Wada glad to see Mashi again at Citi Field

Fellow left-hander relates to Majors' first Japanese player

Wada glad to see Mashi again at Citi Field

NEW YORK -- Injured Cubs starter Tsuyoshi Wada knew the name growing up, heard the stories and then followed in his footsteps. That's why it was a thrill for Wada to see Masanori Murakami again at Citi Field on Thursday before Chicago completed its three-game series with the Mets.

"I have respect for him because he was the first to play in this country. Also, he's a left-hander, so I relate to him that way," Wada said. "I had no idea that he was going to be here, but it's a lovely experience seeing him."

Murakami -- nicknamed "Mashi" -- became Major League Baseball's first Japanese player when he came on in relief for the San Francisco Giants on September 1, 1964. Citi Field provided the most recent spot on the book tour for Murakami's biography, "Mashi," which was released earlier this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his first full season. Murakami pithed 45 games for the Giants in 1965 before returning to Japan. He went 103-82 with a career 3.64 ERA in 17 seasons in Japan, mostly with the Nankai Hawks.

Although Murakami has made some positive contributions in the Majors -- pitching to a career .343 ERA in 54 games -- the 71-year-old is best known for the international squabble that resulted after his debut. His return to Japan wasn't predicated on performance. Murakami enjoyed the United States -- especially San Francisco and exploring the national park system -- but was forced to return due to contract obligations.

"I wanted to stay," he said Thursday.

Many of Murakami's things are immortalized in the Baseball Hall of Fame, including a cap, glove and equipment bag from his Minor League days with Class A Fresno. But Murakami's name has been lost a bit to history in Japan, mostly because his Major League career was so short. While baseball fans honor and respect his legacy, his name is not as broadly recognized as, say, Jackie Robinson's is in the United States.

But that doesn't change the fact that Murakami broke an international barrier, or that his migration eventually led to many and more lucrative ones. Without him, the career of modern trailblazer Hideo Nomo, and current pitchers like Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka, would not have been possible.

Neither would the career of Wada, who also played for the Hawks, now sponsored by Fukuoka Softbank. Wada is 1-1 with a 3.73 ERA in seven starts for the Cubs this year, his second season. He's been on the disabled list since June 23 with deltoid inflammation but has had a fan in Mashi since the two met during November's Japan All-Star Series.

"Wada played on the same team as me," Murakami said. "And he's a good guy. That's always been attractive to me when it comes to players."

Joe Trezza is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.