(If you're basically thinking "Who?" or "Yoshinori?!?!" or something along those lines, just bear with me and skip this post. I'm talking about a Fighters mostly-ni-gun outfielder who I watched quite a bit last year and this year.)
I got a cellphone email an hour or two ago from one of my Fighters friends that simply read: "Yoshihiro Satoh retired today, I just heard." with a bunch of sad faces.
At first, I looked at it thinking, "Did I read that right? SATOH? Yoshihiro!? ...RETIRED?!?!!?"
I went and looked on the Fighters website, and sure enough, it's not a joke, Yoshihiro Satoh is retiring.
I don't really get why, though. He's 26 years old and just about to enter his prime. He hasn't gotten that many chances at ichi-gun, but every time he has, he's hit a home run! (Seriously. He has 4 ichi-gun hits ever and 3 of them are home runs.) He's been AWESOME on the farm team, I was really impressed with him this year, both on defense and running speed, and his bat is great too (he had an .830 OPS this year), and he's a lefty at that. I realize he must feel hopelessly blocked as an outfielder right now with Itoi, Inaba, and Hichori starting and guys like Kazuya Murata and Toshimasa Konta in the wings as well as veteran Tsuboi and sometimes Sledge as well, but... ugh, I dunno. To me it seems he quit one year too early, but for him, maybe after 8 years in the minors he felt it was time to just move on and do other things.
It says he's going to become staff with the team in some capacity, so maybe we'll see him again at Kamagaya anyway. (When Teppei Komai retired last year he became a Kamagaya bullpen catcher and we still see him all the time.)
Something odd, now that I think about it:
In 2008, I managed to get photos with 8 Fighters players at one point or another. 2 of them are no longer on the team.
This year, I managed to get photos with 17 Fighters players at one point or another, mostly ni-gun, and 5 of them are no longer on the team and 2 more are questionable.
Maybe it's me that curses these players somehow?
Here's my Fighters "2-shot" photo tally for the year, by category:
Players I got photos with that are not returning in 2010
Jason Botts - DH, already went back to the US, barely had any ichi-gun playing time
Luis Jimenez - DH/1B, cut from the team in mid-summer. Nice guy, too.
Yohei Kaneko - DH/OF, contract not being renewed next year :( I'm really going to miss him.
Kiyoshi Yamanaka - ni-gun battery coach, gone off to be Lotte's new battery coach. Yamanaka is crazy and was really popular with the postgame Kamagaya loitering crowd.
Yoshihiro Satoh - outfielder. Retired today and inspired this post.
Foreign players unknown for 2010
Terrmel Sledge - OF/DH, had an amazing year, was playoff MVP even.
Brian Sweeney - pitcher, struggled this year a bit but also ran into some really bad luck where other pitchers let his runners score or lost his games for him.
Other players I got photos with this year
Tomoya Yagi - pitcher, had a pretty awesome comeback this year!
Toshiyuki Yanuki - pitcher, rookie, currently in the Arizona Fall League
Takeshi Shimazaki - pitching coach, always scoops us on the ni-gun rotation
Suguru Matsuyama - pitcher, young, still learning
Yataro Sakamoto - pitcher, also struggled this year quite a bit
Hideki Sunaga - pitcher, had a few starts at ichi-gun this year, still not really ready
Kazuya Murata - outfielder, up-and-coming player, even if he's shorter than me
Chon-so Yoh - outfielder or infielder? Unclear, but he should at least be a supporting cast member at ichi-gun again sometime.
Ryuichi Watanabe - catcher, went to HS next to the Sapporo Dome, but boy do we have an abundance of good catchers right now
Takuya Nakashima - IF, rookie, will be interesting to see how he develops, but right now he's only 18
It's weird, I remember before I moved to Japan, when Fighters players got cut, they were mostly ni-gun guys I was barely familiar with at all, so it didn't make that big an impact to me. Last year when Komai and Oyama and Katoh and Kanazawa and all were cut, I had at least seen them play a decent bit, so they were real guys being cut, not just names and uniform numbers. But this year since I started hanging out with the postgame crowd and actually talking to players a bit, when Yohei Kaneko got cut it was more like "Hey... wait a minute... that's a guy I say hi to every time I'm at the stadium! They CAN'T cut him! Can they?"
With Satoh retiring, I mean, I always saw him at Kamagaya, though I was too shy for a while to ever go up to him. He was always really polite to fans, very courteous, ALWAYS willing to sign stuff for kids or to pose for pictures, but one of the relatively quieter members of the Kamagaya squad.
Anyway, my best Satoh memory from this year:
It was July 7th, at the Seibu Dome. A bunch of us had been at Kamagaya for the Fighters-Marines games on July 4th and 5th, and Satoh had played in those games... so when I arrived at the Seibu Dome at the top of the 2nd inning and was filling in my scorecard, like "Whoa! *WE* have a Satoh playing left field too? He's at ichi-gun? But we just SAW him a day or two ago in Kamagaya...?" Usually a Satoh in left field at the Seibu Dome wouldn't be too strange, as the Lions have Tomoaki and G.G. Satoh on their squad.
But no, this was OUR Satoh. Making his first ichi-gun appearance of 2009.
He came to the plate, and before the Seibu fans could even look at his batting average of ".---" and say "Who dat?", Yoshihiro Satoh launched a home run into the Fighters cheering section.
We went CRAZY.
He didn't get any more hits that day, nor did he rack up that many this season. But either way, that was sure one great way to make his 2009 debut.
This makes me even more curious which direction the Fighters will go in the 2009 Draft. I guess there's only two days left until we find out...