Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Okie Dokie didn't really have a fun season.

Hideki Okajima recently gave an interview in Japan about his first season with the Sox. He basically talked about how much the season sucked, how tired he was, how flying made him dizzy and gave him headaches, and how he survived on rice balls. Yum.

The interview was conducted by Terumi Yoshida and was translated by the Globe's Daigo Fujiwara. Here it is...

Yoshida: First of all, congratulations for winning the Series.

Okajima: Thank you very much.

Y: Looking back on the season, both the team and you individually, had a very successful season. What was it like from your perspective?

O: Well, going to America, a whole different country, I had no idea what to expect and I was very worried about the new environment and new language.I didn't even have an interpreter at the beginning of the season. In the first three month, I must admit that I was anxious and uncomfortable in my new surroundings.

Y: But you must have had some confidence that you can succeed in baseball?

O: No, I didn't. I was very anxious, and was not confident. The turning point was when I got my own interpreter one month after the season started. Being able to communicate with people through the interpreter made my being there more comfortable and then I was able to focus on playing baseball.

Y: What, in your opinion, is the reason for your success this year?

O: My best pitch in Japan was a curve ball. But with a more slippery American baseball, my curve wasn't curving as much as it did in Japan. So I had to figure out a different ball. Then after I figured the pitch [the change-up] out, I kept the use of the pitch to a minimum in the spring and the first part of the season, because I
didn't want my opponent to know about the ball. I'd only use it at the crucial moment. The pitch is what they named the "Okie Dokie"

Y: You have a very unique pitching form. You are not looking at the catcher while you pitch, where are you looking?

O: Yeah, when I release the ball, I am looking at the ground [laughs]. But before the pitch, I set my target. I envision the travel path of the ball and try to make my release point very consistent. At the release, I am not looking in front of me, but from the beginning of the delivery and right after the release of the ball, I am looking at the catcher, or my target. Especially with the power of the Major League hitters, you have to watch out for the ball that is hit. I don't want to get hit by a batted ball with Major League power.

Y: Have you had any coaches tell you to look at the catcher in the delivery in the past.

O: Yes. They told me to look ahead [laughs].

Y: What do you say to that?

O: I just told them I can't throw well if I change my pitching form [laughs].

Y: Your first Major League appearance was against the Kansas City Royals on April 2, and your first hitter, John Buck, hits a home run off of you in the first pitch. What did you think of that?

O: I said to myself, "Oh, no." I thought I pitched a pretty good fastball outside, and I didn't think he will hit it that long. He carried it to the right center stand very easily. Considering that he was hitting eighth in the order and I was "an unknown pitcher" from a foreign country, that was a big blow. In Japan, hitters don't hit an outside pitch for power. In that at bat, I saw Major League hitter's power. It made a huge impact. I also learned to avoid fastball outside over the plate. In some ways it was a good thing that he hit a home run that day.

Y: Then you went 19 games without allowing runs. What was your thought then?

O: So, I had that home run in my mind. If I was to pitch outside, I would aim for one more baseball outside than I normally do, and inside the same [one baseball inside], and I avoided throwing in the middle.

Y: Did you think about what you were doing [the streak] while it was happening?

O: No I didn't. It was all after the fact. I was taking it day by day. And without that home run I wouldn't have strategized my pitches as much as I did, and I bet I wouldn't have had that stretch of 19 games.

Y: So, thank you John Buck?

O: Yeah, thank you John Buck [laughs].

Y: What was the most memorable game this season? I know you must have many, but just one that you can think of now.

O: The one that I was probably most excited about was the game I saved against the Yankees [on April 20]. It was at Fenway Park, it was against the arch enemy, Yankees, and it was my first ever save in the Major League. Everyone was very excited about it, and all of the teammates came to congratulate me. It was like winning the pennant. I was very happy.

Y: So you went out and celebrated that night after? A wild party? With your wife?

