Yu mania makes debut at Rangers Ballpark
Japan's latest superstar import greeted with plenty of fanfare
ARLINGTON -- Yu Darvish, in his first news conference at Rangers Ballpark, was able to show some flashes of humor. At one point, he talked about his first visit earlier this month."I looked at the right-field fence and I thought that was in too close," Darvish said in front of a room packed with a couple hundred members of the media on Friday night. "I was asking my general manager if they could move it back. I don't know where they are on that yet." His new general manager is Jon Daniels, who later responded by looking at Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton sitting in the front row and saying, "I don't think Josh wants us to move them back. I'll let them arm-wrestle for it." Darvish, now officially a member of the Rangers, was also asked if he could have finished off Game 6 of the World Series by getting the final out in the ninth inning. "If it was last year, I would have given up a home run and lost the game," Darvish said. "This year I won't let that happen." Asked about his first impressions of Texas, Darvish smiled and said through interpreter Joe Furukawa, "Everybody wears cowboy boots." Darvish was asked about Albert Pujols, Texas barbecue and the clothes he wore on the plane from Japan. He was asked about the pressure of pitching in the Major Leagues, in the Texas heat and in big games. During the 45-minute session, he was asked about his training program regimen, what adjustments he had to make in the Major Leagues and about his pitching repertoire. "First of all ... my fastball, I don't throw as hard as some of you seem to think," Darvish said. "But I have confidence in my offspeed pitches and I think I will do well here." He did well in his first appearance in the United States with the television cameras whirling, the photographers popping away and the questions coming from all directions. The audience included not only the media but members of the Rangers front office. Even Rangers broadcaster Eric Nadel had a question for him. Rangers co-chairmen Ray Davis and Bob Simpson were there along with minority owner Charley Pride, the legendary country singer who was the only one in the room who ever experienced that kind of attention. Club president Nolan Ryan, no stranger to overwhelming attention himself, was absent because of a prior engagement. This was the biggest news conference for a Rangers player since the club signed Alex Rodriguez in 2000, and team officials came away impressed with the way Darvish handled himself. "It's a big stage, and he's used to it," Daniels said. "I'm not, but he handled it well. He's not fazed by much. He's a competitor." The news conference was just the first step for Darvish, who is about to make the transition from Japanese superstar to Major League pitcher. The Rangers, having invested over $110 million in him, have high expectations for Darvish. They believe he could be a big piece in helping the Rangers achieve that elusive goal of nailing down a World Series title after falling short the past two seasons. Darvish was asked about the pressure to perform at a world-championship level and only shrugged at the question. "The only thing I can say is I am going to do the best that I can do," Darvish said. "Make my starts and do the best for the team. As far as pressure, I'm not focused on that. I just need to keep an open mind and be relaxed and I'll be fine." Darvish suggested that he is embracing the new challenge. "I have no worries," Darvish said. "I'm looking forward to a different environment, different challenge and different hitters. I'm looking forward to a different league. It will be more exciting." He will have to make adjustments. His home park in Japan was a domed stadium; now he will be pitching in the hottest weather in the Major Leagues. He will be asked to pitch on four days' rest rather than once per week as he did in Japan. "Last year near the end of the season I went to four days' rest," Darvish said. "I still threw 120 pitches and still threw hard between starts. I didn't feel any fatigue. I feel confident I can pitch through that again." As for the heat, Darvish said, "That comes from experience. I haven't experienced that yet. Once I do it, it will take some adjustments. It will take time but I'll get used to it." As for suggestions that he prefers pitching indoors, Darvish said, "Even in Japan, the label put on me was that I pitched better in the dome or I liked pitching in the dome. But the last few years, if you looked, I had better numbers pitching outside. I like pitching outside better." He will get the ultimate test in pitching outdoors later this summer at the Ballpark when temperatures soar into the triple digits again. Right now it is still January. Spring Training is a month away. Darvish said he plans on being there Feb. 23 with the rest of the pitchers and catchers. He will have an interpreter and personal trainer but has asked for no special favors. His goal is to fit in quietly with the rest of the team. Judging by the media turnout on Friday night, that will be difficult to do. He was a superstar in Japan and his every move will be chronicled. He understands that. "In Japan, ever since I was a child, baseball has been my life," Darvish said. "Ever since then, I've received a lot of attention. I'm used to it. It comes with the job." He has a new job. So far he has shown the Rangers that he can at least handle the massive attention smoothly. The next test is Major League hitters.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.