Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles

When the Orix BlueWave and Kintetsu Buffaloes merged after the 2004 season, the Pacific League was in trouble. How could it properly schedule games with just five teams left in its league? Two businessmen, Takafumi Horie of Livedoor and Hiroshi Mikitani of Rakuten stepped up and made separate proposals to NPB to create a new team and put them in Sendai, Miyagi. Mikitani’s bid was deemed more attractive, and a franchise was born.

 

After hiring the first-ever American general manager, Marty Kuehnert, the Eagles faced two extremely steep hills to field a competitive team: the field and the team. First, they needed to find a workable stadium in under six months. Miyagi Baseball Stadium, built in 1950 and situated in Nohara Park, was the best option, but needed an incredible amount of restructuring to be ready for NPB games. Reconstruction only began in December 2004, and needed to be completed before the following April. Crews frantically worked through a snowy winter and finished necessary work by March. They continued the work the following offseason as well.

 

As for the team, they were dealt a rough hand from the beginning. When the two Kansai teams merged, they also received the right to keep 40 players of their choice before offering the leftovers to the Eagles. To make matters worse, their first-ever draft pick did not pan out, either, and the Eagles finished their inaugural season 51.5 games behind the pennant-winning Chiba Lotte Marines. The following year under legendary manager Katsuya Nomura was only slightly better, but by the time his tenure with the team was over in 2009, the team had its first-ever winning season.

 

It was not until four years later, however, that they finally won their first pennant and Japan Series. Led by ace pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (24-0), they rewarded another legendary manager, Senichi Hoshino, with his first and only Japan Series win in five tries (with this, his third team).

 

Since then, the team has become known for spending big money on major league talent (Andruw JonesKevin Youkilis and Johnny Gomes, among others, all played for Rakuten) and have even started luring domestic free agents up to their northeastern Japan home.

Team Slogan 2021: 一魂 IKKON 日本一の東北へ  (Nippon Ichi no Tohoku e) = One Spirit – Making Tohoku #1 in Japan

Current Standout Player: Masahiro Tanaka (32, RHP): 48 IP, 3-3, 44 K, 3.56 ERA in 2020 for Yankees, Hideto Asamura (30, 2B): .280/.408/.560, 32 HR, 104 RBI, Best Nine in 2020

Franchise Established on: November 2, 2004

Pacific League Pennants Won: 1 (2013)

Championships Won: 1 (2013)

Notable MLB Exports: Hisashi Iwakuma (Mariners), Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees)

Spring Training Location: Kume Island, Okinawa

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