FUKUOKA – Hiroki Kokubo became the 41st member of Japan’s 2,000-hit club on Sunday afternoon, when the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks first baseman singled in his second at-bat in a month.
The 40-year-old, right-handed hitter, who had not played since May 23 due to a herniated disk, singled in the fourth inning against Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters right-hander Brian Wolfe at Fukuoka Dome.
“It took a long time to make it this far,” said Kokubo. “I finally feel like I’ll be able to give my all to help the team to a championship. It’s a relief.”
Kokubo, who was activated prior to the game, struck out looking in the second inning. His second time up, Kokubo hit the first pitch he saw from Wolfe into center field for a single. He achieved the feat in his 1,997th game in pro baseball.
The Hawks lost the game 6-0. Kokubo was 1-for-3.
“I had a clear goal, and that pushed me to return from injury as quickly as possible. There is a lot more joy that comes after overcoming a hard obstacle,” he said.
A second-round draft pick of the Daiei Hawks in 1993, Kokubo was the Pacific League home run king in 1995 and won the league RBI title in 1997. He played three seasons for the Yomiuri Giants from 2004 to 2006.
He is the third player this season to reach Japan’s magic milestone, following Shinya Miyamoto of the Central League’s Yakult Swallows and Atsunori Inaba of the Fighters.
Kokubo, who began the 2012 season needing 38 hits to achieve the milestone before he was deactivated with his back problem, got his first career hit against Koji Noda (Orix) on April 10, 1994.
Last year, Kokubo became the oldest player to be named MVP of a Japan Series and the 16th player in Japanese baseball to reach 400 career home runs. At 40 years, 8 months, he is the third oldest to achieve 2,000-career hits.
Inaba ironically missed Kokubo’s milestone moment because he had been deactivated earlier in the day after hurting his left ankle in Friday’s loss to the Hawks.