[Photo Credit: Getty Images]
Wonderful, long profile on Masahiro Tanaka by Barry Bearak in the Times yesterday. This one is worth your time, indeed:
Japan once had a popular comic book series called Kyojin no Hoshi, Star of the Giants. It was later adapted for television, movies and a video game. The stories were of a young boy who wanted to be a baseball great. He was relentlessly, even cruelly, pushed toward that goal by his father, who put his son through an onerous regimen of training. The show “was grounded in the harsh work ethic that Japan embraced” as it “clawed its way up from the ashes” of World War II, wrote Robert Whiting, author of several books about baseball in Japan. The All-Star Ichiro Suzuki, now with the Yankees, had such a father. So did many boys.
Masahiro Tanaka did not. His father, a far more restrained man who worked for a camera manufacturer, was a baseball fan but had not played the game much. He was satisfied to entrust his son to coaches.
The younger Tanaka’s introduction to organized baseball was almost happenstance. He was in the first grade, playing with his younger brother near Itami Koyanosato Elementary School. Baseball practice was going on, and Tanaka stopped to watch his schoolmates. The coach, Mitsutaka Yamasaki, asked him if he wanted to hit, and the boy looked agile as he swung the bat. Tanaka’s mother listened as the coach praised her son, and the family decided baseball might be a good way for Masahiro to make friends.
Yamasaki was extremely fortunate that year. He is 68 now and still coaching at the school, but he considers three boys from that single first grade class to be the best ballplayers he ever had. The most athletic, Hayato Sakamoto, played shortstop; the biggest, Yoshitaka Nago, pitched; Tanaka, who had the strongest arm, was deployed at catcher, the position he played until he was a teenager.
[Photo Credit: Edward Linsmier for The New York Times]
The only people allowed inside the restricted area were the coaches, CC Sabathia, who was also throwing a bullpen session, and an unrecognizable smallish man with floppy hair, skinny legs and large shorts that loosely clung to him like oversized drapes on a window.
This man was in the middle of all of the action. When coaches approached Tanaka, the man was also asked to approach. While coaches gave instructions, the man hunched over to hear, and then spoke in Tanaka’s direction.
In what will certainly be a year of transition for Tanaka, a year of uncertainties and learning foreign customs, not to mention adjusting to life on the field in the American major leagues, this smallish unrecognizable man might turn out be the most important person in his life.
He’s Shingo Horie, a 39-year-old former television network employee who, as a translator, is tasked with turning everything strange in Tanaka’s life into something normal. He is asked to be a friend, sometimes a press agent, and also Tanaka’s liaison to his Yankee teammates.
No one in the Yankee organization will get to know Tanaka quite as well as Horie.
[Picture by Bags]
[Photo Credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press]
Well, okay then:
A Japan Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner, capable of carrying nearly 200 people up to 7,850 nautical miles, touched down at Kennedy International Airport on Sunday afternoon with only six passengers, including an ace pitcher, his pop star wife, a personal manager and a toy poodle named Haru.
The unusual flight manifest was not a joke, but the grand entrance of Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees’ flamboyant Japanese pitcher who put his newfound dollars to immediate use.
Eager to avoid a snowstorm and arrive in New York in time for his introductory news conference Tuesday, Tanaka rented the plane from JAL for an estimated $200,000. Not even Reggie Jackson made such a colorful entrance to New York when he signed as a free agent with the Yankees in November 1976.
It is unclear whether Haru had his own seat, but there were nearly 200 empty ones from which to choose.
When it was the Yankees’ turn, they dispatched Cashman; Manager Joe Girardi; the team president Randy Levine; the assistant general managers Billy Eppler and Jean Afterman; the pitching coach Larry Rothschild; Trey Hillman, a former manager of the Nippon Ham Fighters and now a member of the Yankees’ player-development department; and George Rose, the Yankees’ Japanese liaison and the former interpreter for Hideki Irabu, who pitched for the Yankees in the late 1990s.
During the Beverly Hills meeting, Tanaka told the Yankees that some of the other clubs he had met with said they planned to ease him into their rotations without putting too much pressure on him. That did not sit well with him.
“He didn’t want to be eased into anything,” said one of the Yankee executives in the room at the time. “He said he wanted to be the man.”
The Yankees came away impressed by his confidence. They felt he resembled Matsui, whose quiet but strong personality became an enduring part of Yankee teams in the previous decade.