it from him BEFORE reading about his decision in the newspaper.
It's funny, I personally don't entirely know how to react. I know I feel a little bit betrayed, but I'm also in that Japanese mindset of "it can't be helped" and "Ogasawara will always be our Ogasawara" and "we are still Fighters fans no matter what". Watching the Sapporo parade footage on YouTube, I was sitting there convincing myself that I'd still love the Fighters even if Guts left. I think I still feel that way. I don't know who's going to replace him at first base or with his consistent 900+ OPS. But just because Ogasawara and Okajima are leaving for other teams, and Shinjo's retiring, and so on, doesn't mean I don't love Kaneko, Yukio, Hichori, Kensuke, Inaba, Inada, Seguignol, Takahashi, Tsuruoka, Darvish, Yagi, Takeda(s), Micheal, and yes, even Kanemura. I'm excited to see if Inada and Konta can step up and join the starting lineup next year; I'm hoping to see good things from Keizo Kawashima; I'd like to see Kimoto come back; I'm hoping Hichori stops chasing bad outside pitches; and I'm hoping to see if Ken Miyamoto can be a shorter Tomoya Yagi.
But, I'm not sure what to do with my Ogasawara #2 jersey now. I don't know whether I should continue trying to read his autobiography now, since it might make me feel pretty sad. (I only read about 20 pages so far, the WBC chapter.) I deflated the blue dolphin that had been sitting up on my Fighters Shrine, which I still haven't taken down. And I'm finally replacing this as my desktop background.
Apparently the Giants are going to make Makoto Kosaka give up #2 so Ogasawara can wear it. (Of course, Lotte fans will recall that Kosaka mostly wore #1 with the Marines, but #1 is retired on the Giants for Sadaharu Oh. Saburo wore #2 for Lotte until Bobby Valentine claimed it.)
I don't know if this is the first and last post about the whole Ogasawara situation, or if you're going to hear me continue to whine about it all winter until the Fighters find someone to fill the gaping hole in their lineup. I wouldn't mind seeing the Fighters try to pick up Adam Riggs (as the Swallows apparently released him and Guttormson), maybe. At least he's already a proven hitter in Japan, unlike certain players I could name later. I dunno. And there was the Andy Green rumor too -- I wonder what came of that.
Either way, I guess we'll see what happens. It's going to be pretty weird next time I go to a Fighters game, when they get up to the third batter in the lineup and there's no special banners and signs and flags and "tachiagare Ogasawara..."