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Hanshin Tigers: Kenji Jojima retirement press conference interview

by on Sep.29, 2012 @ 1:10 am, under NPB

The Hanshin Tigers have posted Kenji Jojima's retirement press conference interview:

I, Kenji Jojima, have decided to retire from baseball at the end of the season.

Could you please tell us how you feel right now?

Everyone gets a press conference when they join a team, but only a small handful get retirement press conferences so I think I must have at least left a small mark on baseball.

When did you decide to retire?

When I had surgery on my back in May this year, I knew there was a chance I would not be able to make a comeback as a catcher this season.  That played a role in the decision.  And when I found out for certain that I would not be able to return as a catcher, sometime around the end of the All-Star break, I spoke to the team.  But they told me they wanted me to do what I could to rehab and return to the active roster since the team still had a shot at the Climax Series.  And now here we are.

Is being a catcher your strongest conviction?

I am a catcher.  And I think it was because I was a catcher that I was able to wear the uniform for eighteen years.  It helped me go to the Majors and it got me here to the Tigers.  I always felt and said that it would be time to take the uniform off if I got to the point where I could no longer catch.  Because of my knee injury, I had to start the year at first instead of catcher.  I was hoping to return to catcher little by little after the All-Star break and hopefully get back to a point where I could catch an entire game toward the end of the season.  I held onto that hope as I rehabbed.  But honestly, I already decided that I would take the uniform off if I could not get back to a point where I might be able to return as catcher by September.  I decided to retire because I did not want to lie to the Tigers, to the fans, and to myself by playing first while still trying.

With one year still left on your four-year deal, was your biggest reason because you did not want to lie to the fans?

In America, they would not let me play even though I wanted to and so I signed with the Tigers.  They gave me a four year deal but I thought if I could not play properly for two years, it would be time for me to quit. They gave me a four-year deal because they trusted me.  But I broke that trust and now I am doing the best I can to take responsibility in the eyes of both the fans and team.

When you made your decision, whom did you tell first?

I told my family.  I told my wife and kids that I was taking the uniform off at the end of the season.

How did your family react?

My kids are still young so they did not really understand, but they were happy to know that I will be at home.  My wife said I had a nice run and should rest now.

Did you contact your mentor, Softbank Hawks' chairman [Sadaharu] Oh?

Yes, I did.  He told me that he could understand my feelings about catching, but that with only one career, he asked if I did not want to try a different position.  I got my start as a catcher under Oh, I am a catcher, I told him if the time came when I could no longer catch, I would take the uniform off.

Do you have any moments you remember the most over your eighteen year career?

I have many, but I treasure all the titles pitchers on my team won with me catching.  As a catcher, I appreciate all the pitchers that worked hard for the team, for the game the next day, even when there was no victory to be had, or there was no match.

Was not being able to play in any games during the times you rehabbed over the last two years the most difficult?

Well, during times I was injured or going through tough stretches, Oh used to tell me that tests/trials only came to people that could surpass them.  I got past each and grew as a player.  But this last injury, it was a wall that was too big and it made feel as if I were at my limits as a catcher.  More than that, I feel extremely disappointed that I could not come through for the staff, the trainers, and all the fans that supported me at Naruohama by returning to Koshien Stadium.

You are retiring at the age of thirty-six, do you have regrets?

I am a catcher and I always prepared myself not to have any regrets each time I made a decision, so I do not linger on what I should have done, or could have done.  There are mistakes, but I feel that I have made the right decisions and baseball has been a part of me for close to thirty years.  I am proud at how I was able to work so hard at this one thing and still like baseball so much now.  And I think I might begin to hate baseball if I were to continue playing next year despite knowing that I would not be able to catch.  When I retire, I want to be able to watch pro yakyu with my kids, I want to be able to watch it if it is on TV.  Because I do not want to live life without baseball, I decided to retire as a catcher.

Right now, do you feel pride as a catcher?

Yes.  When I started playing baseball, when I turned pro, I hated being a catcher and wanted to change positions as soon as possible.  There was a time I wanted to quit being a catcher.  So it does feel a little odd that I am quitting baseball because I wanted to be a catcher the last two years.  That my parents gave me an opportunity to play baseball, that I had a chance to be a catcher, I think this was the happiest thing in my life.

You will soon begin the next chapter of your left.  Has anything been decided?  Is there anything you would like to do?

I will go to my kids' sports day the day after tomorrow.  Other than that, nothing else has been decided.

Will you go to the ocean as well?

Of course!

And finally, a message for all the fans across the country.

Thank you for all your support over the last eighteen years.  It was a very good eighteen years.  But I am disappointed that I could not take the field in front of the 50,000 cheering supporters at Koshien over the last two years.  Other than that, it was a very good baseball career and I am thankful for the chances to meet wonderful people.  I had all kinds of surgeries and injuries, but I am able to take the uniform off while still loving baseball.  I am sure each of the wounds will become medals as I grow older.  It was the kind of wonderful career that I can brag about to my children and grandchildren while drink sake.

Thank you very much.

There were also some sections not included in the above, but were included in other reports.

Jojima's comment after receiving flowers, via Daily Sports: "Um...  excuse me.  I taught my son that men can cry in front of people just three times [in their life].  The first time I cried was when I won a championship, the second time, is now...  I cried here.  I will change that to four times."

Regarding a retirement game, via Nikkan Sports: "They asked if I wanted to suit up at Koshien tomorrow (9/29), but Hiroshima is trying for the Climax Series.  If I can suit up at Naruohama, that is enough for me."

2 comments on “Hanshin Tigers: Kenji Jojima retirement press conference interview

  1. IM

    It’s a shame all the injuries he’s had since returning to Japan, he probably could have hit well into his 40s if he could’ve stayed on the field. At least he had the one good year for Hanshin.
    He’s probably the best hitting catcher the M’s ever had, I don’t think there was a single MLB pitcher that could get a fastball by him on the inner half of the plate.

  2. Andy

    Thanks for the article. Great catcher, great hitter and when I came to Japan from the UK in 2003, watching him play for the Hawks got me hooked on baseball (I’d never even watched a game before that!). Was gutted when he left to go to MLB, but he was just playing too well to slip under the MLB scouts’ radar I guess. A real shame his career ended like this, but plenty of highlights to look back on. The Hawks were never the same team after he left and it was only last year that they finally got it together, albeit using a load of different catchers after failing to find the ‘next Johjima’.

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