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Ogasawara, Fukudome given MVP awards for 2006 season

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Right in the middle of important talks on where he plays next season, Tuesday was a rare day for Michihiro Ogasawara to show a relieved smile.

The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters first baseman received the Pacific League’s Most Valuable Player Award on Tuesday for the first time in his 10 years as a professional, while Chunichi Dragons outfielder Kosuke Fukudome was selected as the Central League MVP.

“This is something you can’t win very often,” said the smiling 33-year-old Ogasawara, who notched a batting average of .3125, 32 home runs and 100 RBIs for the Fighters, who won the Japan Series title for the first time in 44 years last month, at a Tokyo news conference.

Ogasawara managed to win the award after collecting 569 points in a vote by baseball writers, 20 more than Fukuoka Softbank Hawks hurler Kazumi Saito, who held the most wins, best ERA and most strikeout titles in the league.

He became the first Fighter to win the MVP award since left-handed pitcher Yutaka Enatsu in 1982, and first fielder from the Fighters.

“I’d always been hoping to win this at least once. This is the award rewarded for the one best player in a league, so as far as being a ball player, I wanted to earn it.”

Ogasawara, who led the Pa League in home runs and RBIs, played on this spring’s World Baseball Classic-winning Japan national squad and helped Nippon Ham win the Asia Series, as well as the PL pennant and the Japan Series this year.

The Chiba Prefecture native, who filed for free agency earlier this month, started talks with a couple of ballclubs as the Asia Series wrapped up Sunday. He had a meeting with the Fighters Monday and held another with the Yomiuri Giants prior to the award ceremony on Tuesday, but news reports said Chunichi Dragons wouldn’t enter the race for the player.

Meanwhile, Fukudome, who became the CL’s batting champion for the second time in his pro career with a .351 average, also won his first MVP, establishing a big margin of more than 250 points over the second-place player, teammate Kenshin Kawakami, who won the CL MVP award in 2004.

“I never expected that I would win it,” said the bewildered Fukudoka, who guided the Dragons to the first CL pennant since 2004 but lost to the Fighters 4-1 in the Japan Series last month. “I was thinking which one would get it between Kenshin and (CL’s HR and RBI leaders Tyrone) Woods. So I am indeed surprised.”

Like Ogasawara it was a long year for Fukudome, who started the year with the WBC, in which he is remembered for hitting a critical homer in the seventh inning as a pinch hitter against South Korea in the semifinals in San Diego. Japan won the game 6-0 and defeated Cuba 10-6 in the final to become the inaugural champions.

“Yes, it was a long year,” the 29-year-old Fukudome said. “But it was also a substantial, enjoyable year.”

Asked if it was a physically-demanding year for him, Fukudome replied, “Not really, I did not have a problem physically. Since I was able to finish the WBC in good shape, I could enter the (CL) season, feeling well.”

Nippon Professional Baseball also announced that Hiroshima Carp infielder Eishin Soyogi and Nippon Ham southpaw Tomoya Yagi were selected as the Rookies of the Year of the CL and PL, respectively.

The 23-year-old Yagi appeared in 26 games as part of the Fighters starting rotation and notched 12 wins (eight losses) with a 2.48 ERA, helping the team advance to the Fall Classic this past year.

“Every time I pitched, I wanted to contribute to the team to win a championship,” Yagi said.

“But although we won the championship this year, this game is not that easy and I am going to train hard again for next year.”

Soyogi, 26, played in 123 games and batted .289 batting average for Hiroshima.

“I was surprised (when I heard it), and it has not changed yet,” Soyogi said. “I never thought I would be getting (the award), so I’m glad about this.”

The NPB also announced the best nine (postseason All-Star teams) for both leagues on Tuesday:

CENTRAL LEAGUE: Kenshin Kawakami (P, Dragons); Akihiro Yano (C, Tigers); Tyrone Woods (1B, Dragons); Masahiro Araki (2B, Dragons); Akinori Iwamura (3B, Swallows); Hirokazu Ibata (SS, Dragons); Kosuke Fukudome (OF, Dragons); Tomoaki Kanemoto (OF, Tigers); Norichika Aoki (OF, Swallows).

PACIFIC LEAGUE: Kazumi Saito (P, Hawks); Tomoya Satozaki (C, Marines); Michihiro Ogasawara (1B, Fighters); Kensuke Tanaka (2B, Fighters); Jose Fernandez (3B, Eagles); Munenori Kawasaki (SS, Hawks); Atsunori Inaba (OF, Fighters); Nobuhiko Matsunaka (OF, Hawks); Kazuhiro Wada (OF, Lions).