• Kyodo

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Former Japanese baseball star Kazuhiro Kiyohara pleaded guilty Tuesday to possessing and using illegal drugs as his trial kicked off at the Tokyo District Court.

The former Seibu Lions and Yomiuri Giants slugger was making his first public appearance after being freed on bail in March. His arrest in February sent shock waves through his fan base and the Japanese sports world.

Toward 4,000 people lined up outside the court in pouring rain for a chance of securing one of the handful of seats available in the public gallery.

Prosecutors said Kiyohara has been using drugs since at least 2008, when he retired and became frustrated at not being offered work as a coach or manager.

Kiyohara, 48, was arrested during a Feb. 2 police raid on his apartment in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, on suspicion of possessing substances that are banned under the stimulants control law.

He was later served a second arrest warrant for drug use.

Police released him on bail on March 17, whereupon Kiyohara checked into a hospital in Chiba Prefecture.

In a statement issued through his lawyer the same day, Kiyohara apologized and vowed to “start afresh with a clean slate and straighten myself out without fail.”

The indictment said Kiyohara used stimulant drugs at a hotel room in the ward on or around Feb. 1, and 0.2 gram of a stimulant was found at his apartment on Feb. 2.

He also bought 1.2 grams of stimulant drugs for ¥80,000 ($735) from Kazuyuki Kobayashi, a suspected drug dealer, on or around Sept. 1 last year at a hotel in Gunma Prefecture, the indictment said. Kobayashi, 45, is on trial separately for violating the stimulants control law.

Kiyohara retired in 2008. He ranks fifth in Nippon Pro Baseball history with 525 career home runs and sixth with 1,530 RBIs. He last played for the Orix Buffaloes.

He was Seibu’s top draft pick and turned in a Rookie of the Year performance in 1986 with 31 home runs.

Over his 22-season career, the power-hitting first baseman won the Japan Series six times with the Lions and twice more with the Yomiuri Giants, where he played for nine years after signing as a free agent ahead of the 1997 season.

Kiyohara became a television personality and baseball critic after his retirement but was often a target of the tabloid press over suspicions about drug use.

Before the hearing began Tuesday afternoon, 3,769 people lined up in the rain in Hibiya Park adjacent to the district court for a chance to secure a seat in the public gallery. The 20 seats available were assigned by lottery.

“If he plans to rejoin society, he must make a full explanation in court,” said Masami Kubo, a 33-year-old baseball fan who arrived at the park around 3:30 a.m. to be the first in line.

“I want to know why he used drugs. I want to know how he got it,” said Ryo Inoue, 15, a high school student from Ota Ward, Tokyo. He began standing in line at 6:30 a.m. because his school was closed for the day.

Past trials that attracted large numbers included the opening of the trial of Aum Shinrikyo founder Chizuo Matsumoto, better known as Shoko Asahara, in April 1996. A total of 12,292 people lined up for one of 48 seats available.

When actress Noriko Sakai appeared in a drug-related trial in October 2009, there were 6,615 people standing in line.

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