Shogo Akiyama’s Q and A

Here’s my translation of Shogo Akiyama’s question and answer session during his introductory press conference with the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday.

–Why the Reds?

“A big reason was that they had never had a Japanese major leaguer before. On top of that, they made a superb presentation at the winter meetings. It strengthened my desire to compete for this team.

My profile and scouting report on Shogo Akiyama is HERE.

–Why did you travel to the winter meetings, and what was it like, your first meeting with the Reds in San Diego?

“When it comes to deciding on a team, (the winter meetings) gave me a chance to make direct contact with different teams. The Reds were the first to make an offer, I wanted to have my first meeting with them, and I was impressed with that enthusiasm.”

–Did you speak to any other Japanese major leaguers or American major leaguers about Cincinnati and about the idea of coming here? And what kind of advice were you able to get?

“(Former Brewer, Royals and Giants outfielder) Norichika Aoki was the most helpful. He was able to tell me so much. His various impressions and I was able to learn so much from picking his brain. Since I was little, my dream was to be a player like Ichiro (Suzuki), so those two (Aoki and Ichiro) have had the most influence on me.”

–How would you describe yourself as a hitter, and what did you think of the “five-way chilli?”

“We had the five-way chlli for lunch yesterday, but mine was four-way.”

“I’m not that much of a power hitter, so my goal is to make solid contact and be reliable in getting on base and scoring runs. So I want to keep doing that.”

–You played in all 143 games in each of your last five seasons. Was it important for you to show your durability going into your 30s?

“To do what it takes to play from start to finish is a motivating factor for me. I love baseball and hate the idea of surrendering any of my time (on the field) to injury, so that desire made me stronger.

–Do you have any expectation about what outfield position you expect to play. And do you expect to be immersing yourself in the community with all the different things the Reds do, and maybe with the Japanese community?

“By the time Opening Day comes, I want to be thoroughly prepared to play wherever the team needs me. In Japan, I mainly played center field, but because I play for the team, the manner in which I compete may change.”

“As far as the community goes, in Japan I helped single-parent households, by making time for them and speaking with them. I would like to continue working with the community here.”

–Did anything trouble you leading up to your final decision among the number of teams trying to sign you?

“Although a lot of teams expressed interest, I had my own intentions, that I never wanted to get away from. About a few things, of course, I was uncertain, but from the start, I relied on some points being non-negotiable.

–Is there a significance to wearing No. 4? What are your impressions of the ballpark, the field, clubhouse and so on.

“Japanese position players aspire to have a single-digit number since their high school days or even from junior high school. So that was one thing I thought about. Of course, they also had higher numbers, like I wore with the Lions, where I was No. 55. But in the end I settled on something ordinary.”

“This ballpark, including its riverside location is quite scenic and I think this is going to be a great place to play.”

–What players are you looking forward to competing against?

“I’ll mention some Japanese pitchers, the Yankees’ (Masahiro) Tanaka and the Dodgers’ (Kenta) Maeda, who went through school at the same time as me. One reason for my decision (to go to the majors) was the challenge of competing against players like that, who have played so long in such a tough competition. So I’m eager to get into games as soon as possible and compete at this level, too.”

–How were your feelings upon signing your contract?

“I felt a large amount of gratitude toward the team that thought this highly of me. Since coming here, the physical was the thing that caused me the most anxiety. So I was overjoyed when I passed.”

–What did Aoki say to that helped you?

“I was able to learn so much just because of all of Aoki’s experience. He didn’t pull any punches about how hard a challenge it would be for me, and so I came here eager for the challenge. I think going forward, I’ll gradually be able to recognize things.

–Tell us about your speaking English today.

“I planned to do that, but as soon as I sat down I was asked a question. I don’t know if that was good luck or bad luck. I hope to be able to express myself (in English) going forward. I don’t like the idea of practicing to speak the words of others, so I thought I’d just say my name and then continue in Japanese.

–You are coming to a team that has never before had a Japanese player…

“I think it was good timing that the Reds came to me with their offer. When it comes to a challenge, I think every athlete wants to do something where no one else has whether that means the conditions or the town. So that was one more challenge to put on my plate. I felt it might be even more motivation for me, and that was also a reason I chose the Reds.”

–This is the 25th year since Hideo Nomo moved to the majors and now all 30 teams have had Japanese players…

“Different players have chosen the circumstances in which they wanted to prove themselves. I’m grateful to them, because their efforts opened this path for me.”

–Is the color of your (blue with red stripes) necktie a nod to the Seibu Lions? (No Japanese press conference is complete without asking about the meaning of something the player is wearing.)

“The Lions supported me for nine years. I have such strong feelings about the organization for bringing me along, and to the fans who encouraged me. I don’t know if I can express that all in the color of my necktie. There’s also the American flag, and the thought that it might be too red from the very start, so I figured this was a rare chance to go like this.”

–What is your role on the rebuilding Reds?

“First of all, I’m here to produce. That process will involve communicating with different players. Japanese have a different perspective (on the game) from those players with major league experience, and I too want to study and learn from that. Of course, I will speak about the things I’ve heard, without making judgments about what is better or worse. But I would like to communicate and help the team move in the right direction.”

–The Reds don’t have a leadoff hitter at the moment.

“My first thoughts are about earning regular playing time and getting in games.

–The outfield is crowded

“I’m aware that the current outfielders are five to six years younger than me. From the standpoint of our ages, that puts me at a disadvantage, but I also have experience to draw upon. I want to prepare my best so I can make use of my different skills.

–You’re joining the 30th team to field a Japanese player.

“It’s not enough just to join the team. I have to be ready to compete at the major league level so that my name will become associated with this team, the 30th. That motivates me.

–Do you have any numerical targets?

“I don’t know if it’s because they are hard to say or because I am just starting out, but I really have no idea at this stage.”

–What are your strengths?

“During my time with the Lions, my role was to grind out at-bats and get on base. This team rated so highly in their offer. I want to press forward in the same way without changing that approach.”

— How are you going to prepare from now?

“I have about a month and a half until camp starts, and right up until Opening Day, I want to prepare myself thoroughly.

–Are you happy to be a major leaguer?

“Until I had my physical and actually signed, I felt it wasn’t complete, so it’s something I can only start to feel now as I go forward.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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