Did you watch on TV that news conference last week introducing Yu Darvish as a member of the Texas Rangers?
Team president Nolan Ryan, one of the greatest pitchers in major league history, had a previous commitment and could not attend, but it will be interesting to see if Ryan will take a hands-on role in the development of the young right-hander as an American Leaguer.
Darvish may not go on to become a 300-game winner, notch more than 5,700 strikeouts, toss seven no-hitters, play 27 seasons until the age of 46 and gain entrance to the Baseball Hall of Fame as Ryan did. However, let us recall what Trey Hillman, manager of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, said in 2007: “In a few years, Darvish has a chance to become the best pitcher in the world.”
At 25, Darvish would seem to be in his prime, but it remains to be seen if he can make the adjustment to the majors. That is where Ryan, as the Rangers CEO, could help immensely. After all, he more than anyone would want Darvish to succeed in a big way and prove the club’s $111 million posting fee-and-contract investment was no mistake.
But, how deeply will Ryan become involved with his newest Japanese import?
According to an MLB source, Ryan has contact with all the prominent players. He may not speak to the players regularly, preferring to let manager Ron Washington and the coaches do their jobs, but he has a constant presence when the team is at home and frequently talks to pitchers and position players.
Considering the special circumstances of this signing, though, it is a safe assumption Ryan will have contact of some kind with Darvish in spring training. My guess is Ryan will check him out in the Rangers camp, then leave it to pitching coach Mike Maddux to make sure all goes smoothly during the workouts, exhibition season and the regular campaign.
No doubt Ryan will be keeping a close eye on Darvish and, should he see something wrong or that needs improvement, he would naturally step in to offer advice that would help correct any problems.
To be sure, not many players have a career as storied and as lengthy as that of Ryan. How many fans remember when, as a 22-year-old,, he appeared in the 1969 World Series for the champion New York Mets as a reliever behind the likes of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry and Don Cardwell?
That turned out to be Ryan’s only World Series appearance despite playing eight years with the California Angels and nine with the Houston Astros before winding up his illustrious career with the Rangers. He was already 42 when he joined Texas, pitching in Arlington for five seasons, 1989-93.
For Texas, the goal this season, of course, is to make it to the World Series three years in a row, and getting Darvish only reinforces an already strong pitching staff.
The deal is the latest move in a growing connection between the Rangers and Japanese baseball, and you can bet all the games in which Darvish will start will be televised in Japan during the coming season on NHK-BS 1 or J SPORTS.
Along with Darvish, the Rangers have three other right-handed pitchers on their roster with Japanese baseball experience. An ex-teammate of Darvish with the Fighters, Yoshinori Tateyama, is there, as is Colby Lewis, one of the best hurlers in the Central League with the Hiroshima Carp in 2008-09. As of this writing, former Yomiuri Giants ace Koji Uehara is still with Texas, having refused a trade to the Toronto Blue Jays last week.
TV news clips from Dallas and Hokkaido on the day Darvish was signed indicate fans in both countries are excited and ready. A Japanese camera crew visited a sports bar in Texas and coaxed a man wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey to perform a “Banzai!” salute in celebration of getting the pitcher on his favorite baseball team. A female fan said, “I think the ladies here are going to like Darvish.”
Street scenes from in front of a snowy JR Sapporo Station showed people handing out a “go-gai” (newspaper extra edition) sheet with the news of Darvish officially going to the Rangers. The typical reaction from the freezing fans was they were sad to lose their star pitcher but will be cheering for his success in Texas where the summer sun often bakes the field with temperatures well above 40 C.
The Rangers open the 2012 season at home with a three-game series against the Chicago White Sox April 6-8. Then Ichiro Suzuki and the Seattle Mariners visit Arlington for a four-game set April 9-12.
Looking ahead, that mid-season heat in the heart of Texas and the five-day rotation will be two of the adjustments Darvish will have to make for success with the Rangers.
Will he come anywhere near the prediction made by Hillman five years ago?
It will be interesting to find out.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at Wayne@JapanBall.com