Thursday, January 15, 2009

Braves Sign Their First Japanese Player...

And this is good news for me, in particular. The Atlanta Braves just finalized their deal with pitcher Kawakami Kenshin, who will probably be known in Georgia as Ken Kawakami. This gives the Braves a rotation-ready frontline pitcher with eleven years of experience, including a league MVP award in 2004 and a Japan Series championship in 2007. He should give them an immediate boost during the 2009 season.

As he says in the article, while holding up the kanji for soul, "My pitching style is all about putting my soul into my pitches. I hope to show that in America as well."

That makes him the coolest Braves pitcher right there.

But he'll also give the Braves a boost here in Shizuoka prefecture. Because Kawakami is a former Chunichi Dragon, and the Dragons are practically our home team. They play out of Nagoya, which is next door in Aichi prefecture but only about... hmm... I've forgotten... forty minutes by local train? Thirty? You can get there by shinkansen in almost an eye-blink. You may remember the Dragons as the team washed-up Tom Selleck plays for in the amiable 1992 flick Mr. Baseball.

People here generally love to follow the fortunes of Japanese players in America. Ichiro is revered, Matsui Hideki (Godzilla to you) is beloved, as is Dice-K. Which means lots of Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox fans all across Japan. But when someone asks me my favorite team and I answer, "The Atlanta Braves," it's as if I said, "The Martian Solarsailors." A couple of blinks, a polite smile to soothe the obviously insane foreigner and then the topic quickly turns to Ichiro or soccer.

Hopefully, no more. I hope Kawakami has lots of success in American baseball, not only because I enjoy it when Japanese players succeed there and I'd love to see the Braves actually win a few games this year, but also because I'd love to see some Braves caps and t-shirts locally. I'd be thrilled if this area, my adopted home, from Hamamatsu to Nagoya, becomes a Braves fan heartland. It'd be yet another one of those amazing synchronicities that led me to Japan and this part of Japan in particular.

And I'd love for the reply to the "favorite team" question to be, "Oh yeah, they're my favorite team, too! Love that Kawakami Kenshin!"

Now if they could just get a lead-off hitter...

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