Until Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers open their spring camp, the biggest story in the Cactus League for the Japanese media is Seattle Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma.
And with more than 20 members of that press crew following his every move – which did not include throwing a single pitch Sunday – Iwakuma did the unthinkable.
After his workout, Iwakuma walked into a sea of fans and spent more than 20 minutes signing autographs and posing for photos with dozens of people.
“This is the first time for me to see a lot of people here. I try to sign as much as I can,” he said through an interpreter. “It was my first day to wear a major league uniform.
“It was exciting to play with the other pitchers and catchers. It was fun.”
Iwakuma got loose and then took part in fielding drills, but won’t throw his first bullpen session until today.
“I didn’t throw. I’ll try to throw three times in the bullpen, then we’ll see. We’ll decide with the coaches,” he said.
Loosely penciled in as the No. 3 starter behind Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas, Iwakuma and interpreter Daisuke Sekiba talked to his new teammates.
“I want to communicate with everyone, so I was looking around a lot. I tried to see everyone I could,” Iwakuma said.
“The workout was easy. Two hours. I felt like a major leaguer,” he said.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
The first spring quote of the day belonged to pitching coach Carl Willis, who was assigning 35 pitchers to three different fields:
“If you’re left-handed, you’re on field four. If you’re not sure you’re left-handed, talk to me.”
What does manager Eric Wedge expect early in camp from rookie catcher Jesus Montero?
“We want him to get to know his teammates, get to know the coaches, know the pitchers,” Wedge said. “He’s got to get comfortable, and he will. Early on, just let him meet everyone, catch different guys.
“Once games start, the expectations will change.”
DIDYA HEAR ABOUT ?
It sounds like the first line of a joke: A bartender and a school teacher walked into the Mariners’ clubhouse Sunday
Except neither Tom Wilhelmsen or Steve Delabar worked those jobs during the offseason, having traded them for a better-paying gig – major league pitcher.
Wilhelmsen, who tended bar off and on for years in Tucson, didn’t pour anyone a drink and spent October with wife Cassie, traveling around the Olympic Penninsula.
“Loved Hurricane Ridge, and Rialto Beach? Awesome,” Wilhelmsen said.
Delabar was a substitute teacher who tried baseball again last season and worked his way from Class A to the majors.
“I didn’t teach this winter, but I taught baseball,” he said. “The kids didn’t seem to care that I’d pitched in the big leagues. They just wanted to learn more about the game.”
Felix Hernandez dropped 10-15 pounds in the offseason – he wouldn’t say exactly – and was taking good-natured abuse from teammates who asked where he’d left his stomach. Felix tried to say he didn’t do anything special, but the truth was simpler: Hard work. Relievers Shawn Kelley and Stephen Pryor drove together from Kentucky to Arizona, putting about 1,800 miles on Kelley’s car. How’d they break the monotony? “We played long toss in the parking lot between our hotel and a restaurant one morning,” Kelley said. “Hey, we had to get our throwing in.” Left-hander Charlie Furbush was delighted with the weather – sunny and warm – because he spent all winter at home in Maine. “I’ve been throwing since December,” he said, “but this is the first time I’d thrown outside.” Rookie Forrest Snow on his first big-league camp: “It’s the same game, and you try to do the same things that got you this far. But it’s a lot of fun looking around the clubhouse and seeing some of the guys who are in here.” For scheduling purposes if you’re thinking of visiting camp, the team has scheduled intra-squad games for Feb. 24, 26 and 28.