Be still my heart, for it’s time to reminisce on Akinori Iwamura.
Iwamura started his career as a professional back in 1996 and made his debut a few years later at the age of 19 as a member of the Yakult Swallows in Japan. Over the next few years, Iwamura put up stellar numbers for the Swallows as he racked up awards and accolades.
He showed a propensity for hitting the ball over the fence in the admittedly home run-conducive stadiums in Nippon Professional Baseball, including a three-year run in which he totaled 106 round trippers. Regardless, Iwamura was also a phenomenal defender at third base and accrued six Gold Glove awards.
Following the completion of the 2006 season, the Yakult Swallows posted Iwamura and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays won the high bid to negotiate with the Japanese third baseman.
It came down to the deadline, but the Devil Rays and Iwamura ultimately agreed on a three-year deal and Iwamura was set to begin the next phase of his baseball career.
Despite being a phenomenal third baseman, Iwamura was prepared to play any position that was requested, even asking Joe Maddon how many gloves he should report to spring training with. On Opening Day in 2007, Iwamura was penciled in as the Rays starting third baseman.
Iwamura actually began his Major League career by reaching base in his first three plate appearances, garnering a single in his trip to the plate. He scorched the American League during his first month, as he hit .339/.479/.482 until an injury sidelined him for over a month. Upon returning, Iwamura’s numbers came back to Earth a bit, but he still remained a catalyst for the Rays offense.
In 2008, Iwamura switch to second base to allow top prospect Evan Longoria to take his place at the hot corner. Iwamura’s defense continued to amaze despite moving over the new position, and he remained a decent offensive contributor for the Rays as they marched toward the first postseason berth in franchise history.
During Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, it was Akinori Iwamura who fielded the final out and ignited perhaps the most raucous celebration in franchise history. Unfortunately, the Rays would fall to the Philadelphia Phillies in the ensuing World Series.
In 2009, Iwamura got off to his usual hot start and was playing very well for the Rays. However, in late May, Iwamura was the first in a short line of players on the wrong side of a collision with Marlins outfielder Chris Coghlan, and it resulted in an injured knee that required surgery, thus sidelining Iwamura for several months.
Upon returning, Iwamura was not the same player he had been in the past, and his numbers deteriorated. During the offseason, the Rays would trade Iwamura to the Pittsburgh Pirates, but at this point his performance was abysmal. He split the 2010 season between Pittsburgh and the Oakland Athletics and posted one of worst seasons of anyone in baseball, as he registered -1.9 fWAR.
Following the season, Iwamura returned to Japan, where he would finish out his playing career over the next several years; he even spent some time as a player-manager with the Fukushima Hopes. Once the 2017 season was completed, Akinori Iwamura announced his retirement as a player.
In the time since he hung up his cleats, Iwamura has been part of the television production crew for various baseball projects in Japan. Recently, with the Rays addition of Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Iwamura was again in Rays camp to interview the new addition.