Hokkaido Nippon Ham right-hander Yuki Saito was named to the Pacific League All-Star team for the first time in the fan balloting as one of the Fighters’ record-tying eight selections Monday.
The 24-year-old former Waseda University ace will play in the Midsummer Classic for the second year in a row, but through the official channels in his sophomore season after he was granted special entry in last year’s All-Star series.
“I want to thank the fans for voting for me,” Saito said. “I want to represent my team well. It’s something I need to be aware of and I have to play with pride. I would love it if I get a chance to start.”
Ever-popular Fighters first baseman Atsunori Inaba — who reached a career 2,000 hits earlier this season — was the top vote-getter in both leagues with 426,066 votes, while Hanshin Tigers shortstop Takashi Toritani garnered the most in the Central League with 293,825.
“As a pro baseball player, everyone wants a shot to play in the All-Star series. I got the most votes, and I hope I can meet the fans’ expectations,” said Inaba, who was deactivated a day earlier with a sprained left ankle.
“Right now, the priority is for me to get healthy and condition myself so I can actually have a chance to play in the All-Star series.”
Closer Hisashi Takeda was also among the eight Fighters selected, including outfielders Yoshio Itoi and Sho Nakata.
The Fighters tied a PL record with their eight selections, matching the mark set by the 2007 Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. The CL record is nine by the Tigers in 2003.
The Yomiuri Giants had four chosen, including catcher Shinnosuke Abe and outfielder Hisayoshi Chono. Hiroshima Carp right-hander Kenta Maeda, who threw a no-hitter on April 6 against the Yokohama BayStars, got the nod as did Tokyo Yakult Swallows veteran third baseman Shinya Miyamoto.
It was the first time in his 18 years that Miyamoto was selected by the fans. No players were named from either Rakuten or the Chunichi Dragons.
Results for the voting among the players will be announced Thursday before the managers make their picks on July 2 for the three All-Stars games. The special, one-player exemption will be decided July 11.
Each league will have a complete roster of 32. Game 1 is scheduled for July 20 at Kyocera Dome in Osaka while Game 2 will take place on the 21st at Matsuyama Central Park Baseball Stadium.
Game 3 will be held two days later at Iwate Prefectural Baseball Stadium as part of the relief effort for the victims of last year’s March 11 earthquake and tsunami.