/

Hiroshima Carp star Takahiro Arai announces decision to retire

Kyodo, Staff Report

Hiroshima Carp infielder Takahiro Arai on Wednesday announced he will retire from baseball at the end of the 2018 season, drawing the curtain on his 20-year playing career.

The 41-year-old, who started his professional career with the Carp in 1999, said he decided to hang up his cleats after failing to meet the fans’ expectations. He has a .222 batting average over 49 games this season.

“I feel bad letting my fans down. Considering where the Carp are heading, I felt this year would be best,” Arai said in a press conference at Mazda Stadium.

“I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by amazing people for 20 years. Playing for four years after coming back to Hiroshima wanting to help the Carp in any way possible, and winning the (Central League) titles . . . I only have feelings of appreciation,” he said.

After nine years with the Carp, Arai signed with the Hanshin Tigers as a free agent in 2008 and spent the next seven seasons with the Carp’s CL rivals.

In 2015, he returned to Hiroshima and was part of the team that won the franchise’s first league pennant in 25 years in 2016, the year he was named the CL MVP.

The following year he contributed to the Carp’s second straight CL pennant as a pinch hitter. The Carp, who are looking to claim their third consecutive pennant, are currently in first place in the six-team CL.

As of Tuesday, Arai is hitting .278 with 2,200 hits, including 319 homers, and 1,299 RBIs in 2,369 games over his career.

He was part of the Japan team that captured the inaugural World Baseball Classic title in 2006 and also appeared for the national team during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Arai was the CL home run leader with 43 in 2005 with the Carp and led the league in RBIs with 93 during the 2011 season as a member of the Tigers. He made two season-ending Best Nine teams, in 2005 and 2016, and was an eight-time All-Star. Arai was also a Golden Glove winner in 2008 at first base.

Hiroshima Carp owner Hajime Matsuda said he could not make Arai reconsider his decision to retire as he is “a man who thinks with his heart,” saying he wants the club to send him off with a Japan Series win.