The season of career minor leaguer Ryuma Kidokoro took another surprising turn on Wednesday, when the 30-year-old was named Nippon Professional Baseball’s interleague MVP.
The Hawks’ journeyman, who since 2005 has spent the bulk of his time on the first team as a pinch runner and defensive replacement, earned ¥2 million in prize money.
“I’m happy about this. It’s quite a surprise,” said Kidokoro, who led interleague play with a .415 average.
Against Central League pitching, Kidokoro homered five times, drove in 12 runs and stole six bases.
A career .236 hitter in 1,299 minor league at-bats, Kidokoro entered this season as a .166 hitter in 290 career first-team at-bats. But this season, he has 33 hits in 92 at-bats for a .359 average with six home runs — after hitting just one prior to this year.
The interleague MVP is chosen from the team with the best record, while one other player in each league receives a ¥1 million prize. The other winners were outfielder Seiya Suzuki of the Hiroshima Carp and pitcher-designated hitter Shohei Otani of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
Suzuki hit game-ending home runs in two consecutive games, and performed an encore the following day with a tie-breaking, eighth-inning homer.
Otani hit 163 kilometers per hour on the speed gun, to surpass the 162 kph record he had shared with former Yomiuri Giants closer Marc Kroon. The right-hander also won three starts and posted a 0.38 earned run average.
A left-handed hitter, Otani batted .276 with two doubles, a home run and eight walks, while scoring five runs and driving in four with the Fighters opting not to use a designated hitter in his starts at home.