Born on January 5, 1982, on a Tuesday in Hyuga City, Japan, Norichika Aoki has had a very successful career in baseball. He started playing baseball at an early age in junior high school. Throughout his high school years, Aoki played as a pitcher but later upon joining Waseda University, he played at the outfield position. At the university, he studied a bachelor’s degree in human sciences.
In the university, Aoki had a remarkable association and friendship with Takashi Toritani, Toshimitsu Hilga, and Shintaro Yoshida, all of whom became pro-baseball players after their time in the university. Hiroyasu Tanaka was 1 year ahead of Aoki on campus while Hiroyasu Tanaka and Shinichi Takeuchi were 2 years his junior.
Early baseball career in University
While in university, Aoki and the other 5 hitters formed one of the best and most potent baseball line-ups in the history of baseball and steered their university (Waseda University) to 4 consecutive titles for the Tokyo Big6 league. This was the first time such a record was made by Waseda University. Norichika hit .463 in 2002 in his junior year to set a record for Tokyo Big6 league for the most runs against University of Tokyo scored in a single match.
For the eight seasons that Aoki played at Waseda University, he won the Tokyo Big6 Best Nine Award for three times. In 2003, he was selected by Yakult Swallows in the 4th round of 2003 NPB draft.
In 2004, Aoki had a short stint at the Ichigun-Japanese Major League, playing in 10 games only. He later played in the minors and posted fantastic results. He hit .372 and led the Eastern League in on-base percentage at (.436) and batting average, and came second in the stolen bases (21). Later in the year, he participated in Fresh All-Star League and went 4 for 5 and won Most Valuable Player award for the game.
In 2005, he played as the number 2 hitter for the Swallows and started as a center fielder before being promoted to be the leadoff player in June. On 6th October, the same year, he won the Central League Single-Season hit title with 192 hits and became the second player in the history of NBP to record 200 hits in one season. He was voted as the Most Valuable Rookie in the league with a batting average of .344.
In 2006, Aoki was chosen to be part of Japanese National Team and played in the World Baseball Classic. In July, he became the fourth player in the history of NPB to win both All-Star Game (MVP Honors) and Fresh-All Star game. On July 10, 2007, he won the title of the fastest player in the history of professional baseball in Japan to post 500 career hits in only 373 games. He came second after Alex Ramirez with a .346 batting average and 193 hits. He also came first in the league in the on-base percentage (for his first time) and scored 114 runs. In December 2007, Aoki was part of the Japanese baseball national team playing in Asian Baseball Championship and helped Japan in clinching a berth for Beijing Olympics.
In 2008, Aoki participated in the Beijing Olympics alongside teammate Shinya Miyamoto for Japanese national team. When he returned to Swallows, he was replaced in the leadoff role by Kazuki Fukuchi. At the end of the season, Aoki recorded a .347 batting average-his personal best, striking just 47 times and swiping 31 bases.
In the 2009 season of the 2nd World Baseball Classic, Aoki hit .233 with an on-base percentage of .316.He suffered a head injury during the season after he was hit by a pitch from Hiroki Iwase, a Chunichi Dragons closer. However, Aoki did not suffer any serious injuries.
Baseball Career in the U.S
In the 2011-2012 off season, Aoki was posted by The Swallows to Major League Baseball and Milwaukee Brewers signed him to a two-year contract beginning January 2012. Aoki posted .288/.355/.433 hits with ten home runs, 50RBIs, 30 stolen bases and 81 runs (scored in 520- at bats). Towards the end of the season, Aoki played the leadoff role for Milwaukee Brewers. He set the record for doubles posted in one season (at 37) by Brewers rookie players. Aoki made unique defensive plays for Milwaukee Brewers and pushed the team to a Wild Card berth.
Kansas City Royals
Aoki moved to Kansas City Royals on 5th December 2013 when he was traded by the Brewers for Will Smith. Aoki set a record for Royals when he collected 11 runs for the team trashing the previous 10 hits record set by George Brett and Willie Wilson. For the following year’s season (2014), he posted .285/.349/.360/ batting 491 at bats.
San Francisco Giants
Aoki moved to San Francisco Giants on a 1-year deal on January 19, 2015. On May 3, when his team played against the Los Angeles of Anaheim, he led off the leading inning through Jered Weaver’s solo home run. Teammate Joe Panik followed Aoki and batted second homering well equally. The combined effort of the two players broke the team’s record of making 2 consecutive home runs when opening a game since 1964. Aoki suffered an accident on 20th June after his right fibula broke following a hit by a pitch thrown by Dodger Carlos Frias. After the accident, Aoki was put on the disabled players’ list making him miss a total of 28 games. He returned to play on July 27 but he was accidentally hit on the batting helmet by Jake Arrieta, a pitcher for Chicago Cubs. This accident led to him missing another 7 games. He posted a batting record of .287/.353/.380 batting 355 bats at bats.
Aoki joined the Seattle Mariners following a 1-year contract valued at $5.5 million signed on 3rd December 2015. In the following year, 2016, he posted .283/.349/.388 bats in 417 at-bats.
On 3rd November 2016, Aoki was claimed off waivers by The Houston Astros (from the Seattle Mariners).
Throughout his baseball career, Norichika Aoki has received praise for his amazing abilities to spread the ball across all fields and utilizing his speed while on the bases thereby stretching singles – doubles and doubles-triples. Aoki is married to Sachi Ohtake and together they have two children; a son and daughter.He has a 5’9” height and weighs 175 lbs. At the age of 35, Aoki has had a successful career in professional baseball and is one of the best players in the global baseball arena presently.
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