Professional athletes have been known to have different attitudes when dealing with fans. Autograph-seekers have been told, “Take a hike, son” by players in a bad mood or on a bad day.
On the other extreme, the most polite professionals sometimes actually thank the fans for asking for a signature.
Former Yokohama BayStars and Yomiuri Giants pitcher Marc Kroon always had the right way of thinking and sometimes signed as many as 500 autographs in a day at the ballpark. “Without the fans, we have no game,” he said, so he knew how to treat them.
A one-time Kroon teammate also knows the importance of being kind to those who pay to watch him and his team play ball.
It was March 19, 2013, an unseasonably warm day as winter was giving way to spring, and the Giants had just completed an exhibition game against the Seibu Lions in Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture. A group of fans waited outside the small countryside ballpark’s main entrance near where the Giants team bus was parked, waiting to get a close-up glimpse of the players as they boarded their transportation for the ride back to Tokyo.
The fans were behind a rope held by security guards and about five meters from the bus. One young lady in the front row in particular stood out. She appeared to be about 20, had her hair up in a bun and was wearing shiny red patent leather high-heel shoes that somehow reminded me of the magic slippers worn by Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.”
It was easy to see her favorite player must have been Giants utility infielder Takayuki Terauchi, because she was wearing a team jersey with his name on the back above his 00 number. She held a small shopping bag in her hand as she leaned into the rope, trying to get a bit closer.
One by one, the Yomiuri members exited the stadium and climbed aboard the bus, as fans called out to them while cameras and cellphones snapped photos of their heroes. Most of the players ignored the crowd.
When Terauchi came out and headed for the front door of the bus, the girl in the red shoes began jumping up and down and shouted, “Terauchi-san!,” as she held up the shopping bag and extended it toward him. To her surprise and delight, the player walked over to her and took the bag, probably containing a box of chocolates, since White Day had passed five days before. He thanked her and hopped on the bus.
“Dorothy” was ecstatic. I thought she might faint, and I was impressed by Terauchi’s gesture of accepting that small gift and making a fan happy. From that day, I became one of his fans as well, and it was nice to see him play a meaningful part in Yomiuri’s successful 2013 Central League pennant-winning season.
He played in 114 games last year, mostly at second base, but he also took over at shortstop when the regular star player at that position, Hayato Sakamoto, was given a rest at the end of one-sided games the Giants were winning. Had it been necessary at some point during the season, Terauchi, because of his versatility, would probably have served as the Giants’ emergency catcher.
Though he’s only hit four regular-season home runs in his six-year pro career, the 30-year-old Terauchi belted two over the fences in postseason play last autumn, and they came off two of Japan’s best pitchers.
In Game 2 of the Central League Climax Series Final Stage, he connected for a three-run shot at Tokyo Dome to beat the Hiroshima Carp and ace right-hander Kenta Maeda. In the second game of the Japan Series at Sendai, Terauchi homered for the only run off Masahiro Tanaka in a 2-1 loss to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
It is unlikely he will get as much playing time in 2014, however, because Yomiuri has acquired free agent second baseman Yasuyuki Kataoka who will no doubt become the regular at that position. The remainder of the infield is set as well with Jose Lopez at first base, Sakamoto at short and Shuichi Murata at third.
In addition, the Giants have picked up veteran Chunichi Dragons middle infielder Hirokazu Ibata, and they still have Daisuke Nakai, a first baseman-second baseman and a player the team appeared to be preparing for a regular position until he was injured last mid-season.
So, it would appear Terauchi’s action this year may be limited to service as a late-inning defensive replacement or a pinch runner.
The Giants cannot be blamed for signing Kataoka and Ibata. After all, Terauchi is but a .220 lifetime hitter, while Kataoka was a Pacific League All-Star and four-time stolen base king during his time with Seibu.
It appeared Terauchi turned his game up a notch during the latter part of the 2013 season, though, and was probably looking forward to a lot more playing time in 2014. I’ll bet he could be a starter and key player on a few other teams in Japan.
There’s something sad about the situation that makes it disappointing he will apparently be the third option at second base on the Giants depth chart, behind Kataoka and Ibata — or maybe even fourth behind Nakai, as the team goes into spring training camp.
He is probably still No. 1, however, with the shopping bag girl in the red shoes from Kofu.
*** Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com