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Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011

Uchikawa savors moment of glory


Staff writer

TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. — Seiichi Uchikawa couldn't stop tears of joy from streaming down his face.

News photo
Long time coming: Softbank's Seiichi Uchikawa has finally tasted success after several fruitless years with the BayStars. KYODO PHOTO

Crying in the middle of the chaos surrounding him on the field, he flashed a broad grin and thrust both arms high in the air, before rushing to pose for impromptu pictures and joining his teammates in mugging for the cameras.

So this is what success tastes like.

After years of toiling away for the lowly Yokohama BayStars, Uchikawa is a champion for the first time, having helped the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks capture their second-straight Pacific League pennant.

"I think it's because we did our best that we have reached this point," Uchikawa said.

Uchikawa certainly did his fair share in helping the team capture the league crown.

"I just tried to do my best," Uchikawa said.

He leads Japanese baseball with a .336 average to go along with 12 home runs and 67 RBIs in his first year with Softbank. He gives the Hawks another dangerous bat in an already solid lineup and his defensive versatility has come in handy at times during the year.

"It's not just him," reliever Brian Falkenborg said. "He makes everyone in the lineup around him better. The guys in front of him get more pitches to hit, because they (opposing pitchers) know he's coming up."

Uchikawa was a first-round draft pick in 2000 and spent his first 10 seasons as a professional with the BayStars. He eventually blossomed into an All-Star and Central League batting champion, even as the BayStars began to annually finish near the bottom of the standings.

Deciding it was time for a change, Uchikawa put himself on the market and was the offseason's most coveted free-agent. He signed with the Hawks to much fanfare over the winter.

"I'd really never seen him play that much," Falkenborg said. "So when we signed him, I was like 'OK.' Then when I saw him play it was like, 'wow.' It was a really big signing for us. I know he's extremely happy. He's been a great addition."

The Hawks are not only appreciative of his bat, but of his personality as well.

"From Uchikawa being here," pitcher D.J. Houlton responded when asked if team atmosphere was better than last year. "He's a fun guy and a great player. We have more fun now. He's another guy we have fun with. It feels different from last year. Last year it was loose, but this year feels even better. We're more relaxed and we know we can beat anybody."

Now that his team has captured the pennant, Uchikawa can be considered among the front runners to win the PL MVP Award. The Hawks won't end the regular season until Oct. 16, which gives him more time to make his case to the voters.

Even without that added honor, Uchikawa has already experienced more team success than he ever has as a pro. Following the pennant-clinching out, Uchikawa was ready to bask in the Hawks' glory and experience the first trappings of success.

"I glad I was able to be out there and participate in giving the manager a doage," he beamed after the game, before boarding the bus to head to the real celebration at a nearby hotel.



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