- On 30th January 2018
- In Baseball
Norikchika Aoki returns to the Tokyo Yakult Swallows
Legendary outfielder Norichika Aoki is returning to the Tokyo Yakult Swallows on a ¥1bn three-year contract.
Aoki, now 36, was a mainstay of the Swallows batting lineup from 2005 to 2011. Born in Miyazaki prefecture, Aoki was actually a pitcher during high school. When he entered Waseda University, he converted to an outfielder. Aoki was part of a formidable batting lineup that led to Waseda winning four consecutive Tokyo Big6 titles for the first time in their history.
In 2003, he was selected in the fourth round of the NPB draft by the Swallows. Aoki played just 10 games in 2004, spending most of his time in ni-gun (the minors).
2005 was a record-breaking year for him. His 202 hits topped the NPB. In fact, Aoki is one of only six players to record at least 200 hits in a single Japanese baseball season, and the only one to do so in two separate seasons, 2005 and 2010.
Aoki continued to rack up records during his time with the Swallows. On July 10, 2007, he became the fastest player in NPB history to amass 500 career hits, doing so in 373 games. During his time with the Swallows he represented Japan in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics, the 2007 Asian Baseball Championship and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
At the end of 2006, Aoki started making public comments about his dream to move to the US. He wanted this to happen through the posting system, as he would have been over 30 years old when he became a free agent. Yakult resisted initially despite some interest from MLB teams. They eventually posted him in the 2011-2012 offseason.
During his time in the US, Aoki played for seven teams. He joined the Milwaukee Brewers in January 2012 where he achieved several personal milestones including his first career walk-off and his first career multi-home run game both in the same game against the Chicago Cubs on 7 June 2012.
In December 2013, the Brewers traded Aoki to the Kansas City Royals, beginning a four year journeyman period that resulted in him playing with the Royals, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Houston Astros, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets.
In 2017, Aoki hit .277 with 5 HRs, 35 RBIs and 10 stolen bases for the Astros, Blue Jays and Mets across 109 games. On June 11, 2017, he recorded his 2000th career professional hit. He also played centre field for Japan in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, in which they finished third.
Along with Yu Darvish, Koji Uehara, Hideaki Wakui and the infamous Ichiro Suzuki, Aoki was one of several Japanese players in the MLB who had become a free agent in the 2017-2018 offseason. Reports suggest he wanted to stay in the Major Leagues but couldn’t find a team to join. He wasn’t alone: over half of this year’s MLB free agents have been unable to find teams.
Aoki has maintained a great relationship with Yakult even after his departure and appreciates the team helping make his dream of going to the Major Leagues come true by posting him. He will return to his classic number, 23, which he wore from when he joined the Swallows until 2009, when he was made Number 1 in an attempt to create a ‘Mr. Swallows’-type brand for him, partly a ploy to entice him to stay. He will join part way through Spring Training, which once again takes place in Urasoe in Okinawa in February.
Maction Planet congratulate Norichika Aoki on his return to Tokyo.
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