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Decision time for Ogasawara

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Winning the inaugural World Baseball Classic, Pacific League championship, Japan Series, and Asia Series, means the 2006 season has been the best year in Michihiro Ogasawara’s baseball career without any doubt.

“It’s been a real long season,” Ogasawara said after the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters’ 1-0 win over the La New Bears in the final of the 2006 Asia Series at Tokyo Dome on Sunday night.

“At the very last event of the year, I’m pleased we became the best in Asia.”

But with the long season was over, Ogasawara is an intriguing presence, with no time to look back on his achievements. The 33-year-old now has to set about his next significant task: to deter mine where he plays at next season.

“I can’t tell the details yet,” said the first baseman Ogasawara, who has played his entire pro career for the Fighters.

As of Sunday night, other than Nippon Ham, which has said it would try to keep him in Hokkaido, the Yomiuri Giants of the Central League have publicly raised their hands in trying to acquire the slugger.

The club president Hidetoshi Kiyotake already told Ogasawara on the phone last Thursday about the Giants intention of signing him.

The Giants are reportedly prepared to offer a multi-year, big-bucks contract — three years, 200 million yen — for Ogasawara, who is originally from Chiba.

If it comes down to money, the Giants are by far the leading candidate for Ogasawara’s next destination.

But it is actually not that simple. At first base for both Giants and Dragons, there is Lee Seung Yeop, who has recently agreed to a four-year contract with the team, andTyrone Woods, who is said to be likely to stay for at least another year.

Ogasawara, who has hit .320 and 239 homers in his pro career, can field at third base and was in that position from 2003 to 2005. But considering his offense, first base is where he can demonstrate his ability most.

Ogasawara said the Fighters and Giants are the only teams that have formally told him to be ready for negotiations.

At Ogasawara’s last at-bat in the eighth inning Sunday, the Fighters fans in the rightfield bleachers held a huge orange banner that read: “shogai Fighters (forever for the Fighters).”

Whether he saw the banner or nor was uncertain. But the fans’s chants at Tokyo Dome must have reached his ears.

If he is the loyal man the fans believe him to be, Ogasawara is in great agony right now.

“I want to have some rest,” Ogasawara murmured as he was leaving the stadium.

But unfortunately, there won’t be any time for him to sit in a couch and kick back with a well-deserved beer until he signs a contract.

Ogasawara, who has said he would listen to any team — NPB or otherwise, started negotiations on Monday, first with Nippon Ham, but he kept his cards close to his chest on what was said in the meeting. He meets the Giants on Tuesday.