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Kazuhiro Wada

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Kazuhiro Wada (Ben) (和田 一浩)

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[edit] Biographical Information

In college, Kazuhiro Wada was MVP of the Sendai Big Six University League as a senior and won the batting title. He hit .429 for Kobe Seiko in the industrial leagues, then in 1996 was drafted in the fourth round of the NPB draft by the Seibu Lions. He spent time in ni-gun and hit .190/.190/.238 in 1997 when he first played for Seibu and was 0 for 1 in the 1997 Japan Series. In '98, Wada hit .333/.382/.549 in 36 games for Seibu and split his time between catching and the outfield. He went 0 for 2 in the 1998 Japan Series. In 1999, he batted .271/.308/.354 while again seeing limited time behind the plate with Tsutomu Itoh starting.

At age 27/28, Kazuhiro began playing semiregularly as an outfielder and put up a .306/.360/.382 line and then .306/.372/.592 the next year, still not yet an everyday player. In 2002, Wada finally became a starter and responded by batting .319/.357/.610 with 33 homers. Playing left field and DH, he made the Best Nine as the top designated hitter in the Pacific League. He finished third in slugging behind teammates Alex Cabrera and Kazuo Matsui. His Japan Series woes continued with a miserable 0-for-15 in the 2002 Japan Series as Seibu got swept by the Yomiuri Giants.

Wada did even better in 2003, producing at a great .346/.428/.632 clip, hitting .379 with runners in scoring position, homering 30 times, scoring 87 and driving in 89. He made his first All-Star team and was on the Best Nine as an outfielder alongside Yoshitomo Tani and Tuffy Rhodes. Kazuhiro finished third in the PL in average (behind Michihiro Ogasawara and Tani) and slugging (behind Cabera and Ogasawara). He was fourth in OBP behind Ogasawara, Tadahito Iguchi and Nobuhiko Matsunaka. In the 2003 Asian Championship, Wada played for the Gold Medal-winning Japanese squad.

2004 was an eventful year for Kazuhiro. He hit .320/.425/.607 (.375 with RISP), homered 30 times and drove in 89 despite missing time for the 2004 Olympics. For the bronze medal Japanese club in the Olympics, he hit .333 and slugged .636. Hitting cleanup or fifth for Seibu, he was honored again as an All-Star and Best Nine (Tani and Tsuyoshi Shinjo were the other outfielders). In the 2004 Japan Series, he finally broke his postseason struggles in a big way by batting .310/.333/.897 with four homers in Seibu's victory over the Chunichi Dragons. Wada broke a 54-year-old record for most extra-base hits in a Japan Series with eight, breaking Isao Harimoto's record of 7 in the 1950 Japan Series. His 26 total bases were a Japan Series record, breaking Yasumitsu Toyoda's 46-year-old record of 25; he tied the record with four homers in a series and his two homers in game six helped Seibu to a 4-2 victory to tie the series at three. Takashi Ishii beat him out for Series MVP honors, though.

Wada continued his dazzling pace in 2005, putting up a .322/.397/.573 line though his 27 homers were his lowest total in four years. He made his fourth straight All-Star contingent. He edged Julio Zuleta (.319) and Matsunaka (.315) for the first PL batting title won by a right-handed hitter since Hatsuhiko Tsuji in 1993. He was 4th in slugging (behind Matsunaka, Zuleta and Cabrera), third in OBP (behind Matsunaka and Cabrera), tied for third in runs (80, trailing Matsunaka and Ogasawara), first in hits (153), second in doubles (32, three behind Toshiaki Imae). His career line through 2005 was .321/.393/.577.

Kazuhiro was on the winning Japanese club in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and went 0 for 2 with one strikeout in two games as the backup LF to Hitoshi Tamura. Wada hit .298/.392/.494 in 2006 and finished third in the PL with 95 RBI, second to Fernando Seguignol with 34 doubles, was 8th with 144 hits, 7th with 239 total bases, tied for 7th with 72 runs, second with 78 walks (trailing only Matsunaka), was 4th in OBP and 8th in slugging. His home run total continued to fall, down to 19, still tied for 7th in the PL.

He re-signed for Seibu for 275 million yen plus incentives. He was on Japan's team for the 2007 Asian Championship but did not appear in a game. For 2008, Wada signed with the Chunichi Dragons to replace the departing Kosuke Fukudome in the outfield. He hit .302/.345/.475 with 34 doubles, 16 homers and 74 RBI his first season with them and threw 11 assists. He finished second in the Central League in doubles (3 behind Seiichi Uchikawa) and was 10th in RBI (between Alex Ochoa and Norihiro Nakamura). He made the CL All-Star team, batting for Akihiro Yano in the 7th against Kazuyuki Hoashi and driving in a run in a 5-4 loss in 2008 NPB All-Star Game 1. In Game 2, he started in left and hit 5th, going 2 for 5 with two runs in a 11-6 CL win.

In 2009, Wada kept on rolling the year he turned 37, hitting .302/.382/.532 with 29 dingers and 87 RBI. He was 7th in average (between Nori Aoki and Shinya Miyamoto), 4th in OBP (between Ogasawara and Masahiko Morino), 6th in slugging (between Aaron Guiel and Yoshiyuki Kamei), 3rd in OPS (behind Shinnosuke Abe and Ogasawara), 5th in home runs, 6th in RBI (between Tomoaki Kanemoto and Jamie D'Antona), 5th in walks and tied with Morino for 4th in total bases (275). That year, he became the 92nd NPB player to 200 homers, when he took Kiyoshi Toyoda.

