We asked Diago Fujiwara of JapaneseBallPlayers.com about the Red Sox and MLB in Japan. Diago has an impressive array of talents and accomplishments including writing for the Boston Globe and Nikkan Sports, blogging in English and Japanese, and creating amazing flash graphics for the Boston Globe. He is a great Red Sox fan and a must follow on twitter.
FW: Who is more popular in Japan: Matsuzaka, Matsui, or Ichiro?
Diago Fujiwara: All three are extremely popular, but the most popular would be Ichiro. He is huge in Japan, there is no contest. People love him, male, female, young and old alike. Then Matsui and Matsuzaka, depending on who you ask. In my unscientific survey, the older generation tend to like Matsui, and younger Matsuzaka, and it's hard to tell who is more popular. A lot of Japanese boys who play baseball want to be like Matsuzaka, that makes Red Sox really interesting team in Japan.
FW: Was the disagreement between Matsuzaka and the Red Sox blown out of proportion? Was it portrayed differently in the Japanese media?
Diago Fujiwara: Was it blown out of proportion? Yes and no. It was clearly true that Daisuke Matsuzaka was frustrated... mostly with himself. First of all, he has never experienced a long slump like he did this year in his career. When he did hit his bump on the road, he was able to get out of the slump by throwing long bullpen sessions in Japan in the past. But instead of throwing his way out of the slump, he was told by the team NOT to throw. I do believe when they say they talked and worked out their differences, and they are now on the same page. That is no coincidence that his personal massage therapist, Takanori Maeda, won't be back with the Red Sox in 2010, as he was with Daisuke on advocating for throwing more. Daisuke wants to win, and he is very motivated by embarrassment from last year. I hear he is training hard in Arizona and in very good shape. I expect good year out of Daisuke in '10.
FW: Were you surprised that Tazawa made it to the majors so quickly?
Diago Fujiwara: Yes, very. I was impressed that even though he was introduced to the major leagues in a worst possible way (an extra inning walk-off home run by Alex Rodriguez in Bronx), he didn't lose his composure or had that affect him. Those who know him told me he acted like nothing happened the day after. "He's got marbles!" to borrow a quote of Taka Tanaka from the movie "Major League II".
FW: Why do you think Okajima has been so successful with the Red Sox?
Diago Fujiwara: Some may say that it's because he has good K/BB ratio, but if you'd told me four years ago that Hideki Okajima and Takashi Saito would be effective MLB relievers, and Masahide Kobayashi and Yasuhiko Yabuta wouldn't, I'd laughed at you. I guess that is why I am a blogger/graphic designer and not a talent evaluator.
FW: What is the most popular MLB team in Japan?
Diago Fujiwara: That is a tough question. Hard to say, but the Red Sox, Yankees, and Mariners would be the big three, and the Dodgers is a close 4th, I'd say. It will be very interesting to see with Hideki Matsui moving to Angels, there will be less Yankees fans. In Japan, a lot of games are on NHK's (national public broadcasting organization, like British's BBC) satellite television services. You can bet that there will be more Mariners and Red Sox (especially if Daisuke does well) games shown on TV and less Yankees, replaced by perhaps more Angels' games.
FW: Are there any Japanese players that you think the Red Sox might go after this off-season or in the future?
Diago Fujiwara: No one this off-season, but it is interesting that they signed RHP Scott Atchison, who was a solid reliever with the Hanshin Tigers (1.70 ERA with 30 holds in 90.0 IP/75 G). On the side note, Ramon Ramirez (not Ramon A. Ramirz) also played for Hiroshima Toyo Carp and he speaks pretty good Japanese. Craig Shipley, vice president of international scouting for the Red Sox, is very active in Japanese baseball scene, so you can count on Red Sox to be one of many possible suitors for next big thing from Japan, such as Kyuji Fujikawa, Norichika Aoki and Yu Darvish (to name a few).