A tale for the All Star break concludes

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Updated: May 1, 2016

Kusatsu, Japan. I think my father still lives in the times when I made my pro debut, he just doesn’t see the 13 years that have passed since.

After being drafted by London in the first round in 2010 I had spent the summer in Maui, not soaking up the sun but making my first 18 pro starts in the Surf & Snow Amalgamation short season league. It was hard, I’d never started that many games before in a season but I came through with a 9-6 record and an ERA around 4 and a half. I was proud of getting my first ever two shutouts and I even got two starts in the post season going 1-0 with an ERA under two. I quickly began to justify my draft position, splitting 2011 between A ball Dover and Double-A Montreal. Double-A in my second pro season didn’t phase me, I went 5-0 in eight starts and got another post season outing although I lost my only game this time out. By the end of 2012 I was rated the #41 prospect in the PEBA and was plying my trade in Triple-A Worcester. I added my third pro shutout sitting down 11 in the process but I posted my first losing record, at Worcester, since my early college days. Twenty-eight starts in Worcester in 2013 brought another losing season, 6-11, but my ERA was still reasonable around three, and I returned to post season action. Winning both starts there with a 1.13 ERA and a 14/1 KK/BB ratio was a real highlight, I had arrived and proudly wore my ring for winning the Global Baseball Brotherhood Ambassador;s Cup.

 

That was to be the last time I played in the minors, 2014 saw my call up to London and although my 12-16 record meant another losing season I had pitched 222 innings as well as notching 199 strikeouts in 34 starts. With London having a big May Day party on the 1st of May I completed their day wth my first ever PEBA shutout against Arlington. I had silverware that year too as the Commissioner honoured me with the 2014 ‘Wonderkind Award’, the PEBA’s Rookie of the Year.

 

2015 was the year I kicked on, 16 wins was enough to give me my first winning season in the PEBA and I passed both the 200 innings pitched and 200 K mark. I also made the first of what was to become a run of five straight All Star appearances.2016 saw my win total drop to 12 but I still had a winning season and signed my first multi-year deal in September when I agreed a 4-year $28.6 million contract. I had a fast start to 2017 winning the April Pitcher of the Month Award and coming agonisingly close to a first 20-win season, falling just short at 19-6 while my 0.97 WHIP was my first pro sub-one WHIP. London made the play-offs for only the second time in franchise history, unfortunately I lost my only start but there would be plenty more opportunities as London have made the post season every year since.

 

2018 was London’s year, despite a -9 pyth record they romped to the Pan-Atlantic division tittle sweeping all before them. I wasn’t too impressed with my 14-9 record or my K’s dropping to 189 but four starts in the post season meant I did my bit in London’s first ever PEC win. Entering my thirties now I had never felt better but in reality my career had reached its zenith, I was never to get near the 200 K mark again and slowly but surely little signs crept in that the decline was on.

 

I fingered the PEC ring to lift my spirits in this difficult time of my story. 2019 I matched the 14-9 record again and shaved half a point off my ERA but the K’s declined to 166, the batters were starting to read my cutter. In my three play off games I ended up 1-2 with an unbelievable ERA north of nine. In all my five post season outings with London I never actually managed a winning record (currently my career mark in 3-6 from 12 starts with an ERA over five, some two whole points above my regular season career mark). I knuckled down and with the aid of some really good team-mates around me I boosted my win-loss record to 17-6 in 2020 and finished third in the Golden Arm Award voting but the first real injury of my career robbed me of a chance to reach that 20-win plateau. My omission from the 2020 All Star game snapped my streak at five, London though were only too happy to hand me another three years in a $40 million deal. 2021 saw me make another run at 20 wins and this year I was about to achieve my goal when a second successive September hamstring injury not only robbed me of the final two starts when I had 19 wins already but of any involvement in the post season as well. In 2022 I was 13-11 and set a career mark of three shutouts but the markers of decline were still there. My hits allowed crept over 200 for the first time 2016, K’s reached an all time low of 133 and my WAR had declined from it’s peak of 6.4 down to 3.1. This season I passed the 300 PEBA games started mark and my ERA has climbed over four for the first time since my pro debut in Maui whilst I was on course to not even reach 10 wins. Heck! On April 13th I even came on in relief at Wembley for an innings, my first ever non-starting regular season appearance since my school days.

 

Snoring from my father woke me up from my revere. I smiled at his peaceful face, I hadn’t really come back to Kusatsu just to watch the All Star game with him, I had come to show him the letter I had been handed as I left for the break. It was curt and straight to the point, they thanked me for my years of service but informed me that they would not be offering me another contract at the end of the season. My contract for this year was $14 million and even as a veteran they had to offer me the best part of $10 million.

 

So the career of Hiroyuki ‘Zippo’ Nii was entering it’s final few months. It’s been a tale of so near but so far, I have a PEC ring yes but the 20 wins eluded me, the 2014 Wonderkind Award was my only real recognition. I had had a good career in the best league in the world, it just needed that certain something to validate it. A long sigh and I turned my attention back to the All Star game.

London Legend Hiroyuki Nii