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Sitting through the 2020 ikusei (development) draft Monday evening proved a long wait for Junichi Tazawa.

Even three hours after its 5:15 p.m. start, when the Yomiuri Giants declared they had no more players to pick up, his name had not been called.

The 34-year-old had hoped to become the oldest-ever player to be selected in the annual event, but instead failed to eclipse Norio Ichimura, who was 30 years and 5 months old when he was drafted by the Chunichi Dragons in 1982.

Some media outlets had predicted that the former major league reliever would be selected in around the fifth or sixth round of the regular draft, naming teams like the Yokohama DeNA BayStars and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters as potential suitors.

But a harsher reality awaited Tazawa, who became eligible to enter the draft after the “Tazawa Rule” was abolished last month.

The rule, created in response to Tazawa’s decision to skip NPB for the majors, made such players ineligible to participate in the draft for two years (three for high school players) upon their return to Japan.

Junichi Tazawa arrives ahead of a planned news conference on Monday in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture. | KYODO
Junichi Tazawa arrives ahead of a planned news conference on Monday in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture. | KYODO

The Saitama Musashi Heat Bears, the team Tazawa played for this season in the independent Route Inn Baseball Challenge League, set up a news conference for their potential draftees at a local spa and cafe. Chairs were prepared for the club’s CEO, president and manager — as well as Tazawa.

The expectation was that Tazawa, who signed with the Boston Red Sox in 2009, would field questions from 36 different media outlets if he was selected by an NPB club.

But in the end, the right-hander with a World Series ring from Boston’s 2013 championship season never took his seat.

“We just didn’t have the fortune — that’s how we’ve got to understand it,” Heat Bears president Hideo Imai said after the draft. “We had three players who could have been selected including Tazawa. We believed that they all had enough ability to be selected, but you never know what’s going to happen at the draft.

“I was hoping at least one of them would be chosen … but it’s extremely regrettable.”

Skipper and general manager Kota Sumi hinted that he and his club executives had been optimistic about Tazawa’s chances for the draft, but the evening’s outcome showed them NPB clubs choose players based on their own mid-to-long-term plans.

“They are not going to select players who can fill their voids for a year or two,” said Sumi, a former infielder who was selected by the Chiba Lotte Marines in the third round of the 2008 NPB ikusei draft. “They are going to get players with concrete determination to develop them with five-year, 10-year plans. We realized that through this draft.”

Sumi added: “In this past half-year we’ve wanted to be the bridge for a guy like (Tazawa) who’s played globally to make a transition to Japanese baseball, so we’re just shocked.”

Both Imai and Sumi said they would give Tazawa, whose future is up in the air for now, some time to deliberate on his next step.

“We are ready to support him if he does come back to our team,” Sumi said. “He’s 34 years old and wants to think over his future seriously, because he probably doesn’t have a lot of time left as a player.”

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