Tuesday’s “Sports Nippon” paper featured part 1 of 4 interviews that will be conducted with the Tigers’ foreign players. In this one, former catcher great Akihiro Yano interviews ace pitcher Randy Messenger.
Yano: This is your sixth year in Japan. I guess you know what to expect out of spring camp by now?
Messenger: Yeah, at practice I concentrate on what I am supposed to be doing. But when I get back to the hotel I do what I can to clear my mind, relax and forget about baseball.
Yano: How’s the food? Speaking of food, you are known as a ramen aficionado*. You could probably put out a book about all your favorite ramen shops, no?
Messenger: (laughs) You’re probably right, I’ve been to enough ramen joints to put a whole book out.
Yano: I’m not sure if we’ll be able to publish the name in the paper, but what’s your favorite place?
Messenger: It’s a place called Yoshimuraya**. Ichiban! (It’s number one!) Their “tokudai” (extra large) is amazing!
Yano: So you’ve got 5 seasons under your belt in Japan. You’ve won the strikeout title two years in a row. If you can win it again this year, it’ll be three. You also took the wins title last year. You’ve become an indispensable pitcher for the Tigers. What are your goals for the upcoming campaign?
Messenger: The biggest is obviously winning the pennant. I came here at the same time as Matt Murton, but we still haven’t been able to accomplish that goal. We always say to each other, “Let’s win a championship together.” As for personal goals, I want the ERA title this year. I’ve never won it before, so I want to aim for that title as well.
Yano: When I was active with the team, I didn’t get a lot of chances to catch your pitches. That first season, you really hung in there at ni-gun (Japan equivalent of Triple-A). To be honest with you, there were worse pitcher than you playing with the big team, and you could have complained but you didn’t.
Messenger: All I was doing was following orders. If they said, “You gotta do this to make the big club,” then I did it.
Yano: That’s pretty amazing. Rather, I think that probably helped your development. So you said you want the ERA title this year. Does that mean you’re going for the Sawamura Award, too?
Messenger: Of course I want to defend my two titles from last season as well, and if I can take the ERA title on top of that, it’d be great. I’ll do what I can to achieve my goals.
Yano: So what do you need to do (to achieve them)?
Messenger: When they call on me, I’ve got to throw well and go deep into every game that I start. That’s the most important thing.
Yano: Then there’s batting, home runs, right? Last season you told us you would hit two home runs but didn’t get any. How many will you hit this year?
Messenger: I’ve played six years now, maybe I should just try to get my first one. Tokyo Dome, big chance! Yokohama, big chance! Jinguu, big chance!
Yano: You’ve really become more than just a hired gun; you are the core of the pitching staff. As such a key player in the organization, as a former Tiger myself I hope you can help carry the team again this year.
Messenger: Every year I try to help the newcomers relax when they get here. I think players perform better then they feel relaxed.
Yano: By the way, pitcher (Hiroki) Kuroda has signed on with the Carp this year. Would you like to face him?
Messenger: I’d love to! He’s a great addition to Hiroshima. I thought he could have played at least 2-3 more years in America. If I get the chance to face him, it would be great.
Yano: And hit a home run off him, right?
Messenger: Sounds good! OK, I’ll hit one at Mazda (Stadium)!
* Since Messenger came to Japan in 2010, he has really come to love ramen. His favorite is tonkotsu (pork rib broth). Since he had success on days after eating ramen, he has made a habit of eating ramen the day before his starts, even finding good shops on the road.
** Yoshimuraya is located in Minamisaiwai, Nishi Ward, Yokohama, Kanagawa. It opened in 1974. Their ramen is characterized by a pork-soy broth that also uses chicken stock, as well as thick, flat noodles. They are said to be the originators of the “Iekei Ramen” and are also called the “Best Iekei Ramen.”