Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Hawks slugger Seiji Uebayashi draws inspiration from Carp star Seiya Suzuki

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Winning is all that matters in postseason baseball for players, and it’s no different for Hawks outfielder Seiji Uebayashi.

The 23-year-old put his Fukuoka SoftBank team on the scoreboard first with his no-doubt-about-it two-run homer in the Hawks’ 4-1 win over the Hiroshima Carp in Game 4 of the Japan Series at Yafuoku Dome on Wednesday night.

According to the Hawks’ official Twitter account, the third-inning dinger recorded a velocity of 169.8 kph and traveled 123.4 meters.

Uebayashi went 0-for-6 with four strikeouts in Game 1 and was left out of the starting lineup for the next contest at Mazda Stadium. But he anticipated that he would perform better once the series shifted to Fukuoka.

“I don’t have an image that I had been hitting well in Hiroshima,” Uebayashi said after Game 4. “But I’m used to playing here and I can do things just like I’ve always done.”

His hunch was proven correct with the homer. He nearly hit another that was close to the right-field foul pole in the seventh.

Interestingly enough, Uebayashi has a personal story about why he wants to perform well in the Japanese Fall Classic. He was inspired by Carp slugger Seiya Suzuki.

Both Uebayashi and Suzuki have practiced together in off-season private training camps, which have been run by veteran hitting meister Seiichi Uchikawa in the last couple of years.

“He’s been hitting as well as he has, so I was thinking I had to do my best, too,” Uebayashi said of Suzuki, who had been red hot in the series, hitting .529 with three homers through Game 4.”

Uebayashi is younger than Suzuki by one year, and he feels he is no match for the Carp star’s ability just yet. But he admitted that Suzuki is the the Central League player that he’s most aware of.

“I don’t know if I can call him my rival,” said Uebayashi, who had a career year, competing in all 143 games with a .270 average and 22 homers this year. “But we play at the same position (right field) and wear the same jersey number (51). So he’s the one that I pay attention to the most.”

The Saitama Prefecture native said that he is in touch with Suzuki and chats with him about their hitting even during the season.

“He told me (this year) that he doesn’t pull his (left) leg higher any more,” the left-handed hitting Uebayashi said, when asked if he has learned something from Suzuki. “So it made me think I should try. In fact, I don’t pull my leg up all that high now.”

Through Wednesday, the versatile player is 2-for-15 with five strikeouts in the Japan Series. He values coming through in the clutch more than gaudy stats.

“Uchikawa told me, ‘It’s not about how well you hit but it’s about hitting in more important situations,'” said Uebayashi, who helped the national team win the Asia Professional Baseball Championship title last fall and will compete for the Samurai Japan squad in the upcoming Japan All-Star Series against the MLB All-Star team. “So hopefully, I’d like to hit in significant situations.”