After saying goodbye to the diamond in March, Takehiro Ishikawa is saying hello to the gridiron.
On Tuesday, the Nojima Sagamihara Rise announced the acquisition of the former Yokohama DeNA BayStars infielder.
Rise general manager Mitsunobu Ishii said that Ishikawa’s conversion to football was realized in part through the team’s naming rights partner Nojima Corp., an electronics retailer chain that also sponsors the BayStars.
Ishikawa, who stands at 183 centimeters and was drafted by the BayStars in the sixth round of the 2004 NPB draft, is set to play as a wide receiver for Sagamihara, which finished with a 2-1 record in the shortened 2020 season.
“He came to our field and showed us some moves,” Rise head coach Ichiro Jogataki said of Ishikawa. “Looking at how he was running, I thought his speed and ability to chase the ball (in baseball) could be adapted to football.”
Another factor behind the unusual announcement is the 34-year-old’s desire to continue to compete at the highest level. He was waived by the BayStars after last season but believed he wasn’t finished as an athlete.
“I felt like my body’s still moving well and wanted to attempt a new challenge,” Ishikawa said during an online news conference. “I love football so much and had this opportunity to join the team.”
Ishikawa, who spent 16 seasons in the NPB, has not been guaranteed a spot on the team yet and will have to survive cuts in order to remain on the roster.
Ishii said that Ishikawa will not play on a professional contract and will therefore not receive a salary for playing. Despite those circumstances, Ishikawa said that would leave him time to focus on getting ready to play and make the Rise roster, rather than having to work as a company employee like the majority of X League players do.
Ishikawa, who recorded a .256 average, 23 homers and 118 stolen bases in his NPB career, acknowledges the challenge will “not be as easy as some people might think.”
Tuesday’s announcement may have come out of the blue, but Ishikawa revealed that he had been interested in the sport since some of his classmates played for Yokohama High School’s team, and he holds an annual subscription to the NFL’s streaming service.
“There was a four-year period where every year I’d go to Arizona for winter training and I’d watch games (on TV),” Ishikawa said when asked if he had been to an NFL contest in person. “I’ve never been to an actual game.”
He added that he had spoken briefly with former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb at the training facility.
The Shizuoka Prefecture native said his favorite team is the Seattle Seahawks and that he enjoyed watching running back Marshawn Lynch. As a receiver, he’s influenced by wideouts such as Seattle’s DK Metcalf, Mike Evens of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Odell Beckham Jr. of the Cleveland Browns.
The Rise have a history of welcoming athletes from different sports with open arms.
In 2001, Masaru Hanada, better known as former yokozuna Wakanohana, played as an offensive lineman for the Onward Skylarks — Sagamihara’s predecessor — in 2001.
Akihito Yamada, a rugby winger and former Japan international, also played for the Rise as a running back in the 2012 season.
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