Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Longtime Dragons star Ibata retires at age 40

Kyodo

Hirokazu Ibata, the iconic former shortstop for Chunichi Dragons and a seven-time Golden Glove winner, announced his retirement on Saturday.

“I never imagined I’d be able to carry on until the age of 40. These 18 years have been like a dream,” said the veteran infielder, who won the World Baseball Classic with Japan in 2013 before playing the past two seasons for the Yomiuri Giants.

Ibata, who was a fifth-round draft choice of the Chunichi Dragons in 1997, played a huge role in the club’s four Central League titles and one Japan Series title with his solid defense at shortstop and stady batting, claiming five Best Nine awards at the position also during his time at the Dragons.

“You can’t fight in this world if you are not able to bring your spirit to the fore. I’m relieved I can relax,” added Ibata, who formed a rock-solid partnership with fellow second baseman Masahiro Araki at Chunichi.

Ibata cited the appointment of his Giants’ teammate Yoshinobu Takahashi, born in the same year, as the team’s new manager on Friday had an influence on him calling it quits.

“I’ve never thought I’d play longer than Yoshinobu. I thought there would be nothing better than us quitting together,” said Ibata, who played 98 games this season and appeared in all four of the Central League’s Climax Series final stage games last week, when the Giants were ousted by the regular season champion Tokyo Yakult Swallows.

Ibata had a .281 batting average and 56 home runs, 510 RBIs and 149 stolen bases in 1,896 games during his career.