HIROSHIMA – Over 300,000 fans flooded the center of Hiroshima on Saturday as the Hiroshima Carp celebrated their first Central League pennant in 25 years with a parade, while pitcher Hiroki Kuroda marked his last day in uniform.
In the team’s first parade since the franchise’s maiden CL pennant 41 years ago, most players boarded open buses, while manager Koichi Ogata, Kuroda and veteran infielder Takahiro Arai rode in open convertibles in their procession through a 3-km sea of red-and-white clad Carp fans from Peace Boulevard, south of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to Mazda Stadium.
The new addition to the team’s CL Championship monument on the site of the former Hiroshima Municipal Stadium was revealed as this season’s record was inscribed along with those of previous Carp championship teams.
“The wish of everyone in Hiroshima came true,” said center fielder Yoshihiro Maru, while right fielder Seiya Suzuki said, “It gave me goose bumps. It made me feel that winning the league is a real thing.”
Club owner Hajime Matsuda said, “I’m stunned by the number of people, it’s a great thing to see so many people celebrating. It makes us feel we have to give our best again. It was good that we held a parade.”
Upon reaching their ballpark, the players paraded around the field with their pennant to the joy of 30,810.
“I feel the pleasure of winning the league in my bones,” Ogata said before Kuroda took center stage.
“Being able to hang up my spikes before the Carp fans, the world’s best, must be the best possible way to bring down the curtain,” said Kuroda, who did a circuit of the field, throwing autographed balls into the crowd.
Kuroda then received a traditional doage (victory toss) as his teammates tossed him in the air and caught him 15 times — to match his uniform number that is being retired by the Carp.
“I told (players rep Tetsuya) Kokubo, ‘Let’s do it 15 times,’ ” Arai said. “I don’t think anyone has ever been thrown 15 times.”
At the end, Kuroda, 41, went to the front of the mound, kneeled there and remained motionless as tears welled up in his eyes.
The site of Kuroda kneeling at the mound moved Arai, who joined Hiroshima two years after Kuroda in 1999. Arai, too, left as a free agent, joining the CL’s Hanshin Tigers in 2008 before rejoining him with the Carp last season.
“There was something welling up inside. He is an incredible story,” the 39-year-old Arai said.
After leaving the field, Kuroda, retiring with a 203-184 career record between the United States and Japan, needed time before he was able to speak.
“I went through lots of tough emotions there,” he said. “Thinking this is the last time I stand on that mound and look up to the stands, lots of difficult and other memories came rushing back.”
“There were both feelings that I don’t have to go on to the mound anymore and also that I won’t be able to. It really was a split second, but many past games flashed through my mind.”
“There’s a part of me that feels lonesome.”