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Softbank Hawks catcher Kenji Jojima said Monday he will try to pursue a career in the major leagues by exercising free agency.

“Now I will be able to have talks with major league teams. I will play for a team that needs me as a regular catcher,” Jojima told a press conference.

The move would see Jojima become the first Japanese catcher to play in the majors.

The 29-year-old also said he would stay with the Hawks if a move to the majors fails to materialize. Earlier in the day, he submitted documents for free agency to the team managed by Sadaharu Oh.

Jojima hit .309 with 24 homers and 57 RBIs in 116 games this year. His season came to an abrupt end with a broken shin suffered during a game on Sept. 22.

The Hawks thus suggested he put off declaring free agency for a year.

Jojima joined the Hawks in 1995 as their first-round draft pick and helped the team win Pacific League pennants in 1999, 2000 and 2003 and the Japan Series in 1999 and 2003. He was named the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2003.

Regarded by many as the best catcher in Japan both offensively and defensively, Jojima has hit .299 with 211 home runs and 699 RBIs in 1,117 games.

“I understand Jojima wants to play at a higher level. But as manager, I want him to stay with us,” Oh said, adding “I want him to think thoroughly and decide which way to go.”

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