The Hanshin Tigers of Nippon Professional Baseball have won their first Central League title in 18 years.
When they clinched the title with a 4-3 victory over the rival Yomiuri Giants on Thursday night, Anbang Koshien Stadium erupted into a melting pot. In a moment of jubilation, a jersey emblazoned with the number 24 was caught on camera waving among the jubilant players. It was worn by former Hanshin player Shintaro Yokota, who died in July at the age of 28 from a brain tumor.
According to local media such as the Yomiuri Shimbun on Friday, as the championship approached, Fumihito Haraguchi, who had overcome colon cancer, offered to wear Yokoda’s jersey, and with the support of his teammates, he brought it to Koshien, the home stadium of the deceased, with the consent of his parents.
His father, Masayuki, 60, a former professional baseball player who watched on TV from his home in Hioki City, Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyushu, choked up as he said, “My son was able to meet teammates and fans and live a good baseball life.
The former Yokota player from Kagoshima Industrial College was drafted by Hanshin with the second overall pick in the 2014 draft. He was expected to be a big outfielder with a long bat and strong shoulders. He earned a spot in the first team from the opening game of 2016, but trials soon followed. In spring training the following year, he suffered unexplained headaches and blurred vision. A medical examination revealed a brain tumor. He underwent chemotherapy and surgery, but his deteriorating vision did not return and he announced his retirement in 2019.
His last game with the second team after announcing his retirement. Yokota held down the middle infield, barely able to see the ball due to his deteriorating vision. With two outs and two runners on base, he caught what turned out to be a hit and threw the ball home out of bounds to rob the runner at second base. The play is known in Japan as the “Miracle Back Home”. It was made into a TV drama and aired last year.
According to his father, Yokoda was hospitalized in the summer of 2020 after his cancer metastasized to his spine. As he continued to interact with critically ill patients and give lectures, he used Hanshin’s performance and the support of fans as a source of comfort.
On this day, Hanshin players played with their former teammate in their hearts. Pitcher Iwasada took the mound in the ninth inning with the “Bridge of Glory” (栄光の架橋), the song that motivated him to join the team, playing in the background as he stepped up to bat. The fans broke into a chorus.
After reliever Suguru Iwasaki struck out the final batter, the entire team swarmed the mound for the victory ceremony, including Yokoda’s jersey. Iwasaki clutched the late player’s jersey tightly in his hands as he flew into the air three times to receive a rinse from his teammates. 안전놀이터
The father, who watched the moment of jubilation on behalf of his son, said, “I didn’t expect the players to do this. My son will be happy in Koshien with everyone.”
“I’m sure Shintaro would have been at Koshien this evening,” said his mother, Manami. When I saw the No. 24 jersey dancing in the air, I had the illusion that Shintaro was dancing in the jersey.” She thanked her son’s teammates for their generosity.