Despite his advancing age, Kazuhiro kept on rolling, producing at a .339/.437/.624 clip with 37 home runs, 94 runs, 93 RBI and 92 walks in 2010. He had 228 putouts, 8 assists and no errors. He was 4th in average (between Matt Murton and Morino), led in OBP (.002 over Aoki), led in slugging (.011 more than Alex Ramirez), led in OPS (85 points ahead of Shinnosuke Abe), ranked 5th in runs (between Takahiro Arai and Ramirez), was 4th in homers (between Abe and Ogasawara), ranked 5th in RBI (between Takashi Toritani and Abe), led in walks (19 more than Ogasawara) and was 3rd in total bases (315, behind Ramirez and Craig Brazell). He became the 54th NPB player to 250 homers (his 250th coming off Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi) and 1,500 hits (getting #1,500 off Tetsuya Utsumi). He was 1 for 4 with a run in 2010 NPB All-Star Game 1, a 4-1 CL win. In Game 2, he started in LF and went 0 for 1 before Murton replaced him in a 5-5 tie. He made his third Best Nine and first in six years, joining Aoki and Murton as the top CL outfielders. He easily won the 2010 Central League Most Valuable Player Award, getting 131 first-place votes, almost double runner-up Takuya Asao's 66. He starred in the 2010 Japan Series, hitting .414/.486/.655 with 8 runs and 6 RBI in 7 games. His game 1 homer off Yoshihisa Naruse was Chunichi's first run of the series and he went 3 for 3 with 3 runs and 3 RBI in game 2 and had 3 more hits in game 4. It wasn't enough as Chunichi fell to the Chiba Lotte Marines in seven games. Wada won the Fighting Spirit Award as MVP of the losing side.

The veteran had an off-year in 2011 (.232/.339/.385), though he fielded .995 and drew 72 walks (3rd in the CL, 6 behind co-leaders Toritani and Kazuhiro Hatakeyama). He hit only .217/.357/.435 in the 2011 Japan Series but it was better than his teammates, as the club batted only .155/.217/.219. His 10 total bases tied Masahiro Araki for the team lead. His solo homer off Tsuyoshi Wada in game 1 tied the game with the Softbank Hawks at 1; Chunichi won in extra innings. In game 6, his two-run triple off Tsuyoshi Wada provided all the Dragons' runs in a 2-1 win. Given the lack of performance from his teammates, he repeated as winner of the Fighting Spirit Award when Chunichi fell in 7, the first back-to-back winner since Kazuhiro Kiyohara in 1993-1994.

With offensive levels dropping in 2012, he hit .285/.370/.409 with 32 doubles and 71 walks. He hit 9 home runs, his lowest total in 12 years. He was 8th in average (between Shingo Kawabata and Ibata), 6th in OBP (between Murton and Hayato Sakamoto), 6th in slugging (between Hisayoshi Chono and Nakamura), tied for 10th in runs (52), was second in doubles (3 behind Sakamoto), was 7th in RBI (63), ranked third in walks (behind Toritani and Chono) and tied for third in sacrifice flies (6). The 40-year-old made the 2012 NPB All-Star Games. In game 1, he batted for Ramirez and flew out against Masahiko Morifuku; the CL won 4-1. In game 2, he started in left and singled off Yoshihisa Naruse and Mitsuo Yoshikawa before being replaced by Chono in a 4-0 win. In game 3, a 6-2 loss, he replaced Yoshinobu Takahashi in left and was retired by Takayuki Kishi and Koji Aoyama.

In 2013, a new ball was used and offensive levels picked up. Wada batted .275/.370/.434 with 18 home runs, 76 RBI and 77 walks. He tied Jose Lopez for 8th in home runs, was 6th in RBI, was 5th in walks (between Yoshihiro Maru and Tony Blanco), was 7th in OBP (between Maru and Morino), ranked 9th in slugging (between Matt Clark and Nakamura) and was 9th in OPS (between Toritani and Maru, who was 17 years younger). Age still hadn't caught up in 2014 when he turned 42 and batted .281/.376/.493 with 16 homers in 302 at-bats. He didn't qualify for the slugging lead but was 8th among players with 300+ plate appearances (between Hector Luna and Blanco) and 8th in OBP as well (between Leslie Anderson and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo). On April 8, he took Hiroki Sanada deep for his 300th home run, the 39th NPB player to that figure. Exactly a week later, he became the 41st player to 1,000 RBI. Both feats were more notable given that Wada did not begin playing regularly until he was 30 years old.

Wada became the 45th player in NPB annals to 2,000 career hits on June 11, 2015, with a single off Masatomo Uematsu. He became the oldest player to that mark and the third to do so after playing ball in both college and the industrial leagues (delaying their arrival in NPB), following Atsuya Furuta and Shinya Miyamoto. The 2,000th hit made him a member of the meikyukai.

Wada's hobbies are fishing, pachinko and mah jong.

Main Sources: Defunct Japanbaseballdaily.com site by Gary Garland, Japanese Wikipedia, Official NPB website, IBAF website

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