Thanks to Yu, rich Rangers have gotten richer
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- First impression of Yu Darvish: mystery man. No surprise there.
If Darvish is as hard to read for hitters as he is for the American-style media about to surround him in his new world, the Rangers have invested wisely in the handsome young import from Japan.
In an afternoon news conference notable more for incessant camera flashes than revealing insights, Darvish made it clear that he is a man of few words, intent on letting his talents speak and interpret for him.
"I'm not here to play around," Darvish said through an interpreter in a conference room behind the center-field wall at Surprise Stadium. "I'm here to play baseball. That's what I do."
He did let go of a few nuggets, evoking laughter. Noted for his wide repertoire, featuring movement on everything, he claimed he didn't know how many pitches he throws.
"But a lot of people in this room have an idea how many I throw," he added.
As for the treatment he's getting, "It's definitely not normal," he said. "Am I the type of player who should get all this attention?"
When you're 93-38 in 167 professional appearances with a 1.99 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 55 complete games and 18 shutouts, the answer is a resounding "yes" in any language.
Though he's just starting to make the rounds in his new clubhouse, Darvish is already learning colorful new words and expressions in his teammates' native tongues.
"Not just English -- Spanish as well," he said, smiling.
Overall, measuring him against the two biggest Japanese stars to prosper in the Major Leagues, Darvish on first impression comes across as more Ichiro Suzuki than Hideki Matsui in terms of personal style.
Ichiro, a fashion plate, has a wonderful personality but tends to keep it to himself for the most part, remaining somewhat isolated. Matsui is down-to-earth, smiling freely, and engaging by nature with one and all.
At 25, carrying 216 pounds on a 6-foot-5 frame, Darvish makes a striking impression in his new uniform. On the mound he showed off at least four deliveries in a five-minute batting practice session. This early in camp, fastballs and a few changeups are what you generally see.
In his first live work on American soil, Darvish looked to be ahead of the pitchers and the hitters.
Back to first impressions. With sound mechanics, electric stuff and a star-driven support staff any young Texas pitcher should feel blessed to have, Darvish figures to fulfill the six years on his $60 million contract in a highly satisfying manner for everyone concerned.
The rich, it appears, once again get richer.
Even the team Darvish leaves behind -- the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League -- can't be terribly unhappy with the departure of its superstar. The $51.7 million posting fee paid by the Rangers for negotiating rights could come close to covering the team's entire payroll for two 144-game seasons.
While clipping most of his answers, Darvish did offer endearing glimpses of humility.
Asked if he can learn from the wisdom of club president Nolan Ryan and consultant Greg Maddux -- two of the best ever to grace the craft -- Darvish showed a shy side.
"Those two people ... I feel a little hesitant to approach them," he said.
He would be comfortable listening to whatever advice they might offer, he added.
Another Maddux, Greg's big brother Mike, will be hands-on with Darvish as he takes his polished game and all those moving pitches to the mound in earnest.
Mike Maddux is Texas' pitching coach, and there are few in the game so highly regarded.
Darvish mentioned that among the appealing aspects of the new culture he is about to absorb is "a lot of organic food." This tells us that he is particular about what he puts in his body, always a wise approach in any culture or country.
"When I was younger," he said, "I was very thin. I ate well, worked hard and was able to put on some good strength. Now I've built my body up to an equal level of the players here. The skill area I don't know, but physically I feel I can match them."
Ryan leaves no doubt that he thinks Darvish can succeed where others from his homeland have struggled -- and the boss man rarely misses on pitchers.
What Ryan has done in completely changing the culture while putting together back-to-back American League champions is nothing short of astounding. No longer do you hear Rangers pitchers complain about the dense August heat in the Lone Star State. They're too busy applying it.
Assuming he stays sound, Darvish should have no trouble fitting in with this highly engaging troupe.
And as he spends more time with Ryan, Darvish figures to hear about the importance of strong legs and lungs.
Known as The Express for his diabolical fastball, Ryan was ahead of his time in the workout movement, dedicated to maintaining a lower-body foundation to enhance endurance -- and protect the arm.
After winning his 300th game in Milwaukee, Ryan greeted the media in a back room of the visitors' clubhouse. He was doing his postgame bike work.
Darvish turns 26 on Aug. 16. By then we'll have a nice handle on how his talent and drive translate.
If early impressions mean anything, the national pastime has been enriched yet again with international flavor of the highest order.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.