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Seattle Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki and wife Yumiko were among the celebrities attending the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony held Tuesday for former Orix BlueWave manager Akira Ogi.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hideo Nomo, Orix Buffaloes player Yoshitomo Tani and wife Ryoko, a six-time world champion judoka, were also among the 400 guests who gathered at an Osaka hotel to honor the 69-year-old newly appointed manager of the Orix Buffaloes.

“I’m really thankful. It was a lot of fun to meet old friends and players with whom I fought the same battle. I hope to continue working with players on the field,” said Ogi, who received the news of his induction in January.

Ichiro, who returned to Japan for a brief stay two months after wrapping up a season in which he broke the single-season MLB record for hits, credited Ogi for discovering his batting talent.

“This is the one and only man I can call my mentor. I would not be here if it weren’t for manager Ogi,” said Ichiro, who won seven straight Pacific League batting titles from 1994 while playing for the BlueWave.

Kuwata takes big cut

Yomiuri Giants right-hander Masumi Kuwata agreed Tuesday to a 68 million yen pay cut for an annual salary of 212 million yen after a poor 2004 season, sources said.

The 36-year-old Kuwata was limited to mound appearances as a non-rotation starter in the first half of the season and finished with a disappointing 3-5 record in 16 games.

“It was a burnout year for me. My salary went down, but I really want to do my best to return to form next season,” Kuwata said.

Elsewhere, Yomiuri’s Hiroshi Kisanuki, who switched to the closer’s role at the end of August, re-signed for a yearly salary of 48 million yen.

Carp retain LaRocca

The Hiroshima Carp said Tuesday they have re-signed American infielder Greg LaRocca to a one-year contract with a club option for a second year, a rare multiyear deal for a foreign player on the Central League team.

The 32-year-old LaRocca will be earning $850,000 (about 88.4 million yen) in his first year and $1.25 million (about 130 million yen) in the second with additional performance-related incentives.

LaRocca hit .328 with 40 homers and 101 RBIs in his first season in Japan and has been guaranteed the cleanup spot for the 2005 season by Hiroshima manager Koji Yamamoto.

2005 CL schedule

The Central League said Tuesday it will kick off the 2005 regular season one week later than the Pacific League with Opening Day on April 1.

The Hanshin Tigers will take on the Yakult Swallows at Osaka Dome, the Chunichi Dragons play host to the Yokohama BayStars at Nagoya Dome and the Yomiuri Giants will face the Hiroshima Carp at Tokyo Dome.

A total of 44 games, including interleague games, will be hosted at venues other than CL home stadiums.

The Giants will host their first game in 15 years in Sendai on Aug. 9 and first-ever game in Nagasaki on Sept. 13.

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