|Hanshin Tigers – No. 44|
June 17, 1991 |
|2014 for the Hanshin Tigers|
Ryutaro Umeno (梅野 隆太郎 Umeno Ryūtarō?, born June 17, 1991 in Fukuoka, Japan) is a Nippon Professional Baseball catcher for the Hanshin Tigers in Japan's Central League. Since joining the Tigers, he was given the nickname "Ume-chan".
Early Baseball Career
Born in Nakagawa-cho, Fukuoka Prefecture, Ryutaro started playing baseball when he was in 2nd grade, mainly due to the influence of his father who at that time was a coach of the town's little league team. He originally played as an outfielder, but changed his position to catcher when he was in 4th grade.
In middle school, his team, the Nakagawa Sharks, regularly participated in the Japan Baseball League. From 2005-2006, he led his team to 2 consecutive overall championships as the main catcher and 4th batter.
Under a baseball scholarship program, he entered Fukuoka Koudai Joto High School where he played as an outfielder until the summer of his sophomore year. He was elected as team captain and returned to the catcher position during the autumn of the same year. He hit a total of 24 home runs in high school. Nakatani Masahiro, also a Hanshin player who was drafted straight from high school, was 1 year his junior.
Ryutaro was supposed to be included in the 2009 amateur draft, however due to a weak body that he thought will not be able to handle the strain from professional matches, he decided to attend Fukuoka University instead. His team regularly competed in the Kyushu University Baseball League, and for four consecutive seasons, made it to the finals. In all his league appearances, he hit a total of 28 home runs, and recorded a batting average of .300. In addition, he was selected as captain of Japan's team to the 2013 USA College Baseball Championships, where Japan won the series 3-2.
In November 2013, his team defeated Nippon Bunri Daigaku in the Kyushu University Baseball League championships. With this, their team represented the Kyushu region in the 44th Meiji Jingu Baseball Tournament. During their match with Hachinohe Gakuin University in the tournament's first round (November 16), despite delivering three hits and a solo homer, his team was eliminated 2-6.
His first official game appearance was on March 28, 2014 in the season opener with the Yomiuri Giants in Tokyo Dome. He was appointed as a pinch hitter in the 7th inning, and played as a catcher until the end of the game. Two days after in a match with the same team, he scored his first hit, again as a pinch hitter in the 6th. This feat of having a Tiger rookie catcher score during the season's opening card was last achieved 45 years ago (1969) by Kōichi Tabuchi.
He first appeared as a starter in April 20 match with the Swallows, the first time in twelve years that a rookie catcher did so, since Ryo Asai. A week later, he hit his first professional homer in the 9th during the match against the Baystars. He is the third rookie catcher to do so in Hanshin history, the first being Kōichi Tabuchi, followed by Shimada Munehiko in 1985, and the second rookie catcher to hit a home run as a pinch hitter, next to Hiroshi Yagi in 1987.
In the May 6th game with the Dragons, with both teams tied at the 12th, no outs and a runner at 1st, he was tasked once again to pinch hit. And to the astonishment of the crowd at Nagoya Dome, he hit a tie-breaking 2-run homerun, earning his team the victory. Even though his appointment that day was a last minute call, he didn't fail to deliver, recording his second homer for the season. He formed a battery with fellow rookie Suguru Iwazaki the next day, the first time since 2002, when both rookies Yuya Ando and Ryo Asai started an official game.
His right arm throw to 2nd base was clocked at 1.9 seconds, and has a fast swing speed.
When Umeno was in 4th grade, his 34 year-old mother died of cancer. In her last two remaining months, her last request to her husband was "Please help Ryutaro become a professional baseball player". His father raised both him and his younger brother singlehandedly, while he carried on with his interior design business. When he made it to the 2013 draft, he thanked his mother during the TBS live conference on October 24. He offered the commemorative ball of his first professional hit on his mother's grave.
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- ベースボール・マガジン社『週刊ベースボール』2013年11月11日号「2013ドラフト総決算号」、JANコード 4910204421135