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Masataka Nashida catches Yuki Saito’s first pitch in a Fighters’ uniform

by on Dec.09, 2010 @ 9:13 pm, under NPB

Wearing a Fighters' uniform with the number 18 and SAITOH printed on the back and with Masataka Nashida behind the plate, Yuki Saito tossed his first pitch (half-speed fastball) at Sapporo Dome for a ball.

Sanspo reports that about 8,000 fans showed up for the press conference, while Nikkan Sports adds that there were about 30 TV cameras and about 200 reporters covering the event.

Mainichi Shimbun is also carrying comments from the press conference spread across three posts (here, here, and here).  I've gone ahead and translated the comments below:

Opening Statement

People of Hokkaido, hello.  I'm a pitcher from Tokyo's Waseda University.  I officially joined the team after formally signing a contract with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters today.  I first just wanted to say that some Hokkaido people may have been upset by the Koshien game I pitched in against KomaDai Tomakomai 4 years ago in the summer of 2006.  I figure I'm starting off slightly lower on the pole than the other players that were drafted this year so I plan on working very hard so please look past that.

Congratulations on joining the team.  What are you currently feeling?

Saito: I'm very grateful and happy that so many people managed to come today, despite it being a weekday.

Do you feel like you've become a professional player?

Saito: I still haven't worn the uniform so I'm still not feeling it, but I'm feeling so new.

The last time there was a press conference at Sapporo Dome it was for Tsuyoshi Shinjo in 2003.  8,000 fans came to watch today.

Saito: That's amazing.  But when I consider that a lot more can fit into this stadium, I get a little nervous.  I mean, I'm already nervous now.  I'll be very happy if I can pitch well in that kind of environment.

You mentioned feeling a connection to Hokkaido, what did you feel exactly?

Saito: It's difficult to explain...  But like I said before, because of what happened 4 years ago, I think I just need to work really hard.

What would you like the fans to focus on?

Saito: I worked hard over my four years playing university baseball and I think it would be nice if they can also now see me working hard as a professional baseball player.  I think pitching is just about throwing the ball into the catcher's mitt.

Tell us who you would like to pitch against.

Saito: I'd like to pitch against batters that have low batting averages.  I really look up to Yu Darvish and I consider him Japan's ace.  I'd like to try and learn things by watching him.

What are you goals as a professional player?

Saito: I haven't even played a single game yet so I'm not in a position to really talk numbers like wins.  I just want to focus on trying my hardest and making the Ichi-gun roster on opening day.

This is a question for Masataka Nashida: Saito is sitting right next to you, what are you impressions of him?

Nashida: He's got healing powers.  I'm sitting so close to him now that I'm almost touching him.  I'm really grateful and appreciative to have such a wonderful player on the team.

What kind of pitcher would you like to see Saito become?

Nashida: Let's see...  I'd like him to be a starter.  In my mind, there are only three set starters [for 2010]: Darvish, Masaru Takeda, and [Bobby] Keppel.  The other three spots will be open to competition and I'd like to see him go after the 4, 5, or 6 spots in the rotation.  It might be a little difficult for him to make the adjustment from pitching on consecutive days to pitching on 5-6 days of rest, but I'd like to see him talk to the vets on the team for advice on how to prepare for the change.

What do you think of what Nashida just said [to Saito]?

Saito: Yes, I think it's exactly as he says.  I've been pitching as a starter, but if they'll use me, I do what I need to in order to pitch in whatever capacity they need me in, starter, reliever, closer.

Sitting besides you is club president Junichi Fujii, the man that pull your ticket.  Anything come to mind?

Saito: He's got something.

What about the president, you thoughts?

Fujii: Do I really have something?  Saito also has something as well, so together that must mean we'll win a championship next season.

We just heard the word championship, your thoughts on that [to Saito]?

Saito: I think it would be nice if I can work hard and become a part of a team that wins a championship.

This will be the last question, but can you please say something to the fans that are here today, and to the fans in Hokkaido and all across Japan?

Saito: I came to Hokkaido today and it was really cold outside.  But I hear that Hokkaido people are really warm.  And so I want to do my best to become a part of Hokkaido as soon as possible.  I'd also like to do my best to become a part of the Fighters are soon as possible and look forward to all your support.

Second round of questions

People think of you as having a calm demeanor, what do you think?

Saito: It's a little embarrassing to talk about oneself, but I more or less agree with that.  But then I also get heated up when it comes to baseball, so I'm not entirely sure...

Rakuten's Masahiro Tanaka has pitched well as a profession player.

Saito: I look up to him as someone who has done well in the pros.  I've also been keeping an eye on other players my age and I consider them all head of me.  I now want to hurry up and catch up to them.

4 years ago you decided to go to college and now here you are today.  What do you think about the decision now?

Saito: I feel like I didn't make a bad decision. I picked up a lot of things in my 4 years at Waseda University.  And maybe good things would have happened if I [entered the NPB] straight out of high school, but I'm happy to have gotten to the Nippon Ham Fighters after 4 years of college.

I see your father, mother, and brother are here today.  Is there something you'd like to say to them?

I want to thank my father, mother, and brother for their support in raising me and helping me become a member of society.  I'd like to do my best now to repay them.

I'm sure you can hear the fans cheering and clapping.  There were some fans that lined up at Sapporo Dome at 4am [to see you today].  What did you feel when you heard them cheering / clapping for you?

Saito: I felt it was really cold when I got off the plane at the airport.  So I'm grateful that they waited since 4am to see me.  Thank you very much.

This is a question for Nashida: What do you think about the possibilities of Saito pitching against [Masahiro] Tanaka?

Nashida: I think it's possible for a match-up against Tanaka.  But not at the small Sendai Fullcast [sic].  It'll be better if it's Sapporo Dome where we can fit 42,000.  The other thing I was worried about was when the count goes to 2-0 or 3-1 and whether or not the crowd can get behind Saito and cheer for him.  (Crowd clapping)  Yes, like that.  Support to keep him going.

What are your impressions of the area between the airport and here?

Saito: The first thing I noticed is how much nature there is.  And more than feeling like it was something new, I felt relaxed.  I feel very happy that I can pitch in a place like this.

What are your impressions of Sapporo Dome?

Saito:I've played at a number of stadiums like Jingu and Koshien, but when I entered here it felt really big.  I got goosebumps.

There are things like entrance songs [in the NPB].  If you had to pick a song, what kind of music would you pick?

Saito: I don't really know if I can answer that right now.  I will think of something when it comes time.  It will be my entrance music, so I need to consider this carefully.

We'll look forward to hearing that music then.

Saito: I'll do my best.


Nikkan Sports notes that Saito related merchandise (the ones that featured club president Junichi Fujii) was sold out in 45 minutes.

A new Nitori patch was on Saito's uniform.  The Fighters signed a sponsorship deal with Nitori this month and that means Saito is the first Fighters' player to don a uniform with a Nitori logo on it.