Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Hawks icon Seiichi Uchikawa praises teammates, dispenses wisdom on eve of Japan Series

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

For a long time, Seiichi Uchikawa had helped the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks be championship contenders and win championships with his phenomenal hitting skills and leadership.

But this year, the future Hall of Famer thinks that it was his teammates who took him to the biggest stage of Nippon Professional Baseball — the Japan Series.

Uchikawa, who reached the 2,000-hit plateau in May, played in just 71 games during the regular season. The 36-year-old had been sidelined since mid-August due to an illness and a right shoulder injury before he returned to the team for the Climax Series Final Stage against the Seibu Lions.

“Personally, I feel like I’ve been carried to this stage by everybody else,” Uchikawa said during his team’s practice at Mazda Stadium on Friday, one day before the Japan Series opener against the Hiroshima Carp. “Because of the effort by all the other teammates, I’m here right now. I’ll compete thanking them for that and hopefully I will be able to give back with good results.”

Considering that the designated hitter system is used at Mazda Stadium, the Carp’s home, it is unlikely that Uchikawa would be in the starting lineup for the first two games here. But even if he comes off the bench as a pinch hitter with the game on the line, the four-time Japan Series champion is going to threaten the Central League pennant winner.

Interestingly, though, Uchikawa said that there is no clear secret recipe to perform as well as he always has in postseason contests because each playoff series is a different animal.

“Every situation is different and there’s things you wouldn’t understand unless you are in those situations,” said Uchikawa, a three-time Climax Series and one-time Japan Series MVP. “So you have to make sure that you understand every situation and do the right thing accordingly.”

As an experienced leader, Uchikawa warned his Hawks teammates to not be upset by the atmosphere at Mazda as visitors.

“There will be so many Carp fans that fill the stadium and we have to play in that environment tomorrow,” said Uchikawa, whose latest postseason heroics came in last year’s Japan Series against the Yokohama BayStars, when he belted a game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth in the Hawks’ series-clinching game in Fukuoka. “We should not be overwhelmed by the mood.

“Playing as visitors, the cheering by the home fans could make you feel that the momentum of the game is shifting, even when it isn’t. You should not be perplexed by that, and should just do what you are supposed to do.”