Glorious first-round pick moments. The draft floor is abuzz. Everyone was stunned by the surprise pick, and the player was criticized and ridiculed for doing nothing wrong. That player was Yusuke Oyama, 29, a right-handed infielder selected by the Hanshin Tigers in the first round of the Nippon Professional Baseball First-Year Player Draft in October 2016.
At the time, Oyama was being eyed as a possible third outfielder, but he was not a first-rounder. Hanshin’s sudden pivot to Oyama, with pitching prospect Chihaya Sasaki (Chiba Lotte Marines) initially in the running, was controversial. The team’s explanation was that it was based on the team’s need for a big bat, but that didn’t quell the fans’ anger.
However, Oyama has developed into a center fielder since 2018 and has hit double-digit home runs for six straight years. He’s hit 20 or more homers in three straight years: 28 in 2020, 21 in 2021, and 23 in 2022. 118 home runs in seven seasons.
This season, Hanshin has batted fourth in all 129 games for Hanshin, hitting .288 (132-for-464) with 14 home runs, 68 RBIs and an OPS of .831. While his home runs are down, he has drawn a league-high 89 walks and has a career-high and league-best on-base percentage (.398). He’s also on pace to become the first Hanshin player in 38 years to hit No. 4 in every game, joining 1985 champion Masayuki Kakefu, the last time Hanshin won the Japan Series.
When Hanshin clinched its first Central League title in 18 years on April 14, it was Oyama who batted fourth. Overcoming the pain of being drafted seven years ago, Oyama shed tears of emotion as he stood tall as the championship’s No. 4 hitter. On the 15th, Japan’s Nikkan Sports published an exclusive account of his emotional victory, revealing his feelings leading up to his first championship since joining the professional ranks.
Oyama said, “My baseball life has been without a peak until now. From elementary and high school to college, I never won a championship, but my desire to win was second to none. I am so happy that we won our first championship as a team. Coach Akinobu Okada made me realize the importance of a strikeout, so I was able to be persistent. Coach Okada fixed me as the No. 4 hitter and first baseman, and I played with pressure and nervousness in a better sense than in previous years.” “Even when we were leading, it was hard every day. Even in the winning games, there were many close calls. When I got tired, I would rewatch my draft videos from seven years ago to calm myself down,” he wrote.
Oyama, who hasn’t forgotten the pain of the criticism he faced when he was drafted seven years ago, says, “My professional baseball career started with an ‘apology’. When I received the No. 1 pick from Hanshin in the fall of 2016, the reaction of the audience at the draft site was a scream of ‘Eh! I was so shocked that my dream of becoming a professional baseball player had come true. It also hurt my parents and family. I blamed myself because I wasn’t strong enough, because I wasn’t famous enough. One magazine even wrote that Hanshin’s draft score was 50, calling it “the worst ever. I asked my acquaintances for the contact information of my draft classmates and apologized to them, saying, “I’m sorry you had to hear this because of me. “I still can’t forget the pain I felt at the time,” he recalled.
To overcome the bad publicity, he trained himself to be stronger. “I don’t want players who haven’t played a single professional game yet to think the same way I did. I tried to overturn the evaluation to prevent such an ‘incident’ from happening again. The motivation that other players lacked sustained me this season. Now I have a lot of fans cheering me on with red towels with my name on them. It was great to win the championship for them,” he said with emotion.
“Not only Coach Okada, but also Coach Tomoaki Kanemoto, who thought of my future when he told me in my first year, ‘Take half a year to build your body properly,’ even though I was a college graduate (who was immediately impressed), Akihiro Yano, who continued to use the number 4 even though I had no track record,” said Oyama, who is also grateful to his former coaches, “I’ve been playing in every game this season, and it might be because I learned about supplements and diet from Hanshin’s greats Takashi Toritani and Keisuke Kano, and incorporated weight training and sprinting into my daily routine. But the season isn’t over yet, with the Climax Series and Japan Series still to come. I will continue to put my heart and soul into winning.” 스포츠토토