Japanese baseball legend Hiromasa Arai (2nd L) sits with his three daughters Hisae (L), Kiko (2nd R) and Seika at their Phnom Penh hotel, early January 2013. Photograph: Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post
Hiromasa Arai, one of Japan Pacific League baseball’s most prolific singles hitters and among the best nine outfielders of all time, was on a private visit to Phnom Penh recently with his three daughters, two of whom are national beauty pageant winners and one a global goodwill ambassador for Cambodian tennis.
This is how one of the most famous Japanese families is beginning to bond with Cambodian sports, and the 60-year-old Hiromasa has his own secret wish to share his enormous expertise with the Cambodian baseball community he knows very little about.
Modest to the core given his legendary Golden Glove status in Japanese baseball folklore, the left-handed 18-year veteran – who sported the famous No. 6 for Nankai Hawks and then switched to the more sacred No. 9 for the Kintetsu Buffaloes between 1974 and 1992 – is now a member of Meikyukai, the Golden Players Club.
Meikyukai is one of two Japanese Baseball Hall of Fames, exclusively for members born between 1926 and 1988 with career records of over 2,000 hits or 200 wins in the professional league.
One of the proud privileges of being a Meikyukai is to help the cause of baseball through charity and voluntary contributions around the world.
In an exclusive chat with the Post, and in the company of his daughters – Hisae, Kiko and Seika – to help with English translation, Hiromasa Arai spoke about his career, accomplishments and family as well as touching on his desire to help Cambodian baseball in whatever ways he can.
The Hawks were the first to spot Hiromasa’s talent when they picked him in their second-round draft in 1974.
After a fabulous rookie year, Hiromasa was an established starter by 1979, when his batting average was second only to Hideji Kato, inevitably giving him a place among the best nine.
The move to the Buffaloes came in 1986, and a year later Hiromasa reached his career peak, an impressive batting line of .366/.403/.567. Remarkably, he had no strikeouts in 100 appearances and a batting average that was third best in Japan’s all-time record. The highest honour for a professional player, the Golden Glove, was a perfect present for a year of resounding success.
When Hiromasa called it a day in 1992, he had 2,076 games to his credit, wrapped around 338 doubles and astonishingly had only 422 strikeouts in 7,011 at-bats. “The Genius of Singles”, as he was known, had just 88 home runs.
“My two most memorable moments were when I played my first professional game and the first pitch I faced. It was a gentle block. It was so exciting. The second was when I hit a two-run homer against Seibu Lions in the last inning to win the game,” said Hiromasa.
Sporting a smile on his face, he recalled his first meeting with his wife-to-be, Yuki Arai – at the time, a flight attendant with Cathay Pacific. “It was a blind date. I can see her own beauty in my three daughters.”
Yuki passed away two years ago.
Hirosama noted that he was “not too keen” on his firstborn, Hisae, getting into the Miss Japan Kimono contest.
“But when she came through the preliminary stage, my own fighting spirit kicked in, and I wanted her to win.”
Win Hisae Arai did in 2011, with flying colours, and her entry number in the contest was indeed 9, her father’s most favoured number. The next year, amazingly, it was her little sister Kiko who took the Miss Japan Grand Prix.
Seika, the middle sibling, showed no enthusiasm for the traditional beauty contests her sisters excelled in.
“I am proud of my daughters. Hisae is doing very good work as Global Goodwill Ambassador for the Tennis Federation of Cambodia inspired, as she is, by Secretary General Tep Rithivit’s hard work and dedication,” said Hiromasa.
“As for Kiko and Seika, they are keen to be involved in tennis and other charity work, and I am also very keen on helping out Cambodian sports.”
Hiromasa is currently coaching Hiroshima Toyo Carp, an assignment that would keep him busy throughout the year. But he has no doubt that through his Golden Players Club, help for Cambodian baseball could well be on the way.
“The club helped the Philippines [Baseball Federation] last year, and I am confident a way could be found to extend similar support for Cambodia,” he said.
For the tottering Cambodian baseball community, this assurance from a Japanese legend could well be a silver lining.
To contact the reporter on this story: H S Manjunath at [email protected]