Messenger Remembers His Teammates
Written by Randy Messenger, translated to Japanese, then re-translated here by T-Ray
The Real Ichiro Hits Homers at Will
I forgot to mention something in the last column. I want to talk about Barry (Bonds = Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants) a little. He holds the major league record for home runs with 762, but he has been criticized for his alleged use of steroids. He’s even stood before a judge in court. I want to tell you what I think about the whole thing.
Using steroids helps with building muscle mass, but the most important thing for a hitter is eye-hand coordination, which cannot be improved with steroid use. That was one of Bonds’ strengths as a hitter. Besides, no one has come along and hit as many home runs as he has, despite there being a number of steroid users. Not one. So I don’t think steroids had that big of an impact on his play. I know just as well as anyone about what made Bonds a great ball player. I just wanted to make my stance clear to you readers.
By the way, if anyone were to ask me who I thought had the best eye-hand coordination in baseball, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that it’s Ichiro (Florida Marlins). His level of play is amazing – he’s already an MLB legend.
I was able to play with him while with the Mariners, and I had heard rumors about him even before I joined the team. And when I became his teammate, I found out that the rumors were true. What rumors? The number of routines and superstitions he has before games. I was amazed at how many there were.
And after I joined the Mariners and took my first practice with the team, I was blown away. As we pitchers were going through our practice, we heard this constant CRACK! CRACK! and I turned to see balls sailing into the outfield bleachers. “Awesome, I didn’t know we had such a good home run hitter on our team! Who is he?” I asked one of the veteran Mariners players, and he said, “It’s Ichiro.” I was like, “No way. He’s not a home run hitter!” But I saw it with my own eyes; it really was him. That was shocking.
At times he would even hit the ball intentionally at the restaurant that sat in the deepest part of the right field grandstand. He was seriously aiming for it. So everyone always says it: “He should be in the home run derby during the all-star break. He could easily hit more home runs than anyone else there. No way he’d lose.” But Ichiro stubbornly refuses, saying, “I’m not a long distance hitter.” Sounds just like him. But I still want him to enter the home run derby and put on an exciting show for the fans.
In April, Ichiro hit a home run in the ninth inning of a game between the Marlins and the Mariners. I am absolutely sure he was trying to hit it. That’s the Ichiro I know!
I Still Clearly Remember that Conversation on the Road with Joe
I played with one more Japanese player on the Mariners: Joe (Kenji Johjima). We formed a battery as he was the team’s main catcher. But in 2009 he started losing playing time and was contemplating a return to Japan. On the other hand, I just wanted to have more chances to pitch, and was thinking about how I could do that. One of my options was to go to Japan.
I always had some interest in Japan, and was definitely willing to go anywhere that would give me more opportunities to throw. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with Joe while we were on the road in Toronto.
I had heard that Joe was seriously thinking about heading back to Japan, so I went to talk to him about it. The three of us (his interpreter was there too) talked about a lot of stuff. We talked for a long time. It was during that conversation that Joe realized how serious I was about going to Japan. After that, he started to put things in motion for me, too.
As things moved forward, I was able to sit down and talk to a team representative for Hanshin and they even made me an official offer. If I hadn’t had that heart-to-heart talk with Joe back in Toronto, I don’t think I’d be here in Japan today. It was truly a fateful conversation and encounter. I can’t thank Joe enough for all he’s done for me.
So Joe and I became teammates once again in 2010, this time for the Hanshin Tigers. I can remember being really excited about my first Hanshin spring training that year. Both me and Casey (Fossum) were new to the team and we were both really excited. On the other hand, Matt Murton (who was also new to the team) was so nervous. I can remember it clearly even to this day.