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Baseball: Tazawa welcomes offer to play in Japan's independent league

Junichi Tazawa poses for a photo in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture on July 13, 2020. (Kyodo)

KUMAGAYA, Japan (Kyodo) -- Former major league pitcher Junichi Tazawa said Monday he plans to give all he can to the Saitama Musashi Heat Bears in the independent Route Inn Baseball Challenge League this season, his first in Japan after nine years of playing in the United States.

    "I had a lot of doubts, but in the end I decided to play for this team," Tazawa said at a press conference. "I'll do my best to contribute as much as possible."

    The right-handed reliever was released from his minor league contract with the Cincinnati Reds in March and was forced to look for offers elsewhere after the MiLB season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Tazawa ended up signing with one of the 12 BC League teams, despite stirring controversy in his home country in 2008 when the top prospect opted to skip Nippon Professional Baseball's draft to pursue an immediate career in the majors.

    "I know the rest of my baseball life is short," the 34-year-old said. "Minor League Baseball was out because of the coronavirus. I was happy to get an offer since there weren't many places left where I could play. I thought it might be a good idea to play in Japan after all."

    To prevent other amateurs from skipping the NPB draft like Tazawa, the league introduced a rule requiring players to wait for two seasons after they finish their time overseas before becoming eligible to play in NPB. Tazawa was also banned from playing for the national team for his decision.

    "I feel like it would be good if those kinds of rules disappeared," he said.

    Tazawa did not say whether he planned to try to return to the majors or make his debut with an NPB team in the future.

    "I'm not thinking about it now. First it's important to work hard with this team. After that, if things are different, it's possible the situation might change."

    Tazawa helped the Red Sox win the World Series in 2013 and had a short stint with the Miami Marlins before bouncing around in the minors. He has a 21-26 record with 374 strikeouts and a 4.12 ERA over 388 games in the majors.

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