|Kosuke Fukudome launches Cubs' career|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 15 February 2008 11:43|
His welcome to the big leagues moment came immediately, courtesy of a prank by Carlos Zambrano. Zambrano had pulled Fukudome's familiar No. 1 jersey over his broad shoulders and Fukudome found a No. 11 hanging in his locker instead.
``I was surprised there was an extra `1,''' Fukudome said.
Zambrano suddenly pulled off the No. 1 shirt, handed it to Fukudome and greeted him.
``That was a welcome,'' Zambrano said. ``Just let him know we are his family and he can spend a good time this season with us. He can help us and can feel comfortable here with the Cubs.''
re hoping he can emulate the success of Japanese countrymen Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, including their smooth transition to the big leagues.
Fukudome comes with a potent bat, combining power with a high on-base percentage and speed. And his reputation as a strong fielder will be tested in the cold, sunny and windy confines of Wrigley Field where the narrow right-field corner is as tricky as it gets.
He's got a translator and a trainer to ease this big change. And there's also reliever Shingo Takatsu, the former White Sox closer signed to a minor league contract by the Cubs, who can provide some insight. Fukudome had played against Takatsu in Japan.
``I just happened to run into him at the dinner table last night,'' Fukudome said through a translator. ``He told me that the Cubs actually do work out pretty hard from the first day.''
Fukudome reported early Friday and did some running in the outfield on a cool and overcast day before heading to the batting cage for the first time. That's where his every swing was watched by about 40 people, including a swarm of photographers and reporters, Hall of Famer Billy Williams and Piniella.
``He's quick, got good hands,'' Williams said.
Piniella knows how to deal with Japanese players. While in Seattle, he managed a star in Ichiro and also pitchers Shigetoshi Hasegawa and Kazuhiro Sasaki.
``I enjoyed the experience a lot,'' Piniella said. ``The kids come here and they are prepared and know how to play and give you everything they got.''
Fukudome speaks very little English but said he recently purchased a book that translates Japanese baseball phrasing into English. There are other adjustments: the food and perhaps some loneliness. He will be without his family and his new 2-month-old son until after the season has started. He'll rely on e-mail pictures from his wife to keep track of his son until they join him.
``It's tough coming to another country to play. ... There are all the cultural differences and the language barrier,'' Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster said.
There is also the matter of hitting against pitchers he hasn't faced, especially after a long layoff.
Fukudome had surgery on his right elbow in August and sat out the Japan Series. He had 192 homers with a .305 batting average and .397 on-base percentage over nine seasons with the Chunichi Dragons, who won their first championship in 53 years on Nov. 2.
Fukudome's confident he'll figure out major league pitching, just as Ichiro and Matsui have, even though he said he hasn't talked with either of them.
``I don't think it's going to be that easy,'' Fukudome said. ``I have not seen that many moving fastballs in Japan, but I do not think it will take a long time to get used to that.''
General manager Jim Hendry expects the transition to go smoothly.
``It's all about coming here and doing his part, proving he could play at the highest level,'' Hendry said.
``He felt like he was in the prime of his career and really has done everything to make sure he's accepted properly. He doesn't want to cut corners. ... He was very cognizant of being a good teammate.''
Piniella is leaning toward batting Fukudome second or fifth in the lineup. He's used to hitting third, a spot occupied by former NL batting champ Derrek Lee, but said he'll gladly accept the slot Piniella choses for him.
Wherever he chooses to put him in the batting order, Piniella has a simple philosophy for dealing with Fukudome while he learns his way around the big leagues and makes the necessary adjustments.
``Just let him play,'' Piniella said. ``Stay out of his way and let him play.''