Darvish makes strong first impression

Darvish makes strong first impression

Published Jan. 20, 2012 8:28 p.m. ET

DALLAS — Texas Rangers All-Star Josh Hamilton has seen some massive media gatherings in his big-league career.

Two trips to the World Series and a Most Valuable Player award tends to prepare you for a lot of things.

Not even Hamilton has seen anything like the Yu-mania that took over Rangers Ballpark Friday night when right-hander Yu Darvish was introduced to about 200 media members as well as some fans who were peering in through the windows outside the club's Hall of Fame.

If Darvish handles the spotlight of pitching in the majors the same way he handled the questions coming from the media, it could turn out to be the best $111 million the Texas Rangers ever spent.

"That's a big stage," Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "He's used to it. I'm not. He doesn't seem fazed by much. He's a competitor. He likes that stage."

He certainly had the stage to himself in the press conference, which lasted nearly an hour. While Daniels, Rangers manager Ron Washington, pitching coach Mike Maddux and Darvish's translator Joe Furukawa were all at the same table, it was the 6-5 Darvish who handled fastballs and softballs in both English and Japanese.

One thing he made clear was that he was excited about getting his opportunity to pitch for the Rangers.

"In January when I came over here to visit Texas and Arlington, the front office people, all the people I met, they made me feel like family," said Darvish, who flew into Dallas Friday and was met at the airport by television cameras. "They made me feel very welcome. Their passion made me feel strongly towards the Rangers."

Passion was a word the Rangers also used to describe Darvish. They love his passion for pitching, his passion for practice and his passion for conditioning.

What that will mean to the club remains to be seen as Darvish said he knows very little about major-league hitters and will have to make several adjustments in his transition from Japanese superstar to major-league pitcher. He's not used to starting every fifth day, although he did it to close the 2011 season for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. He has to get used to the bigger ball used in the majors. And then there's the Texas heat.

Maybe most importantly, he has to get used to living and playing in the United States.

"I know there a lot of adjustments I need to make," said Darvish, who posed for pictures on the mound at Rangers Ballpark in a stadium that had his highlights on the video board. "Not just in the USA and in Texas but the American baseballs are different. I'm sure that will come in time and I will make the necessary adjustments. The ballpark itself – the dimensions. When I was here in January, I was on the mound and I looked over the right-center wall and it seemed a little bit closer. I was asking my GM (Daniels) if they could back that up a little bit. I don't know where they are with that."

The ease with which Darvish mixed baseball talk with humor was on display throughout the conference. He answered questions about everything from baseball to Texas barbecue to how he would have fared in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.

It was with that answer he showed how well he might fit in with his new teammates.
He said if he were in a similar situation that the Rangers were in — one strike from the title twice — he would have allowed a home run and lost the game — just like the Rangers did. Darvish said this season he'll make sure that doesn't happen.

That's the kind of confidence the Rangers want Darvish to have. It's also the kind of confidence that's backed by a successful career in Japan in which Darvish won two most valuable player awards.

Darvish doesn't seem too concerned about whether or not his ability will translate in the majors. Still, he's keeping his expectations for this season in check.

"To do the best I can do, make my starts, do the best for the team," said Darvish, who is heading back to Japan for another press conference and to train for spring training. "I'm not too tight about it. I have an open mind and want to be relaxed."

So does Darvish feel like he has any pressure on him, especially knowing that his every move will be followed by not only Rangers' fans but Japan?

"I have no worries," said Darvish, who said he was a baseball rat and has been in the spotlight since he was a teenager. "I'm looking to a different environment, a different league, different hitters. It's more fun looking to this. I'm full of excitement."

After Friday night, the Rangers' faithful should be too.