The original interview (in Japanese) and pictures can be found here
How do you feel playing for the Hanshin Tigers?
Rafael Dolis (RD): I’d wanted to make my way out to Japan for awhile already, so I’m really happy to have been able to do it. I feel very fortunate the be a member of the Hanshin Tigers. A lot of ball players in America want to come over here and play, and I was lucky enough to get my ticket to play in the NPB. It’s a huge opportunity and I want to make something of it.
Before coming out here I had this vague idea that Japanese baseball wouldn’t be so different from the majors. But now that I have played here, I have come to realize that it’s really not all that similar. Japanese baseball has some really good elements to it. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s something that the American game lacks. It was kind of unexpected and it left me confused at first, but fortunately I was able to make adjustments and get used to the Japanese way fairly quickly.
What do you think you need to do in order to make something of this opportunity?
RD: I think the most important thing is to stay healthy. My job is to play baseball, and the most important thing for me to pitch well is to keep my body in good shape and take care of my health.
How is the communication with the manager and coaches?
RD: Kanemoto and the coaches, all of them talk to me about all kinds of things. Everyone is so approachable, which is pretty different from when I was playing in America. They don’t just ask how I’m doing or if I’m feeling alright, but they’ll say things to make sure I remain confident, which is really encouraging. I think their thoughtfulness helps me to just go out there and throw with confidence. In that sense, the communication here is really good.
How about your relationships with your teammates?
RD: It’s my second year and I’ve picked up a little bit of Japanese, so compared to last year, I think I am speaking in Japanese to my teammates more. But also, some of the guys are working on their English and are coming up and talking to me, too. I feel like we can communicate a fair amount without using an interpreter, so compared with last year, the communication is much better. I want to be able to communicate more and more with my teammates moving forward, too.
Who do you get along with the best among your teammates?
RD: I feel like the team has a real sense of unity these days. I feel like everyone gets along with everyone really well. So really, I wouldn’t say I get along particularly well with any one person. I personally don’t want to get along well with some guys and not others. I hope we can be just like a family where everyone plays well together.
Fans are kind of members of the family, too. How do you feel about the Tigers fans at Koshien?
RD: It’s so amazing. I have never experienced support from fans the way that I have at Koshien. I really feel like their cheering becomes my strength when I’m on the mound. When I step on that mound, the cheering is so incredible that I feel like I’ve got to get the save so that the fans leave the stadium satisfied.
How do you spend your days off?
RD: I go out with my family a lot. For example, we’ll all go to Sannomiya in Kobe and shop together, things like that.
Do you have a favorite place in Japan?
RD: I can’t really choose any one place, because I have liked every part of Japan that I have been to. If I had to choose one place, I would say Kobe, since I live there (laughs).
I really love nature a lot, and I feel like Kobe has a lot to offer. You can go to the mountains, to the ocean, to rivers, anywhere. I like Kobe a lot for that reason, too.
You’re originally from the Dominican Republic, but you left your homeland to live in America, and now Japan. Have you gotten used to it?
RD: From the time I was with the Cubs, I have been in pro baseball for 14 years, so I have gotten used to it. My family is getting used to it as well. We don’t feel any loneliness or homesickness living abroad. But when I made my debut in the minors, when I moved to America for the first time in 2006, I felt lonely. Mind you, my family wasn’t with me back then. But I’ve grown pretty fond of my surroundings, and I’ve gotten to know lots of people since coming to Japan, including my teammates, so in a way I feel like I have two families.
How do you evaluate your play so far this year?
RD: I feel really good about it so far. I say this all the time, but I just have to work hard and make the most of every chance I am given. I feel like so far I have gotten good results.
I haven’t set any particular goals for the season. When I’m on the mound, I want to save the game, and when I get it, I start thinking about the next game. I don’t look far ahead. I just try to get today’s job done today.
The team has put itself in a position to win the championship. What do you think the team needs most in order to win?
RD: Right now we’re playing really well. I think every guy just has to go out there and do his job well. The hitters have to hit, and the pitchers need to throw hard and do their part. It sounds really obvious when I put it that way, but the whole team is working hard right now, so we just have to just keep going in the direction we’ve been going.
Finally, give the fans a short message.
RD: I’m so thankful for all your passion and encouragement up until now. I always feel like I am playing for you, the fans, when you cheer with all that energy. The team is in good shape right now but we’re not satisfied with our place in the standings. We are aiming higher and higher. We want to win out the Climax Series and finish with a Nippon Ichi (Nippon Series Championship), so we’re counting on you to keep cheering us on.