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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

March 24, 2009 at 10:03 AM

Here’s to Yu, whirling Darvish

darvish.jpg.

One of the golden rules of newspaper journalism is that no matter how global a story appears, there’s always a local angle.

Take Yu Darvish, the amazing Japanese pitcher who might — or might not — be the next great Asian major-league import, and who was on the mound last night at Dodger Stadium when Team Japan finished off South Korea to repeat as champion of the World Baseball Classic.

You could see the tremendous movement on Darvish’s breaking pitches (though he faltered in the 9th, allowing Korea to tie the game before Ichiro‘s two-run single won it for Japan in the 10th). Trey Hillman, the Royals’ manager who was Darvish’s manager with the Nippon Ham Fighters, once said of Darvish, “The curveball is just not fair. Honestly, it’s just not a fair pitch.”

At age 22, with a bad-boy streak (he once posed naked for a magazine) and dominating success, Darvish has become the biggest name in Japanese baseball. And he’s got a great back-story, detailed last year in an illuminating piece on ESPN.com by our own Seattle-area resident Jim Caple (but that’s not the local angle).

Darvish’s father, Farsad, is Iranian. His mother, Ikuyo, is Japanese. Farsad attended college in Florida (Eckard College in St. Petersburg), but his soccer career was derailed after Iranian students kidnapped 52 U.S. embassy workers in Tehran in 1979. As Caple wrote, that event “instantly made things rather unpleasant for young Iranians studying in America.”

Farsad Darvish left Florida and eventually settled in — here comes the local angle! — none other than Cheney, Wash., where he worked in the cafeteria at Eastern Washington University. He vividly remembers working there when the Seattle Seahawks would come through each summer for training camp.

“When I was working in the cafeteria, I used to watch them carry two trays — one was a milk tray, one was a food tray, so it was very huge,” Farsad Darvish told Caple. “And, of course, I cheered for the Seahawks.”

Yes, it’s a small world. The father of the most famous player in Japan crossed paths with Cortez Kennedy and Dan McGwire in the sweltering heat of Cheney. It boggles the mind. (Upon further consideration, I realize the time frame would have been more Jim Zorn and Steve Largent than Kennedy and McGwire. But still).

The Darvishes eventually decided to relocate to Japan, where Yu was raised from infancy. Now the burning question in Japanese baseball is if and when he will follow Ichiro, Daisuke and virtually every other Japanese star to the major leagues.

Darvish, who is 48-19 with a 2.33 ERA in four seasons with Nippon Ham, is playing it coy. He won’t be eligible for free agency until 2014, but the Fighters could choose to “post” him before then — the process by which the Mariners landed Ichiro, and the Red Sox got Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Mariners paid a $13.1 million posting fee to Ichiro’s team, the Orix Blue Wave, prior to the 2001 season. The Red Sox paid a $52 million posting fee to Daisuke’s team, the Seibu Lions, in 2007. There’s already speculation that Darvish’s posting fee could reach $75 million — which would be an awfully tempting windfall for Nippon Ham in a rough economy.

At those prices (and remember, the posting fee is only to get negotiating rights; the winning team still needs to sign the player to a contract), you’d figure the usual suspects will be in the bidding — the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and Dodgers. But who knows? Maybe the lure of Cheney, Wash., will have Darvish pining to pitch for the Mariners.

(Photo by Getty Images)

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