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March 31, 2009 at 10:14 AM

Just an average “Joh”

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Don’t forget Geoff Baker Live! at 11 a.m.
This morning was a landmark event of sorts in that I had my first conversation, in English, with catcher Kenji Johjima. He was walking by where Jim Street of MLB.com and I were standing and I said “How are you?”
“I’m very good, thank you,” he said.
At which point, my brain went “Huh?”
Normally, Johjima would respond to such a greeting with a smile and a well-meaning nodding of his head, usually with a word like “good” grunted for effect.
“That’s the first conversation I’ve ever had with you in English,” I told him.
He smiled.
Street then asked him a question about the WBC and he came over to chat.
We asked him about the crowd noise in Los Angeles during the WBC championship game between Japan and Korea.
Now, I don’t want to pretend Johjima is fluent enough to go on The O’Reilly Factor and get in a heated debate with ole’ Billy about foreign work visas. But it was clear he understood the questioning and was able to phrase his answer so that we understood.
“All Korean fans,” he told us about the noise level. “Japanese fans, very small.”
He went on to describe how the Korean fans would scream and yell with each ball that a Japanese pitcher would throw,
“Ball one…yaahhhhgghhh!” he said, immitating the screaming fans.
By the fourth ball, his description included lots of arm waving.
“In Los Angeles, many Korean people,” he said. “Not many Japanese people.”
OK, you get the drift. The reason I mention this is that manager Don Wakamatsu has gone out of his way to mention Johjima’s efforts at communicating with the pitching staff in recent days. Wakamatsu did it again this morning, mentioning how the pitchers have been learning a new set of signs and that Johjima has put in extra effort trying to be on the same page.
And that’s a good thing. We can keep harping about last year, and Johjima’s contract, which we have. You can’t just forget about it overnight. But one of the issues surrounding Johjima last season was his ability to work with pitchers. It appears he’s attempting to address it and that’s really all you can ask. A firmer grasp of the English language can’t hurt in that regard.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those “Speak English!” types who demands instant translation from everyone who comes over here. Johjima is a resident of Japan. Try putting yourself in his place and attempting to speak Japanese in a year or two if you went over there to play baseball six months a year. Yes, he has to understand the basics. And he does. He did last year. But as someone who speaks rudimentary Spanish, I can tell you there’s a difference between me understanding one word of every three that Jose Lopez says to Yuniesky Betancourt and being able to fire back a thought or two of my own without having to think about it and write it down first.
So, it’s a work in progress. But any progress is good.
Speaking of Japanese players, Ichiro has been given the day off by Wakamatsu as a result of what appears to be fatigue from the whole WBC thing and his team winning the championship. Ichiro felt light headed before yesterday’s game and was pulled after a single in his second at-bat.
It’s rare to see Ichiro miss even a single workout, so the Japanese press corps is more or less walking around like it’s a day off today. We’re told it’s nothing serious, but Ichiro is being listed as day to day. They’d rather get him rested and re-energized now than worry about it next week in Minnesota.

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