SAPPORO – Shortstop Makoto Kaneko, who captained the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to back-to-back Pacific League pennants in 2006 and 2007, announced Saturday that this season will be his last.
“I may miss not being a ballplayer, but I’ve played 21 years and I have no regrets,” the 38-year-old infielder told a news conference at Sapporo Dome.
Drafted out of powerhouse Joso Gakuin High School in the third round of the 1993 draft, Kaneko won the PL’s Rookie of the Year Award in 1996. He won a Golden Glove at second base and two more at short and earned a bronze medal with Japan at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Kaneko entered Saturday with just 17 plate appearances in 14 games this season and is the second Fighters star of the past decade to announce his retirement. First baseman Atsunori Inaba has already announced that this will be his final season as a player.
“I have not been able to take advantage of my chances,” said Kaneko, whose career has been plagued by numerous small injuries.
A .257 career batting average, Kaneko became a deadly hitter in the clutch, but his greatest contribution may have been as a conduit between the team’s Japanese players and American manager Trey Hillman, who took the Fighters to their first Japan Series championship in Sapporo in 2006 and returned to America after winning the PL in 2007.
During the 2007 Japan Series, Hillman remarked on Kaneko’s ability to speak directly.
“If you’ve got a booger hanging out of your nose, he’ll come up to you and say, ‘Hey! You’ve got a booger hanging out of your nose,'” Hillman said. “From that standpoint, he’s not very Japanese.”
A retirement ceremony has been scheduled for Oct. 1 prior to the Fighters’ home game against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.