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Shohei Ohtani receives Prime Minister Cup for second time at Japan Pro Sports Awards

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani has collected another Prime Minister Cup at the Japan Pro Sports Awards.

Los Angeles Angels player Ohtani was given the grand prize at a reception ceremony in Tokyo on Thursday. The 24-year-old captured his first in 2016, when he led the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to the Japan Series title as a two-way player.

Ohtani is the third baseball player to claim the honor in Nippon Professional Baseball and major leagues. Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and former Yomiuri Giant and New York Yankee Hideki Matsui previously accomplished the feat.

“I am very honored to receive such a great award like this while there’s so many great professional athletes out there,” said Ohtani, who was named the 2018 American League Rookie of the Year. “I’ve gone through so many different things this year, but I’d like to express my appreciation for my club, people in NPB that I had competed with until this year, and all the people and fans that supported me. Because of their support, I was able to enjoy playing.”

The Iwate Prefecture native also thanked other athletes that attended the ceremony for inspiring him.

“I think that I was inspired by so many other athletes and their global performances,” he said. “I received this award in 2016, but I would like to keep working hard so I will be able to win it next year and the year after.”

This year, Ohtani’s accolade marked the 26th time that either a baseball player or a baseball team won the grand prize.

The recipients were selected by a committee that consisted of Tokyo newspapers, wire services and broadcast media for sports media. The awards inaugurated in 1968.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended the ceremony, for the first time as someone who is at the post in the history of the event. He handed the award to Ohtani. Ohtani presented an autographed Angels jersey to Abe.

Boxing phenom Naoya Inoue earned the outstanding performance award. The hard-punching fighter became a three-weight class champion in late May, when he took the WBA bantamweight title from Britain’s Jamie McDonnell via a first-round technical knockout win in Tokyo. In October, the 25-year-old stunned fans with another first-round KO win over Juan Carlos Payano of the Dominican Republic in the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament in Yokohama.

“I was able to finish my fights in May and October in satisfactory fashion with first-round KOs,” Inoue said. “As one of the athletes that are expected to excite Japanese professional sports (fans), I would like to come up with even better performances next year than this year.”

The Japan men’s national soccer team and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks also shared outstanding performance awards, too. The Samurai Blue advanced to the round of 16 at the summer’s World Cup in Russia, while the Hawks completed a Japan Series repeat despite finished runner-up in the Pacific League in the regular season.

The best newcomer award went to Yokohama DeNA BayStars lefty Katsuki Azuma, who won 11 games (five losses) and was voted the Central League’s Rookie of the Year after the season.

Horse racing veteran jockey Yutaka Take and motor racer Kazutaka Nakajima received special awards. Take reached an unprecedented 4,000 wins in Japan Racing Association races. Nakajima, a former Formula One driver, piloted a Toyota Gazoo Racing car along with teammates Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Buemi to the championship in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans, which is part of the FIA World Endurance Championship, in June.

“We won at Le Mans, which was a dream for myself and Toyota for a long time,” said the 33-year-old Nakajima, who became the third Japanese to win it, first to do so behind the wheels of a Japanese-manufactured machine. “So it feels great to have achieved it.”

Elsewhere, a total of 15 were given awards to honor their various achievements. The group included Georgian ozeki Tochinoshin, who lifted his first Emperor’s Cup at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in January and was promoted to the current rank, and former WBC bantamweight champion Shinsuke “God’s Left” Yamanaka, who retired in March.

Former Brazilian star midfielder Zico, who played for Kashima Antlers and served as coach for Japan national team at the 2006 World Cup, was also awarded a prize for his contributions to the development of Japanese soccer.