HIROSHIMA – Hiroki Kuroda said Monday the reaction of Hiroshima Carp fans told him that his decision to give up an impressive major league career for a return to the Central League club was the right one.
A day after 100 fans welcomed him at Hiroshima Airport, Kuroda said the fans were one reason he desired to come back to Japan.
“The Carp organization, but to an even greater extent the fans sent me off with such warm wishes,” Kuroda said at a press conference, as he starts his first season in Nippon Professional Baseball since 2007. “I was surprised how many people there were (at the airport). It made me feel I had come home.
“I thought returning would give them something back, and from what the fans have told me, they are excited and it made me realize this was the right thing to do.”
Kuroda said the one word that summed up his time in the majors was “tough,” and that the thought of meeting the demands of a rotation starter through another 162-game big league season at the age of 40 was a big reason he decided to return to Japan.
“It’s hard to meet the obligations, the demands to make every start in the major league season,” he said. “But pitching is hard work, whether it’s in Japan or America so if you ask whether I’m confident I can meet the expectations of the Carp this season, I’d say I am not confident.
“That being said, my desire to take the mound has not changed. My desire to win has not changed. When I was in the majors, I pitched every season like it was my last. I try to keep it simple. You never know when this game will be your last, or if the next pitch you throw will be your last. I don’t know when that last pitch will be.”
The right-hander went 103-89 over his first 11 seasons with the Carp and was 79-79 in seven big league seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees with a 3.45 ERA. Kuroda said he had more lucrative offers to keep pitching in the majors in 2015, but they were not decisive.
“My horizons in baseball really broadened overseas, but I never escaped this feeling that despite Hiroshima not being a real big city, so many people were really hoping and waiting for me to return. The financial side complicated things a little, but the desire to pitch in Hiroshima again trumped that,” Kuroda said.
“It’s hard to explain what I learned over there, but let’s say I became much stronger at making adjustments. There are so many different kinds of parks and the travel and the long schedule. So many things will have changed from the way I remember them, so I have to absorb things very quickly.”
As he said last month near Los Angeles after a workout, Kuroda repeated that coming back to Hiroshima was something he’d hoped to do since he left.
“Those words came out of my mouth at the time I left,” he said. “But I didn’t want to come back before I’d accomplished something in the majors, and that drove me. Now as I look at being a 40-year-old pitcher, I thought it was now or never. This could be my last chance to contribute to the Carp.”