/

New Tigers outfielder Fukudome eager for new opportunity

Kyodo

Kosuke Fukudome was re-introduced to the media on Saturday as the Central League’s Hanshin Tigers unveiled their biggest offseason signing.

The 35-year-old outfielder met the media after signing a three-year deal that will pay him ¥150 million next year with additional performance-based incentives. Second-year Tigers skipper Yutaka Wada also attended the press conference that attracted roughly 100 members of the media.

“My feelings are split 50-50. On the one hand my mind is clear. I think I’m going to be OK, but there’s a little anxiety,” he said. “Just seeing the number of reporters makes me think this team is something special, that this is a place where worthwhile things are done.”

Fukudome is not only returning to Japan after five years in the big leagues but also coming home to his baseball roots in the Kansai region, where he played high school and corporate league ball.

“I intend to prepare thoroughly so I can be productive in the middle of the order,” he said. “(On defense) I am most confident playing and competing in right field.”

Fukudome, who won three CL Best IX Awards, four Golden Gloves and was CL MVP in 2006, was pursued by both the Tigers and the Yokohama BayStars, who finished fifth and sixth in the CL last year, respectively.

“Having played in Kansei for PL Gakuen High School and at Nippon Life, I thought it would be easy to come back,” he said. “From the grass outfield to the dirt infield, this place (Koshien Stadium) has no equal in the world. I was here in high school, but more than that, coming here is the dream of every player.”

In Nippon Professional Baseball’s 1995 draft, seven teams named Fukudome, then a slugging high school shortstop, as their No. 1 pick. But the youngster had stated he would only sign with the Chunichi Dragons or the Yomiuri Giants. When the Osaka-based Kintetsu Buffaloes won the lottery, Fukudome rejected their offers and joined Nippon Life, instead.

When he was again draft-eligible, he agreed to play with the Dragons, who made him their top draft pick in 1998. Fukudome hit .305 with 192 home runs in nine seasons with Chunichi before going to the majors as a free agent from the 2008 season.

The Tigers, who lost star outfielder Tomoaki Kanemoto and veteran catcher Kenji Johjima through retirement, are coming off their worst finish since 2001. In addition to Fukudome, they have acquired former Ciba Lotte Marines star Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who spent parts of the last two seasons in the big leagues.

“More than just focusing on knocking off the (CL champion) Giants, there are a bunch of teams who finished ahead of us in the standings. We’re going to have to take on whomever we play with the same level of emotion,” he said.

“In the majors, I learned things such as conditioning and a certain way of thinking,” he said. “If people ask me, I’ll be glad to share with them, and I think that will be the same with Nishioka coming back, too.”