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Okaji talks about his transition

Posted by Gordon Edes, Globe Staff  December 10, 2007 05:51 AM

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Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima talked about how tough his transition was to the major leagues and looked back at last season in an interview with a Japanese radio station recently.

Daigo Fujiwara, the Globe's graphic designer who does a great job of monitoring Japanese media for stuff about Daisuke Matsuzaka, Okajima and other stories of interest in Japanese baseball, translated the interview which was done by Terumi Yoshida of Bunka Hoso AM1134kHz Tokyo, and aired Monday morning in Japan (Sunday night our time).

Here is Part I of that interview; we'll give you Part 2 tomorrow.

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.

Part II: tomorrow.

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