SAPPORO – Slugging infielder Tomohiro Nioka, the MVP of the 2002 Japan Series for the Yomiuri Giants, is set to retire, a Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters source said Wednesday.
Nioka, the Giants’ No. 2 pick in the 1998 draft, was traded to Nippon Ham following the 2008 season and played the last five years there. He batted .071 in 36 games this season and was informed in October that his services would not be needed for 2014.
The 37-year-old played 1,457 games with a .282 career batting average. He hit 173 home runs, scored 571 runs and drove in 622.
Nioka was the Giants’ regular shortstop from his rookie season in 1999 through Opening Day of 2008, when he was tore his right calf muscle and lost his job to then 19-year-old Hayato Sakamoto. Nioka was traded later that year in November to Nippon Ham for former Fighters closer Micheal Nakamura.
He is expected to announce his decision on Thursday at a press conference.
Tanishige maintains routine
Despite having more responsibility than ever heaped on his plate, Chunichi Dragons player-manager Motonobu Tanishige, is sticking to his same offseason routine.
Entering his 26th season, the catcher began his independent training on Wednesday.
“My aim is to go into the season the same way I do every year,” said the 43-year-old, who ran, played catch and took practice swings.
The catcher was named the club’s new manager after Chunichi finished fourth last year, the Central League club’s worst result since a fifth-place finish in 2001. During the team’s autumn camp, he watched over other players while working on his own conditioning as well.
“Actually, I’m a little bit ahead compared to usual,” he said. “It’s almost time for me to start hitting.”
“I don’t know what it (managing) is going to be like until I’ve tried it. But until the start of camp, I’m more player than manager. I’ve established my own rhythm and I don’t want to change it.
“My goals as an individual and for the team are the same. I want to win a championship. I want to be No. 1 in Japan.”