When the band in the right field stands of the old ballpark played the spaghetti western sound of the opening notes of Koichi Ogata’s fight song, fans would tremble with anticipation. The star shone in center field, at the plate and on the base paths in Hiroshima for more than twenty years, dating back to the Carp’s last Japan Series appearance in 1991. The excitement is back as Ogata takes over as the team’s new manager, replacing Kenjiro Nomura, who stepped down at the end of the 2014 season.
Fans may well tremble with excitement again, but the players tremble with fear of the new “devil manager”. Media reports indicate that barely a month into his tenure, the hard-driving Ogata has already sent several players home from their winter training camp for lack of effort.
Ogata knows a little something about effort. He played all over the diamond and around the world, even spending a year in the American minor leagues. He broke in as an infielder, but excelled in center field, where his speed and strong arm won him five Golden Glove awards. He stole 268 bases in his career, three times leading the league. He also twice led the league in being caught stealing. And he was perennially among the leaders in being hit by pitches
Ogata was not all guts and hustle, however. He hit .300 or better six times and posted six years of twenty or more home runs. By the end of his career, he was a respected player-coach, pinch-hitting and helping the young outfielders with base running and defense.
Since his retirement in 1999, he has continued as a coach, and the weak-hitting Carp have consistently impressed with their outfield defense and stolen base totals. In Ogata’s time as coach, two Hiroshima players, Eishin Soyogi and Yoshihiro Maru, have led the league in steals.
Expectations for Ogata’s squad will be high, coming off two straight third-place finishes and two straight Climax Series losses. In Nomura’s five years at the helm, the Carp returned to respectability, but they have not been able to finish the job. Carp fans are counting on Ogata to carry them to the next level.