Tanaka to Become Newest Yankee Ace?
By Howard Goldin
BRONX, NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 13- Three days before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Spring Training in Florida, the Yankees introduced their new and high priced free agent acquisition to the a large contingent of the American and Japanese sports media. The extremely well organized media event allowed questions to be asked to the new Yankee and the members of the Yankees brass in attendance without the highly anticipated event turning into an out of control circus atmosphere.
The 25 year-old pitcher surprised most in the crowd by uttering his words in English, “Hello; I’m Matsahiro Tanaka. I’m very happy to be a Yankees.” His smile after saying those words was matched by most of the several hundred press representatives in the large Legends Club room. The tone was set for an informative rather than unnecessary adversarial meeting.
One query that implied this was Tanaka’s first trip to New York elicited an interesting reply, “My first visit to New York was when I was in high school. My first dish was sushi which I bought at a local grocery store.” As a member of a high school baseball All-Star team, Tanaka visited Yankee Stadium and met Hideki Matsui.
Although young in years, Tanaka is a seven-year veteran of the NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball). Thus, he responded to questions, through his translator Shingo Horie, with care.
One question that was asked several times was why he chose the Yankees. The response, although convoluted, gave some hints as why, “I wasn’t specifically looking to go to one team. I wanted to come here to win a championship. I understand there’s a lot of pressure here. I wanted to see how far I could go. I just wanted to put myself in this environment.”
Tanaka minimized the influence of other Japanese major leaguers in his decision, “I’ve been watching them [current Yankees teammates Ichiro Suzuki and Hiroki Kuroda] since I was a kid growing up. I didn’t sign with the Yankees because they are here.”
He admitted he spoke on the phone briefly with former Yankee Hideki Matsui, “He basically told ne how good the city was.” When he was questioned as to whether he planned to seek advice from Yu Darvish, a recent very successful transfer to MLB, he replied that he didn’t because they are such different types of pitchers.
Tanaka said he recognized the many adaptions he would have to make regarding the size of the baseball, the number of days between starts, batters he never previously faced and the culture he would be living in, “I just feel it’s very important for me to make that adjustment.”
The point of view of the Yankees towards the signing of Tanaka was clearly explained by General Manager Brian Cashman and Managing Partner Hal Steinbrenner.
Cashman told of the preparation, “We had scouts at every home game [last year]. We put ourselves in a position to evaluate the talent.”
Steinbrenner spoke openly of his feelings for making this agreement with the young pitcher, “When we do things we have to do them right. 189 [million dollars] or not, we wanted a quality starter. Nobody scouted him as much as we did. We wanted to see him as much as we could. He has the toughness and the ability. He’s been on the big stage there. He’s going to be perfect in the clubhouse going to be a great teammate.”
The general manager described the impressions he had of the new hurler, a presence reminiscent of that of Orlando “El Duque’ Hernandez, all business when necessary but a distinct personality with a sense of humor.
While it is not reasonable to expect him to win 28 straight games as he ended the most recent phase of his career in Japan, it is possible that he can be a great boon to the Yankees in the immediate future.