I didn't write about this when it happened, but Hanshin OF Norihiro Akahoshi abruptly retired the week before last, citing back and neck problems sustained from an injury diving for a ball last season.
I try not to let my bias as a fan show through too much, and in many ways, I've become a much more neutral baseball fan since starting this site. But I lived in and around Osaka for a couple years in the early 00's, and I have dropped a few hints that my NPB team of choice is Hanshin. The Tigers' 2003 Central League Championship run was the most exciting baseball season I've ever been around as a fan, and also, in a way, the most bittersweet. A doctor friend of mine managed to get me a single ticket to game three of the Japan Series, but it was rained out and I had to return to the US the following day, so I didn't get to go.
Anyway, back to Akahoshi. I don't think I have anything particularly poignant to say here, but Akahoshi was one of the guys that keyed Hanshin's revival this decade. Despite being a mid-round draft pick he started his first season with the ichi-gun team, taking over center field from Tsuyoshi Shinjyo and leading the league in stolen bases. He missed half of 2002 with an injury, but still lead the league in stolen bases. Akahoshi entered his prime in 2003, when he started a run of three consecutive seasons hitting .300 or better with at least 60 steals. Despite not being as prolific on the base paths as he had been earlier in his career, Akahoshi had remained a threat to run and a respectable on-base guy until the end of his career.
Akahoshi contributed the most enduring image of the 2003 season, when he got bear-hugged by Senichi Hoshino after driving in the walk-off winner in the game that clinched the Central League for Hanshin. Of course, he also dressed as "Razor Ramon HG" during the 2005 beer kake...
He's going out early, but Akahoshi had the good fortune to play during a golden age of sorts for Hanshin, and will certainly be closely associated with Hanshin's success in the 00's. I'll leave with this pic of Akahoshi I swiped from Wikimedia Commons, the first image I've ever run directly on NPB Tracker.