O: No, no, no... [laughs] we didn't do anything. I didn't have the time or mental luxury to celebrate. There was no time to relax, or to celebrate. No time to let it loose during the season.

Y: Wait, you mean the whole season?

O: Yeah, the whole season. I didn't let it loose the whole time. Well, after we clinched the division, maybe a little bit. But not much at all.

Y: What is the biggest difference between Japanese Baseball and Major League baseball that you felt during the season?

O: In Japan, there are more teams that play "small baseball." Well, obviously there are exceptions, but for example, you rarely see a hitter put on a bunt.

Y: Do you think it suits your playing style?

O: Well, I think it helped me that I played last year [2006] with the Nippon Ham Fighters. In the Pacific League, there are more players who don't play small ball. [Note: Pacific League in Japan employs DH. He played most of his career with Yomiuri Giants, which is a Central League team.] That definitely helped me with the transition.

Y: There is a longer travel between the cities, for example, Boston and Los Angeles is like 4,500 km apart. That is a unheard amount of travel in Japan. Was it really bad?

O: That is a long flight. It takes like 4 or 5 hours. On top of that, there is a time difference. I get a headache when I am on the plane, maybe with the air pressure difference, and I usually am dizzy by the time I get off it.

Y: How did you get over it?

O: Get over it? I really didn't. I kept playing as is. I pitched through the headaches and the dizziness. There was nothing I could do. I really hated the time differences.

Y: During the game, I see on the TV that players in the bullpen sometimes munching on some snacks. I heard somewhere that, as a rookie, you were in charge of the snacks. Was there any truth to that?

O: Yes, it is true. It's a rookie's job. Everyone likes snacks, sweets and gums.

Y: Was it a tough job?

O: Not really, except that there was no time to get those snacks. In Japan there is some time set aside for eating dinner or doing something between the practice and the game. There were only about 30 minute or so in America.

Y: So what do they do? Eat fast?

O: Some don't eat at all. They just snack on something. Most have already eaten before the practice.

Y: So you had to do that, too? Eat before practice?

O: Yes, and I sometimes brought onigiri [Note: Japanese style rice ball] from home, or from a restaurant if it is an away game.

Y: Onigiri! That is the reason for your success. The onigiri power! [laughs]

O: Yes. Onigiri power. [laughs]

Y: During the season, you had only three whole-days off?

O: Yes. There is a game most days. Either that or we are traveling. It's not like Japan where you can expect one day off a week. It is a tiring experience.

Y: You must have been more tired than you were in Japan.

O: Yes. There is no time to recover. I was more tired than anytime in my Japanese career. I was trying to mentally over come it, but it really got to me after the All Star game.

Y: What was the thing that helped you during that time? Sleep?

O: Sleep? Sure, but there were times during the season, I was praying that I wouldn't be called up. Pitching every day was really tough on me. I was hoping for a rest day.

Y: Masumi Kuwata [of Pittsburgh Pirates] was one of your mentors in Yomiuri Giants, and you still train with him every year. What was your feeling when you saw him pitch in the Major League for the first time?

O: I was watching on the TV at an away stadium. I was really glad for him. I noticed that number 18 was warming up in the pen, and soon after, he was summoned. I was glad to have witnessed it on the TV.

Y: As for the next season, what is your goal?

O: Of course as a team, the ultimate goal is to repeat. To do that, you need to get to the playoffs, so that would be first goal. Going to the playoffs.

Y: What about your individual accomplishment? Are you aiming to have better stats than this year?

O: No, that is not my goal. I need to keep myself healthy and keep doing what I am capable of. If I try beyond my capability, then I will get injured. If I stay healthy and stick with what I know, I can pitch in more than 50 games and contribute to the team. I am not sure if it is reasonable to aim beyond the year where I was selected as an All Star and won World Championship. With one year under my belt, now I am little bit more familiar with what to expect next year. So, I just need to keep up and contribute to the team.

He forgot to mention the hazing. At least he didn't have to be the teletubby!



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