Former high school baseball star pitcher Yuki Saito will retire at the end of the season after 11 years in Nippon Professional Baseball, the Nippon Ham Fighters announced on Friday.
The 33-year-old was nicknamed the “Handkerchief Prince” after wiping his team away with a blue handkerchief in the summer of 2006 as he led his team to the high school national championship.
The file photo shows Yuki Saito with a handkerchief during a game at the Koshien Stadium national summer baseball tournament in 2006. (Kyodo)
Injuries have plagued Saito’s professional career, however, and he has not played an NPB game since last season due to a right elbow injury. The right-handed player played a total of 88 games, going 15-26 with a 4.34 ERA with the Fighters.
“I couldn’t set the kind of record I was hoping for, but I’m really grateful to the fans who cheered me until the end. I’m happy to have played with my team-mates,” Saito said of Nippon Ham.
Saito prevailed against former New Yorker Yankee Masahiro Tanaka in the 2006 summer finals when Waseda Jitsugyo defeated Komadai Tomakomai in one replay, his use of the handkerchief becoming a social phenomenon at the time.
Saito had a strong record while at Waseda University before being drafted in the first round by the Fighters in 2010 after the Pacific League club won a four-team lottery.
The right-hander won six games in his debut season in 2011 and five in 2012 when he set up on opening day. But limited stakes due to injury meant the two wins he took in 2014 were the best he could do afterwards. His last win was in 2017.