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Ogasawara returning to battle team he started with

by Jason Coskrey

Saturday night will mark a reunion of sorts when the Yomiuri Giants and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters take the field at Sapporo Dome to open the 2009 Japan Series.

That’s the day two of the heroes from the Fighters’ 2006 championship team make their postseason return to Japan’s northern island — although they’ll be doing it with the Yomiuri Giants.

Before slugger Michihiro Ogasawara became one of the Central League’s most feared hitters, he was terrorizing Pacific League hurlers with the Fighters.

Ogasawara was drafted out of the industrial league by the club in 1996 and spent the next decade with the team. He became a star with Nippon Ham, making eight straight All-Star teams (1999-2006) while with the Fighters.

Ogasawara batted .313 and led the PL with 32 home runs and tied Seibu Lions slugger Alex Cabrera for the league lead with 100 RBIs in 2006. Those numbers made Ogasawara the Fighters’ first PL MVP winner since Yutaka Enatsu won the award in 1981.

Ogasawara and Enatsu are also the only two players to win MVP honors in both leagues, with Enatsu winning the CL MVP in 1979 with the Hiroshima Carp and Ogasawara winning the award in 2007 with the Giants.

Despite helping lead the Fighters to the second Japan Series title in franchise history, Ogasawara didn’t play a huge role in the title series itself.

He batted .200 and finished with two RBIs in the final round, mostly held in check by the Chunichi Dragons’ pitching staff.

Also returning to Sapporo Dome from the 2006 championship team is reliever Micheal Nakamura. Nippon Ham’s former closer spent his first four seasons with the Fighters before being traded to the Giants this offseason.

Nakamura picked up three saves during the ’06 Series, throwing four innings of scoreless relief.

Former Nippon Ham players Shigeyuki Furuki and Kazunari Sanematsu also had a small, though indirect hand in the ’06 title. Both were traded to the Giants in 2005 for reliever Hideki Okajima, who played a big role in the 2006 triumph.

Yomiuri outfielder Takahito Kudo also played for Hokkaido Nippon Ham, winning the 2007 PL pennant with the team, before being traded, along with Nakamura, to Yomiuri for Tomohiro Nioka and Masanori Hayashi.

Giants utility man Takuya Kimura will be familiar to older Fighters fans, having been drafted by the team in 1991. Kimura was with the club when they still played the bulk of their home games at Tokyo Dome and was long gone — traded to the Hiroshima Carp in 1995 — by the time the franchise moved to Hokkaido.

Nioka and Hayashi are the only two former Giants on the Fighters’ roster.

Drafted in 1999, Nioka was a full-fledged star during his stint with Yomiuri. The MVP of the 2002 Japan Series, Nioka made six All-Star teams and hit over 100 home runs during his time with the team.

He would likely still be with the Giants if not for the freakish 2007 combination of an injury, the rise of youngster Hayato Sakamoto, and a scandalous affair with TV star Mona Yamamoto.

Hayashi made 28 starts for the Giants but was mainly used as a reliever during his career with the Kyojin.

Lottery for Kikuchi

Kyodo News

The Seibu Lions acquired the rights to negotiate a contract with Hanamaki Higashi High School left-hander Yusei Kikuchi after six clubs named him in the first round of bids in the Japanese baseball draft on Thursday.

Seibu manager Hisanobu Watanabe drew the winning ticket from a lottery box four days after Kikuchi announced his decision to begin his professional career in Japan, instead of going to the U.S.