Sad news reached Japan recently with the word that Brian Traxler, a former member of the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, had passed away at the age of 37 in San Antonio on Nov. 19.

News photoBrian Traxler, a popular ex-player for the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, died at age 37 in San Antonio on Nov. 19 WAYNE GRACZYK PHOTO

Traxler, a native of Waukegan, Ill., hit .263 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs for the Hawks in 129 games during the 1994 season.

The left-handed first baseman was a fan favorite in Fukuoka, where he was affectionately known as “Koro Koro-chan” because of his distinctly round physique. He could often be seen riding his bicycle to games at the Fukuoka Dome.

So popular was Traxler that season that the Hawks actually issued a bobblehead doll in his likeness.

“Some of our fondest memories are from the season he played in Japan,” Gabriela Walsh, Traxler’s ex-wife said last week, “and the warmth he received from the fans.”

For the past four seasons, Traxler was a batting coach in the minor-league system of the Los Angeles Dodgers, most recently for their Gulf Coast rookie league affiliate in Vero Beach, Fla.

Traxler was taken to North Central Baptist Hospital in San Antonio on Nov. 4 and subsequently slipped into a coma before dying.

Traxler’s family did not publicly disclose the cause of death, but The Japan Times has learned that he died as a result of liver problems related to alcoholism.

A major league source said, “He had some problems with alcoholism. He checked into the hospital a few weeks ago, but he didn’t make it through. It was something similar to cirrhosis of the liver.”

The Dodgers did not renew Traxler’s contract after the season and he was looking for work at the time of his death.

A career minor leaguer in the U.S., Traxler played nine games for the Dodgers during the 1990 season and doubled for his only hit in the majors in 11 at-bats.

He was a 16th-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 1988 after playing collegiately at the University of New Orleans.

Traxler spent parts of six seasons with the Albuquerque Dukes (the Dodgers’ former Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League) and was voted the team’s most popular player three times by fans.

His nomadic career also took him to Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico to play winter ball.

“He was a very engaging guy, very likable,” San Antonio Missions (the Dodgers’ former Double-A affiliate in the Texas League) broadcaster Roy Acuff told the San Antonio Express following Traxler’s death. “He was always a great hitter. A natural hitter with a great swing.”

Traxler is survived by his 13-year-old daughter, Ashley.

Walsh said Ashley is holding up well under the circumstances.

“She’s a lot like him — not real emotional. She likes athletics and releases her feelings through that. She plays first base on her softball team.”

In his obituary, Traxler was remembered by his family as “the life of the party” who “always made people laugh.”

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