Former big leaguer and two-time World Baseball Classic winner Akinori Iwamura reflected on his 21-year career with pride on Monday as he announced he will retire at the end of the season.
Iwamura, who has been a player-manager for the Fukushima Hopes since 2015 in the independent Baseball Challenge League, played in the World Series with Tampa Bay in 2008 in between successes with Japan at the 2006 and 2009 WBCs.
“I have lots of memories over the past 21 years. I took my career at full blast,” the 38-year-old told a press conference. “I take pride in how I went about things as a professional.”
A slugging third baseman for the Central League’s Yakult Swallows, Iwamura moved to Tampa Bay in 2007 and became a standout at second base the following year when the Rays won the American League Championship Series by beating the Boston Red Sox 4-3.
Iwamura’s Tampa Bay, then known as the Devil Rays, lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series but he said the postseason experience from that year, and facing the very best during his four big league seasons, are things that he will never forget.
“The seventh game of the League Championship against the Red Sox sticks out in my mind,” said Iwamura. “Experiencing the World Series is something I’m proud of.
“I faced many of the best pitchers in the world, and I still remember how their pitches flew to this day.”
Iwamura, who had spells at the Pittsburgh Pirates and Oakland Athletics in 2010, returned to Japan in 2011 and spent two seasons each with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and his old team, Yakult.
He listed winning the CL pennant with Yakult in 2001 and the World Baseball Classic with Japan as his other highlights, along with one unforgettable game against the Yokohama BayStars in August 2005.
“Going deep twice on the day my mother passed away (was special). She let me hit those,” said Iwamura, who belted a career-best 44 home runs in 2004.
“I enjoyed changing the whole atmosphere of the stadium with one swing,” added the league’s two-time top third baseman, who also won a Golden Glove eight times in Nippon Professional Baseball.
Into his third season at the new Fukushima franchise, in an area struck by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami as well as the following nuclear crisis, Iwamura feels it is the right time to step aside.
“My body still moves fine but I have to think about developing players, given the managerial position I’m in. It’s better to give a chance to young players,” he said.
“Reconstruction (of the area) hasn’t necessarily progressed in every aspect. I’d like to do what I can.”
With a full season remaining before he calls it a day, the Ehime native vowed to end with one last flourish.
“I’ll give all I have,” he said. “It’d be great if I can have one more game that will stay in my memory.”