WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Mere days into life in the United States, and Japanese reliever Masahide Kobayashi already has the whole thing figured out. "I like to go to Wal-Mart," Kobayashi said through interpreter Toshi Nagahara, no doubt echoing the sentiments of millions of Americans. "I'm surprised by the size of the store. They sell a lot of things in one store, and you have a big cart. That's something we don't see in Japan." What Kobayashi saw Saturday morning, when he and the rest of the Indians' pitchers and catchers took to the fields at the Chain of Lakes complex for the first official workout of the spring, was a throng of 14 Japanese reporters and photojournlists waiting to document his every move.
The shutters clicked with a flurry every time the 33-year-old Kobayashi went into his windup during a 10-minute, 50-pitch bullpen session, every time he fielded a ball during pitchers' fielding practice and every time he sprinted across the agility field. Gaku Tashiro, a baseball reporter for the Tokyo-based newspaper Sankei Sports, was part of the media pack. He said he and the rest of the horde will be back when Kobayashi throws his first live batting practice session next week. "We were with the Dodgers [on Friday] to watch Hiroki Kuroda, and we'll be in Viera [on Sunday] to cover the Nationals' new lefty [Katsuhiko Maekawa]," Tashiro said. "The Japanese fans love baseball. They have satellite TV in Japan, so they can watch the Major League Baseball games live, early in the morning." This year, a record-high 22 Japanese players are expected to play in the Majors, and Kobayashi is in that mix. "I'm here to help the team," said Kobayashi, who figures to pitch in the back end of the Tribe bullpen. "I'll pitch in whatever role the team tells me." During Spring Training in Japan, Kobayashi would throw three consecutive days and rest the fourth. He'll probably stay on a similar routine here, even though the Indians have their other pitchers throw bullpens every other day. "I can live with [Kobayashi throwing] three days in a row," pitching coach Carl Willis said. "He is a veteran guy, and you have to respect his routine and his process of getting ready." The process of learning to speak Japanese to better communicate with Kobayashi is another matter entirely. "Look," Willis said, "I'm still working on English." But Willis does plan to prepare a cheat sheet that will assist him when he visits Kobayashi on the mound, so that he can understand what thoughts the reliever is trying to get across. Willis will also lean on Nagahara for key words to use when he's trying to make a point to Kobayashi. Rafael Betancourt, who pitched in Japan in 2000 and knows some of the language, has offered to help out in the bullpen. And catcher Victor Martinez is already brushing up on his Japanese, as well.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.