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Seiichi Uchikawa will return to his Kyushu roots next season as the free agent infielder announced Wednesday that he has signed with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

The 29-year-old Oita Prefecture native has been given a four-year contract that could be worth as much as ¥1.36 billion based on his performance.

Uchikawa informed his former team, the Yokohama BayStars, and the Hiroshima Carp that he has accepted the offer from the Pacific League champions.

“I wasn’t really sure even as of yesterday,” said Uchikawa, who won the 2008 Central League batting title by hitting .378. “The impression I have of Softbank is that they’re always in contention. I want to experience being a champion in Kyushu where the fans are intense.”

Uchikawa leaves the BayStars after 10 seasons. Yokohama has finished last for three straight seasons.

“I know I’ll be counted on to do more than I ever have,” said Uchikawa, who led last-place Yokohama with a .315 batting average this season. “But I hope to surpass everyone’s expectations.”

The Hawks have been major players in the free agent market this offseason, having already pried away catcher Toru Hosokawa from the Seibu Lions.

Softbank clearly appears determined to avoid another flop in 2011, after failing to reach the Japan Series despite winning its first pennant since 2003 this year.

On Friday, Softbank had Uchikawa star-struck in their talks, sending team president and world home run king Sadaharu Oh to the negotiating table to present its lucrative offer.

“It was flattering to hear praise from one of the game’s all-time greats,” Uchikawa said at the time. “When I heard his words, I don’t think I’ve ever been more glad in my baseball career.”

Morimoto joins ‘Stars

Kyodo News

Hichori Morimoto has taken on the daunting task of trying to turn the hapless BayStars into contenders as the free agent outfielder announced Wednesday that he is leaving the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to play for Yokohama.

The 29-year-old Morimoto has agreed to a three-year deal worth at least ¥300 million.

The BayStars had the worst record in Japanese baseball this season, having finished last in the Central League for three straight years.

The Fighters, on the other hand, have won the Pacific League pennant three times over the last five years, capturing the Japan Series in 2006 under Trey Hillman.

“This is a challenge I feel strongly about,” the 29-year-old Morimoto said. “I want to apply at Yokohama what I learned with Nippon Ham. I know Yokohama hasn’t been able to win, but I want to change people’s perception of the team.”

Morimoto, a huge fan favorite with the Fighters out of Teikyo High School, hit .272 with two homers and drove in 30 RBIs in 2010. He has led the PL in sacrifices the last two years.

Yokohama’s troubles on the field spilled off it, as the BayStars were on the verge of being sold to JS Group Corp. from Tokyo Broadcasting System Holdings Inc.

Morimoto, nevertheless, said the circus regarding the ownership was never a factor in his decision making.

“It didn’t concern me at all,” he said. “I’ll leave all that stuff to the president, and I’ll focus on playing to the best of my ability for the fans.”

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