Thursday, January 19, 2012

Yu Darvish

by Flickr Keith Fujimoto
Thursday January 19, 9:10 p.m.

The news was perhaps given some minutes into the typical sportscast here in Toronto, but it was the top story on NHK on every newscast over the past 24 hours. Yu Darvish, the half-Iranian, half-Japanese pitching wunderkind, is officially a Texas Ranger. Of course, any major Japanese athlete who makes the big leagues in America is gonna be Story One. Perhaps like a lot of other nations, whenever a native son hits the big time (i.e.big in the USA), the Japanese (media) go into a major feeding frenzy. Houston had better be prepared for the Japanese onslaught in terms of reporters and tourists.

I'm not a huge baseball fan comes in a distant second next to ice hockey. I was even less of one in Japan. Just to appease the students, I often answered either The Tokyo Giants or The Chiba Lotte Marines (Bobby Valentine's old team) whenever I was asked what my favorite Japanese League team was. However, I knew about Yu pretty early on. 

He first appeared on national screens when he was a high school senior in the semi-annual Koshien High School championships which has as much viewing clout as the Stanley Cup playoffs do here in Canada. He had a buzzcut back then...high school baseball clubs have that very militaristic bent to them. The scouts saw something the raw talent in him, and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters got him.

Darvish quickly attained superstar status not only because of his obvious talent, but also because of his exotic looks and his very American height (6'5"). He was a rock star. He also had a rock star's in big trouble for being caught smoking underage in a pachinko parlor (not exactly scandal-inducing in regular society but for celebs, well...), then much later, apparently showed a very lackadaisical attitude when confronted by his wife about his romantic extracurriculars, which is now why they're heading into divorce court. And he did a spread in  fashion magazine An-an, wearing nothing more than a bedsheet and an attitude. I wonder if he should've gone to the Dodgers instead.

In any case, the Japanese will soon get an eyeful of The Lone Star State via NHK, Fuji-TV, TV Asahi, etc. and they'll find out about the wonders of Tex-Mex cuisine, BBQs and brisket. In addition, Mr. Darvish has a very headline-friendly name, so ballpark posters and newspaper headlines will have lines such as:

"Yu is the Man!"
"We love Yu!"
"Thank Yu!"
"The Whirling Darvish!"

The big question of course is whether Japan's greatest pitcher will be the next Ichiro or the next Hideki Irabu.