The following interview was a 5-week series found on the Hanshin Tigers official website. I always find it hard to translate these, because the original answers given by Randy Messenger were in English, then interpreted into Japanese, transcribed, read by my eyes, and put back into the English I think Randy might have originally spoken. Things do get lost in translation, so please forgive me if there are discrepancies between the original interview and what you are about to read. For the record, I am not sure how long Hanshin keeps this on the team website, but here’s a link to part 1 of the Japanese version.
This season’s slogan is “Idomu” (Challenge) – how are you challenging yourself this season?
RM: I’d like to win the Sawamura Award this season. To tell the truth, I hadn’t thought about it until now, but since (Kris) Johnson of the Carp won it last year, I thought, “I’ve got to try and win one for myself, too.” I think I’m as good a pitcher as anyone else, so I’m challenging myself to win the Sawamura Award this year.
Now that you’ve played some under the Kanemoto regime, what do you think of him as a manager?
RM: I really like the style of baseball he’s trying to execute on the field. But one of the biggest reasons I really like playing for him is that he really trusts me out there. That motivates me to live up to the level of trust he has in me. I’m hoping to play under him for awhile, so I’m going to keep putting in a huge effort.
You’ve been in Japan now for 8 seasons. Has your motivation changed at all since you first arrived in 2010?
RM: When I first got to Japan I was just so excited about playing here, but I didn’t know my left from my right, and had to get a lot of help from those around me. Now that I’m in my 8th season, the roles have been reversed and it’s time for me to take more of a leadership role on the team. That’s the biggest difference.
It feels good, though, to be able to help lead the team. Of course it’s an honor to be the guy that the young players come to with questions, but also the coaches pay me a lot of respect. It’s a huge honor to be seen in such a light by those around me, and I just hope I can live up to it and be a solid leader for the team.
In what ways do you try to be a leader?
RM: For example, as a veteran player, how I approach practice and the game with a lot of energy and passion will hopefully inspire the guys around me to do the same. So I think it’s really important for me to set a solid example for the younger guys. I want to lead in that way but also enjoy the game, you know? If all they see is me busting my butt but not having fun, they will just see an example of someone who works hard but it’ll maybe even demotivate them a little.
Why do you think you were so successful in adapting to Japanese baseball?
RM: I used to be a reliever back in America, and I was brought over to take on that same role. But it didn’t go very well and I spent some time on the farm. I was told I’d be given a look on the top squad as a starter if I wanted it. That was a huge change for me. I dunno, it was a huge challenge for me, crazy, even. But maybe having to make such a huge adjustment helped me be able to adjust to Japanese ball a little more. I really don’t know how I did it.
You’ve been here for 8 years but never had a major injury. Can we ask you why you’ve been able to stay this healthy?
RM: As a ball player, the most important thing you can do is get yourself into shape so you don’t get injured. I put a lot of time and care into my shoulder, my elbow, my arm. For a pitcher it’s the most important part of the body, obviously, but it’s also the easiest part to hurt, so you can’t cut corners when it comes to care. That also includes proper stretching and long tosses before games and every day. Just taking good care of myself and having good work habits is what keeps me free from injury.
Tell us a little about how it felt to be named the Central League’s Pitcher of the Month for March/April.
RM: Of course for me personally it was a great joy, but it’s not the kind of award you can win all on your own. My teammates scored runs when they needed to, and I threw the ball well. So the award was only possible because of my teammates.
You’ve been on a good roll right from the start of the season. Why do you think that is?
RM: Up to this point, my teammates have given me a lead to work with in most games, and that has helped me to relax and pitch well. May 5th against the Carp a good example of that. We took an early lead but then they came back, and it looked like I was going to get the loss. But my teammates battled back and got the lead back. We all worked together and the team won, and that’s the most important thing.
Do you have anything you do before the game to get ready?
RM: I always listen to music. On the way to games at Koshien I listen to music in the car. Then after getting to the stadium, after practice and before the game, in my case, between 4:30 and 5:30, after I’ve showered and eaten, I listen to music again. This routine helps me relax and get focused, and I never go without it.
What’s your favorite part of Koshien Stadium, a place you go to relax?
RM: The mound. Of course I have to concentrate hard while I’m up there, though. But that’s where I like being… Not necessarily to relax, mind you, but it’s where you could say I feel “at home.”
Do any of your teammates influence the way you prepare for the game?
RM: I’ve always had my eye on Takashi Toritani, ever since coming to Japan. Me and Toritani are the same age, and I feel a certain closeness to him. There’s something to be said about being the same age as someone, isn’t there. I’ve always been impressed by his work ethic in practice, and he definitely influences me in that area. I’ve also had my eye on Kosuke Fukudome since his return to Japan from the States. His focus and approach to the game during camp, during the season, before and after games, it’s awesome. I’ve definitely learned from those two.
If you could list two young players that have gotten your attention, which two would you name?
RM: We’ve got so many good young players, it’s really hard to name just two. If I had to name two, I’d go with two of our rookies. The first is Yusuke Ohyama. Of course he’s a good hitter and has gotten a lot of attention since spring training, but he’s also a very solid defender and is fun to watch. Another is Kento Itohara. Right from camp, he’s had a really good swing and gets good wood on the ball. He plays with a lot of confidence. It’ll be fun to keep watching these guys develop.
What does your family mean to you as a professional baseball player?
RM: My family means so much to me. Especially since I have kids. My kids don’t really think of their dad as a pro ball player. To them I’m just a dad, so I have to teach them what’s right and what’s wrong. I really feel strongly about being the best dad I can for them, and teach them how to treat others, among other things. Of course as a baseball player I don’t want to let my kids down. What I do on the field, I also do for them.
What kind of things do you want to accomplish with the Tigers?
RM: I’ve been with the club for 8 years and there is still a lot I want to accomplish. But the biggest thing has to be a pennant. We’ve finished in second a few times and come real close but never won the pennant. It sucks to end the season like that, so I want to do what we’ve never done and win a championship.
What do hope fans notice about this year’s team?
RM: This year I feel like we definitely have a good shot at a championship. Last year the young guys got a lot of experience on the top squad, and I think a lot of them are going to help lead the team to victory. It’s only Kanemoto’s second season at the helm but I think he’s brought up the team’s level of play a lot. We definitely want to win it all this year.
So the pennant and the Sawamura Award are musts?
RM: Yes, yes, musts (laughs).
Before the season started you said you wanted to win it all for the fans. Give us another word or two for the fans out there.
RM: We’ve really come together as a team this year, the atmosphere is good, and we’re playing with confidence. Everybody’s working hard and we are all playing with the pennant in mind. Hope the fans can keep pushing us on and bring lots of good energy to the field as they always do.