Play with reckless abandon! In this year’s famous Sankei Sports “Captain Attack” corner, Hanshin outfielder Kosuke Fukudome revealed his heart to Tigers beat reporters. The Interleague schedule is completed and the Tigers finished above .500. League play resumes on the 23rd with a series against the Hiroshima Carp, whom the Tigers trail by 3 games. On this day, the captain, who was resting and recouping on a rare day off, says he cares little about the standings and that the players need to “go all out game in and game out.”
- Last Captain Attack (May 9) you talked about how the team had good energy and momentum. How do you see things after a successful Interleague schedule?
We’ve got a good thing going as there’s even competition among teammates. I think it’s coming out in a good way on the field.
- You called on the young guys to come out hungry. Do you feel like they’ve answered the call?
The young guys have been getting playing time but also time on the bench. I think that has given them a greater hunger to get into the games. In that sense, yes, their “hunger” has shown itself. I also think that when they do get out there, they feel a sense of urgency to make something happen as well.
- Yoshio Itoi got taken out of the game on June 9th (@ SoftBank) and never made it back into the starting lineup. Did you feel an extra burden?
Not at all. Nothing was added to my workload. On the contrary, with this extra time off (between Interleague and regular league play), Itoi is better able to focus on getting himself healthy again. I mean, if his injury drags on longer, that could end up hurting the team long-term. Itoi can’t easily be replaced, but the whole team tried to compensate for his absence.
- And how are you feeling?
It’s not about how I’m feeling. I’m able to play in every game. There’s nothing more that I can say. Just business as usual.
- So things are going as you imagined they would?
I didn’t really imagine anything… It’s baseball is all.
- We heard something about an injured finger.
Nothing wrong there. I’m still able to play. That’s all that matters.
- You got shifted over to left field from June 6th (@ Buffaloes)…
Everything is the exact opposite of how I used to do things, so it’s been kind of hard. I still haven’t figured out what I’m doing out there, what kind of plays I need to make. But I’ve just got to get used to it. The coaches and managers decided this is what’s best for the team. So I’ve just got to do all that I can no matter what I’m asked to do. Nothing more.
- Back to league play on the 23rd, playing 3 straight in Hiroshima. Is this series every bit as important as the one at the start of the year?
Not at all. Everyone talks about how this is a matchup between the first and second place teams in the league, but we still haven’t even reached the halfway point of the season. It doesn’t do us a single ounce of good to think about our spot in the standings, who we’re facing and their spot in the standings, or how we can get ahead in the standings. We just have to play each game with the same reckless abandon. And that’s what we’ve been doing, and that’s why we’re in our current position. I think if we started focusing on the standings, it would affect how we played.
- So now is not the time to be concerned about each other’s place in the standings…
It’s really a matter of whether there are players on the team who have enough mental space to be worried about what others are doing.
- Shintaro Fujinami is currently playing down on the farm. What’s your take on him?
I think it’s good for him. A lot is expected from him up on the top squad. But I think right now in his case, there’s something bigger going on than just getting results. He’s got to come face-to-face with himself and think about his situation down there (on the farm). Everyone knows that he is expected to be the team’s ace pitcher down the road. How he deals with those expectations is up to him, but I think this is a good opportunity for him. I think it’s good for his own sake. Of course it makes things a little harder for the team. But on the other hand, if some of the younger pitchers grab this opportunity (to pitch in Shintaro’s absence), that will help the team out in the long run. And in a way that will also help Shintaro as well. He might sense that his status on the team is in jeopardy. I think he needs to feel that pressure. So I think this is a really important period for him and for the team. Depending on how he handles it, of course.
- Is it frustrating watching him pitch while standing out there in the field?
I don’t know if “frustrating” is the right word for it, but I think the fielders can sense even before he takes to the mound that “he doesn’t have his head in the game.” And I think the fans can sense it, too. And in that sense he’s just throwing the ball, and it’s getting worse and worse.
- Now that league play is about to resume, it’s unmistakably true that Fujinami’s arm is needed.
That’s not for us to decide, though. It’s going to come down to what condition he is in when he comes back up (to the top squad). Or will they not bring him back up unless he is back to who he used to be. We don’t know how it’s going to turn out. But he’s got to scratch and claw his way back up here. That’s the way things work in baseball.