Yoshiyuki Kamei was added to the Yomiuri Giants’ roster on May 31 and he started his season with a bang. His first hit of the year came that night, and it was a tiebreaking home run in the 12th inning of a game in which the Kyojin had been held hitless for the first 10 frames. Yomiuri went on to win 1-0.
Kamei kept right on rolling from there and ended up winning the interleague MVP award despite only playing in 16 of Yomiuri’s 24 interleague games. The 31-year-old did hit .356 with three home runs and 10 RBIs, so he made his brief interleague star turn count for a lot.
“I think it was a kind of do-or-die situation when I rejoined the top team,” Kamei told media at a news conference after learning he’d won the award. “I’m happy I was chosen as the MVP.”
Kamei missed the first several weeks of the season while on the mend from a broken finger suffered during the spring. He had surgery in March, then hit .321 with a home run and nine RBIs for Yomiuri’s farm team in the Eastern League before earning himself a ticket to the big show.
“I want to express my gratitude to all the trainers, the ni-gun manager and coaches and everyone for supporting me during my rehabilitation,” he said.
The official reason given for Kamei winning the award was the homer against Orix and the other clutch hits he came up with during interleague play.
So Kamei really probably should’ve won a Georgia Award, and he still might, rather than the MVP, but it’s a nice prize for a player who doesn’t always get the recognition he deserves while in the shadow of some of his more famous teammates.
Kamei is the Giants’ everyman, a player with a knack for delivering the big hit and who sometimes has to have multiple gloves at the ready since he doesn’t always know what position manager Tatsunori Hara might send him out to play. Defensively over the past several years, Kamei has spent considerable time in all three outfield positions, at first base, and even spent a winter in Australia with the Melbourne Aces learning to play third better.
Kamei’s red-hot return this year (a .355 average with seven doubles, a triple, three homers, 11 RBIs and a pair of stolen bases in 17 games) has coincided with a gradual return to form by the Kyojin, who so far haven’t looked like the team picked by most as the Central League favorite. Kamei is by no means doing it all himself, but with some of Yomiuri’s big guns misfiring, any injection of energy and quality at-bats is going to stand out in a big way.
The scary thing for the rest of the CL is that the Giants, who lead the league by 2½ games, have a number of players who could turn things around. If watching Kamei produce is the spark that lights the fire, the Giants would soon find themselves in a very favorable position going forward. As the saying goes, the rising tide lifts all boats.
The Hiroshima Carp are for real this season, so the race for the pennant, which will also include a solid-looking Hanshin Tigers team and possibly the Chunichi Dragons, could really heat up as the year progresses.
Kamei has a history of coming through when Yomiuri needs him most, and if he has indeed helped awake the sleeping Giants, he’ll be remembered as a hero yet again.