Fujikawa creates a new media landscape


When new Cubs reliever Kyuji Fujikawa was officially introduced to the media in early December, there was something decidedly different about the Wrigley Field home clubhouse, where the event was being held. The usual press contingent had nearly doubled in size, thanks to the addition of the Japanese press corps.

Ever since Hideo Nomo broke into the major leagues in 1995, the Japanese press has been dogged in following former Nippon Professional Baseball stars in America. When celebrated pitcher Yu Darvish joined the Rangers last season, the team added an auxiliary pressroom and boosted Wi-Fi capabilities at their Spring Training home in Surprise, Ariz., just to handle the additional demands.

This, of course, isn’t the Cubs’ first experience with a Japanese player. Outfielder Kosuke Fukudome played for the team from 2008-11. In Fukudome’s first season—a season that saw him make the N.L. All-Star team—the group of reporters following him was fairly sizable, especially at Spring Training, but the numbers dwindled as the years went on.

The major difference in coverage is that the Japanese press is there to follow a single player, not the team as a whole. So the Cubs would hold a separate press availability with Fukudome after games for the Japanese media, who were described as unfailingly polite and professional.

“The Japanese media were a delight to be around,” said Bruce Miles, the Cubs beat writer for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago. “Those of us who have been around awhile were looking forward to the Fujikawa news conference to see how many of our Japanese media friends would attend.”

Fujikawa, who notched 220 saves in 12 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers, made an uneven first appearance for the Cubs in an intrasquad matchup Friday, facing four batters and walking one. Following the game, he first talked to the American media, while the phalanx of Japanese reporters waited for him outside. Then he left the clubhouse to talk to about 15 members of the Japanese press who were there to see his initial outing.

“It wasn’t my first time throwing in Arizona, but in a game situation, it was a first,” Fujikawa said through his interpreter. “I don’t know how much different it will be in Chicago, but first I need to adjust to this Arizona weather. … I’ve heard that from other players that there isn’t much movement on the ball.”

To handle the language barrier—Fujikawa speaks “baseball English”—the Cubs have hired an interpreter, Ryo Shinkawa, who will be with Fujikawa at all times, including in the dugout. When the right-hander entered the game Friday, Shinkawa even went out to the mound with him so the pitcher could communicate more effectively with catcher Rafael Lopez.

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