Nikkan Sports is carrying an exclusive interview with Hiroki Kokubo. I've provided the translation below:
How did you spend the New Year's holiday?
Happy New Year. I spent it in Fukuoka relaxing.
What are your thoughts on the team finishing in first last year?
We missed out on the Nippon Series, but I felt a sense of accomplishment over the course the the 144-game season. But we'll need to go above that this year. I'll also be turning 40. And I'm closing in on a couple of milestones (2,000 hits and 400 home runs). I ready to get going.
You're 130 hits away from 2,000. How will you approach that?
There's nothing to it. It's all about playing every day. I just need to be ready to play a full season and I if play [everyday], I feel I should reach it. As long as I don't miss out on any playing time.
Is not working yourself too hard also important?
Up to now, I've push myself past the point where I felt things were really hard. I've managed to make it this far because of that, but at this age, perhaps it's ok to take things easier. I tend to overdo it anyway. When you get to where I am, practice won't make as much of a difference as when I was younger.
What about adjustments during the season?
I really can't say until after the season starts. My practices and my batting mechanics are different each year. I need to work on my 2011 version. That's what [Sadaharu] Oh taught me. It isn't about looking back at the times you did well, it's about creating a 2011 version. So it's about preparing to get to that level.
Are there any lingering effects of the left shoulder injury that kept you out a month?
Even now, I feel much better when my neck muscles are massaged. I've been playing baseball since I was about 6 or 7 and I've been swinging the bat the same way so it's now wonder that I have some aches and pains. It's impossible to be 100% free of any pains. That's no big deal.
You missed out on 20 homers two years in a row. But you've also been injures. Does that frustrate you?
A part of me is frustrated because power is part of my game. So I feel strongly about getting back to that again.
Do you ever feel like you're in decline?
Baseball isn't really a sport that raises your heart beat. It's about the spaces in between. I hardly feel any physical decline. I've worked hard on maintaining the areas that might decline [at my age]. Just because I haven't hit 20 homers doesn't mean that I've given up.
Players usually are faced with ideas of retirement after turning 40. But you just said you don't feel a decline...
None. I don't feel [a decline] at all. Not to change the subject, but Seibu's [Tatsuya] Oishi, Nippon Ham's [Saito] Yuki... The Pacific League is brimming with stories. It makes me happy to be able to play in this type of environment. Just thinking about what kind of games might come of this gets me excited. [Yu] Darvish and [Hisashi] Iwakuma are also returning. Not everyone can leave the game after facing pitchers like that. I mean, you can really get into things pitch-by-pitch [with them].
Do you have any concrete goals?
Of course. The other day I asked my mental training coach if it was alright just to be as is, but he said that it's better when people have goals and to work towards those goals. [Hiromitsu] Ochiai strove for a triple crown until his retirement. People questioned that goal, but that's the point. I want to hit 30 homers again. I want the club to want me back and to have to give me a raise.
It could be a tough year because of the competition.
I'm going to start at first this year. I will not DH. Although it's not my place to decide. That's just the way I'm feeling. Being able to call over to the pitch from first is part of the job. I want to give whatever advice I can to the younger pitchers. I've always done whatever it took to win.
Last November you locked yourself away in the mountains for the first time in 4 years.
I needed to clear my mind of a few things. Things that used to sparkle get dull over the years. It's important to take the time to polish those things [sometimes].
Does that apply to baseball?
In baseball, if you hit a slump, you need to keep looking forward. You can't let it get to you once the day is over, you need to keep piling up the games and the at bats. Always looking forward. At some point, you need to look back, like I needed to look back at my 39 years and consider how my last few years were. And I don't look back unless I'm locked away in the mountains. Baseball is part of my life and I'm looking back at that life. I'll go again someday. My legs will take me there on their own.