OSAKA – Seattle Mariners leadoff man Ichiro Suzuki flew back to Japan on Friday for a brief visit to his hometown, where he will watch the final of the boys’ league championship called the Ichiro Cup organized by a nonprofit group.
Ichiro, who appeared at Kansai International Airport in a black turtleneck sweater and jeans, returned for Saturday’s final between the Naruko Fighters and Koizumi Club in the tournament named after him and featuring 218 teams in the town of Toyoyama, Aichi Prefecture.
In November 2002, the 30-year-old took a day off from the exhibition series between the Yomiuri Giants and the major league All-Stars in Tokyo Dome to visit the site of the Ichiro Cup for the first time and congratulate the champions.
When asked by reporters about the new contract he is due to sign as his three-year contract with the Mariners expired after this season, Ichiro said, “I have my wishes, but I have an agent who handles these matters. That’s what he’s there for. Please ask him.”
Tigers, Buffs trade
OSAKA (Kyodo) The Hanshin Tigers of the Central League and the Kintetsu Buffaloes of the Pacific League announced a one-for-one trade between pitchers Tetsuro Kawajiri and Katsuhiko Maekawa on Friday.
After releasing Trey Moore last month, the Tigers have been eager to find a replacement and will be counting on Maekawa to fill the void left by the southpaw starter while the Buffaloes apparently valued the experience of the 34-year-old Kawajiri.
“I had expected to stay with Kintetsu next season, so I’m really surprised. But now that it’s decided, all I can say is that I’ll do my best with Hanshin,” said Maekawa.
“I couldn’t do much for the team this year even though we won (the CL championship), so I’d like to fulfill my duties more with Kintetsu,” said Kawajiri.
The 25-year-old Maekawa went 4-2 in 16 games this past season with an ERA of 7.38, two years after earning 12 wins to contribute to the Buffaloes’ league championship in 2001.
Sidearmer Kawajiri, who pitched a no-hitter in 1988, went 1-1 in just two mound appearances for the top team in 2003 but has a 56-62 career record with three saves over nine years.
Hiyama signs deal
OSAKA (Kyodo) Shinjiro Hiyama, who completed the first year of a three-year contract, on Friday signed a 120 million yen deal with the Hanshin Tigers for the 2004 season.
The 34-year-old Hiyama declared free agency last off-season but opted to remain with the Tigers after agreeing to a three-year, 500 million yen package and received a 47 million yen raise before entering his career 13th season.
Hiyama, who mostly hit cleanup this past season, batted .278 with 115 hits, 16 homers and 63 RBIs in 111 games and hit for the cycle in July. He also served as the team’s captain and contributed to the Tigers’ clinching their first Central League pennant in 18 years.
Pay cut for Lions
Pitchers Hsu Ming-chieh and Chang Chih-chia from Taiwan both accepted pay cuts Friday in re-signing a new deal with the Seibu Lions for next season.
Hsu, who went 4-2 with a 5.14 ERA in 19 games this past season, took a 6 million yen cut and agreed to a 47 million yen salary while Chang, who finished with a 7-7 record with a 4.98 ERA in 22 games, signed for 40 million yen, down 5 million yen.
Both players represented Taiwan at the Asian Championships last month as Taiwan won one of two Asian berths for next summer’s Olympics along with host Japan.