— First a question for manager Tomoaki Kanemoto. You landed the player you called your “first lover” during the negotiation process…
“Next season will be my second since taking the job. Free agency acquisitions are very different than the draft, and he was the first guy I pursued, so in that sense he is my “first lover.” And yes, I got him (laughs).”
— And what kind of game are you expecting from Itoi?
“He’s a solid hitter, defender and runner, so I hope he just does things in a way that works for him. As the Tigers continue to change, we need this kind of dynamic player. I feel like we’ve taken some steps closer to victory now.”
— And what kind of numbers are you hoping for?
“To be honest, the numbers he’s put up so far in his career are more than enough. I do feel he can improve his numbers in some areas, though. If you want specifics about numbers and goals for next year, you can ask him.” (Itoi grins nervously)
— Thank you very much. Next we would like to ask some questions to Mr. Itoi. How do you feel now that you have become a member of the Tigers?
“You know, I have been thinking about this for the past two months, and I’m just extremely happy to be here today.”
— You thought this through carefully and decided to change clubs. What was the biggest factor in your decision?
“In the end, it came down to myself as an individual. I want to achieve greater things as a player, and in order to do so, some change was in order. I want to challenge myself. That and I was really struck by Coach Kanemoto’s words.”
— “First lover” and other strong words?
“Yeah, as a player it’s a really big deal when the manager says he needs your strength to win a pennant.”
— What sort of impression do you have of the Tigers?
“Impression? Lots of reporters (laughter from all). Although I know their fans are pretty crazy, I think the media presence has created a stronger impression in me. More than half of the paper is about the Tigers.”
— Lots of crazy fans fill Koshien Stadium every game – what’s your impression of Koshien?
“I’ve only ever played there during interleague games, but I do know it is one of those places that all baseball players dream of playing at. Whether at the high school level or otherwise, it is a real mecca when it comes to ballparks. The sooner I can get out there and run around, the better.”
— Is there anything you want to ask Coach Kanemoto?
“Of course, I want to learn hitting technique from him and learn as much as I can from him.”
— So you’ve moved from Orix to here but remain in Kansai. What are your feelings about Orix?
“I was traded to Orix and got to play for them for 4 seasons. It was a real comfortable playing environment. I was able to concentrate on the game real well, and for that I am really thankful.”
— What do you consider your strengths as a player?
“I like to think I bring speed to all aspects of the game: base running, defense, and hitting.”
— Can you give us some concrete numbers as far as goals are concerned?
(He laughs nervously and gazes to the ceiling.) “Yeah, ummm… I hear that when Coach Kanemoto came here as a free agent, he put up career numbers. I always aim to better my career highs and hope to do so here. I know those aren’t concrete numbers, but that’s my goal.”
— Coach Kanemoto, what do you think about his answer?
“He dodged the question very well, didn’t he? (laughs)“
— If you had to give Itoi something to work towards, what kind of numbers do you hope to get from him?
“It’s really hard to put a number on what we hope for. But I would say he will almost certainly hit at least .300 for us, and RBIs are really hard to determine because it will be greatly affected by his place in the batting order. As far as home runs goes, when I see his natural ability I think he can put up even better numbers than he has in the past.”
— Mr. Itoi, you heard his words: a .300 average and more home runs…
“Well I definitely feel that for myself, I need to clear the .300 mark. As for home runs, I have always wanted to hit more… I’d be more than happy to receive advice about that from my manager who has hit over 40 in a single season.”
— So your goal for next season, working together with Coach Kanemoto?
“I hope to contribute to the team in any way possible in order for us to reach the team, so we can hoist our manager into the air at season’s end.”
— Finally, give a few words to the passionate Tigers fans out there.
“My name is Yoshio Itoi, and I’ll be playing for the Hanshin Tigers from next season. I’m going to do everything I can to give our manager the glory of a pennant, and I look forward to your support.”
— Has reality sunk in yet, that you’re a Tiger now?
“I would say so, yeah, thanks to being able to meet up again with the manager and club chairman.”
— What are your feelings towards the number 7?
“To tell the truth, Nishioka called me directly and said, ‘I’m giving the number to you. Let’s work together to make this the strongest team it can be.’ I felt kind of bad for taking his number, but I’m really thankful to him.”
— So you have somewhat of an affinity for the number 7?
“To an extent, yeah.”
— Look around again at all the members of the press. I’m guessing you can sense a difference in the degree to which you will be covered.
“Just looking at the newspaper in the past few months… I have never been in it this much before! It’s a little embarrassing! (laughs)“
— And if you play well, you’ll be in there even more.
“Yeah, well, up until now I have performed fairly well but (indicating with his thumb and index finger) I only got this much attention (laughs). I know that’s not all there is to being a ball player. I’ll do my best.”
— The more attention you get, the more you heat up on the field?
“We’ll see about that! (grins)“
— Was Hanshin a special team to you right from the time you first started playing?
“Yeah, I always watched the Tigers on TV, and the first game I ever went to was when my dad took me to Koshien.”
— And now you get to play there.
“Yeah. It’s just my first year with the team but I’m already getting myself ready to put on a good show.”
— Coach Kanemoto says he is entrusting center field to you. How did you feel when you first heard that?
“Well, I played a lot of center field from the first time I got action with Nippon Ham. It might be presumptuous to say I’d be the star of the outfield, but I know center is a really important position, so I feel it will be challenging but rewarding.”
— You were told that your strength is needed to help this team win a pennant. Do you feel any pressure from those words?
“Of course I would hate it if the team’s record gets worse after I join. And of course, I’m going to make every effort to make everyone glad that I joined the club.”
— Coach Kanemoto says he doesn’t have to worry about being too careful with you…
“Well it will be my first year, and everything will be new to me at first. I hope to an extent he is mindful of that, but I also hope I can fit in with the club really quickly at spring camp.”
— As for your schedule for the upcoming days, are you going to be training here in Osaka?
“The upcoming days? I haven’t exactly decided. There is an awards ceremony coming soon…”
— And will you be doing your voluntary training in Guam again this January?
“I’m not sure. I’d hate to have you guys show up (and cover me) (laughs).”