I am now a media star in Japan.
There is a flock of about 25 Japanese reporters in camp following every move made by Masumi Kuwata, a 38-year-old pitcher trying to break into the majors with the Pirates. Kuwata is something of a baseball god in Japan because he put up amazing stats in the Central League. Here, he’s a longshot to make the 25-man roster; he’ll start the season in the minors.
The flock follows Kuwata everywhere. They careen around Pirate City and McKechnie Field at full speed, camera cords and laptops in tow, recording his every grunt during warmups, every pitch, every time he sits, walks or talks.
Thursday, during the Pirates’ Grapefruit League opener at McKechnie, I was asked to do an interview about Kuwata for Japanese TV. Sure, why not?
The “interview” was far different than what I’m used to as an American sports writer. The setup was staged — the interviewer told me to pretend we met by accident at the game, while I was standing near the Cincinnati Reds bullpen, “writing” a story on my laptop. “Are you a newspaper writer?” Why, yes, I am. “Do you know about Masumi Kuwata?” Why, yes, I do. “Do you think he will do well pitching for the Pirates this season?” Actually, no, I don’t.
Wrong answer, apparently. Take two.
My interviewer wasn’t going to be happy until I said Kuwata would ring up the wins in Pittsburgh this summer. It was getting late in the ballgame and I still had my own stories to write, so I took the easy way out.
“Will Kuwata do well pitching for the Pirates this season?” Oh, yes. He’ll win 20 games, maybe.
Smiles all around.
No big deal, I thought. After all, how many people in Japan would be watching that TV show, anyway?
About 125 million, I was told.
Uh oh …