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The well-traveled Tadahito Iguchi feels right at home at Lotte's Chiba Marine Stadium

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The well-traveled Tadahito Iguchi feels right at home at Lotte's Chiba Marine Stadium

by Rob Smaal (Jul 1, 2009)

Tadahito Iguchi seems to have found a new home in Chiba, where he is currently leading the Pacific League's Lotte Marines in several offensive categories.

Then again, after helping the Chicago White Sox win their first World Series title in nearly 90 years in his MLB rookie season in 2005, the slick-fielding infielder thought he'd found a happy home back then, too.

"When I first signed with the White Sox I thought I would be with them for a long time," Iguchi recalled after a recent practice at Chiba Marine Stadium. "When I was traded, it was a shock."

The shock value likely wore off in a hurry as Iguchi would change teams three times in his four-year MLB career.

In 2004, Iguchi was riding high. The Daiei Hawks infielder was coming off consecutive seasons where he had hit over .330 and the major leagues beckoned.

Iguchi, a sure-handed fielder who hit for both power and average and had twice stolen over 40 bases for the Hawks, seemed like a perfect fit when he joined the White Sox for the 2005 season. That year, Iguchi played second and hit second, batting .278 with 15 home runs, 15 stolen bases and 71 RBIs, playing a key role in the White Sox winning their first World Series since 1917.

Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was constantly praising his Japanese import and it looked like Iguchi would be a Windy City fixture, for a while at least.

But unlike in Japan, where the lifetime employment credo extends to pro sports and players usually spend their entire careers with one or two teams, this was Major League Baseball, where transactions are turned as often as double plays.

In 2007, Iguchi found himself in a Phillies uniform after being traded for pitcher Michael Dubee. That offseason, he signed a one-year free-agent deal with San Diego, but the Padres released him in September. He was reacquired by Philadelphia, where he finished the season, before returning to Japan for the 2009 campaign, where he signed with the Marines.

Despite bumping around like a pachinko ball for the past five years, Iguchi harbors no ill will. Quite the opposite, in fact. He says he has tried to view the moves in a positive way, focusing on the fact that another team wanted him.

Surprisingly, the Tokyo native also feels the "seniority system" in Japanese baseball can stifle young talent and that more player movement would benefit the game here.

"I really think it would help Japanese baseball if we had more trades because we have a lot of deep talent here, a lot of unseen talented players who don't get much playing time," said Iguchi, the Hawks' first pick in the 1996 draft. "If we had more trades in Japan it would give them a chance to play and help shed light on some of those unseen talents in NPB."

But that doesn't mean Iguchi, whose resume includes an Olympic silver medal from the '96 Games in Atlanta, where a young Japan squad lost 13-9 to the powerful Cubans in the final, is ready to step aside and make way for some new blood just yet. At age 34, Iguchi has been the top offensive performer on Bobby Valentine's Marines this season. Hitting in the cleanup spot, he leads the club in average (.322), home runs (12) and RBIs (39) as the IHT/ Asahi went to press Tuesday night.

"He's a terrific all-around player," Valentine said. "He makes clutch defensive plays when you need them, he gets clutch hits. He's the consummate professional. He's out (on the field) early, he cares about everything he does on the baseball field. He's been everything we could have asked him to be."

As well as things are going, however, there's one thing recent history has taught Iguchi--it might be wise to hold off on buying that house in Chiba for a while.

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