It’s a little early in the year to be receiving hardware, but Trey Hillman’s cup overflowed in 2006.
Association of Japan 2006 Foreign Sportsman of the Year trophy on Monday night in Tokyo.
YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO
In his fourth year managing the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, Hillman led the team to nearly every championship possible: the regular-season Pacific League crown, the postseason Pacific League championship, the Asia Series title and the franchise’s first Japan Series crown in 44 years.
Monday night in Tokyo, Hillman received a bit of individual recognition when the Foreign Sportswriters Association of Japan presented him its Foreign Sportsman of the Year award for 2006.
As he did during the Fighters’ glory run last season, Hillman minimized his impact on the team, diffusing the award’s impact throughout the Nippon Ham organization.
“It was a great achievement for the Fighters, and when you are in the position I am in and something happens, you get the residual benefits,” Hillman said. “This is one of them, and I am happy to accept this award, but only with the understanding that there are so many pieces that are equal to and in some cases more important to this organization.”
The Fighters came out of nowhere in 2006, going from a disappointing fifth-place finish in 2005 to the top of the league just a season later.
With young pitching and a blend of youth and experience throughout the order, Hillman got the most out of his players better than any other skipper in Japan last season — one of the marks of a successful manager.
“I doubt if I will ever again, no matter how long I do this, be as close to a group of guys as I was last year’s,” Hillman said. “And the winning, that three letter word, as everyone here knows, that takes care of a lot of things.”
The FSAJ, composed of journalists working for English-language media outlets in Japan, named figure skater Shizuka Arakawa its top Japanese sports figure for 2006.
Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine and figure skater Mao Asada won the FSAJ Awards for 2005.