Q & A session with Kenji Johjima
Mariners' new catcher's press conference in Japan
All the questions were asked by Mr. Okada of Kyushu Asahi Hoso.
Question: Why did you choose the Seattle Mariners?
Answer: It is an honor to become a member of the Seattle Mariners. They were the first team to come to me and they have pursued me with great sincerity, which meant a lot to me. While my family and I visited Seattle earlier this month, they provided us with tremendous hospitality and made us feel very comfortable and at home. They really made us feel this is the place to be.
Even though today is one of the happiest moments of my life, I fully understand that I have a lot of work ahead of me. I need to learn about my pitchers and I need to work hard to earn their trust. I will do everything I can to adjust to the Major Leagues and I hope that I can help the team get back into the playoffs.
Q: Did you hear any explanation [from the Mariners] that you will be the "regular" catcher?
A: There is competition to become a "regular" catcher. And I know that it is not easy. It is something that I have to go there and work for.
Q: How long is the contract?
A: I didn't negotiate myself, but [it's three years].
Q: What did you like about the city of Seattle?
A: It looks somewhat similar to Japan. The water is beautiful and they also have mountains. It was a little rainy during the time I was there but I heard that the weather is nice during the season.
Q: Did your family like [Seattle]?
A: My wife liked the Japanese supermarket, Uwajimaya.
Q: I heard that there are a lot of Japanese people living [in Seattle].
A: Yes, there are.
Q: What did you feel about the team facility?
[A] Good. It was beyond what I have imagined. I've seen a lot of Ichiro's games on TV, and Safeco Field is not unfamiliar. However, I re-recognized the beauty of that ballpark.
Q: Were you able to imagine yourself on the field [at Safeco]?
A: Not yet.
Q: When you came off the plane [from the US trip], you said you hadn't made up your mind yet. Now you have. What went on during that period?
A: I was able to explain everything to my family after I actually saw Seattle. So then I was able to have a family meeting to talk about everything.
Q: Did you decide not to travel to New York?
A: I thought that it is not necessary for me to go there.
Q: You had offers from six teams. Why did you not go [to visit those other teams]?
A: The Mariners really showed me that they wanted me. And as the first Japanese catcher to go the Major Leagues, I had no dissatisfaction in what they presented me. I did not want to try and run up the price.
Q: Isn't language going to be an issue for you?
A: There is no way I can fluently talk without an interpreter. However, I would like to make good communication with the pitcher. Of course, I will need the help of an interpreter on important occasions, but by showing sincerity/good faith to the pitcher, I think they will teach me English as a teammate. My English is not good yet, but I will make my best effort to improve.
Q: Do you have any anxiety [regarding the language barrier]?
A: Sure I have. But I will make my best effort. I will try and spend a lot of time with the pitcher and work to communicate the manager's "vision for baseball" to them.
Q: Today is the Hawks' end of season reception. How are you going to tell everyone about this?
[A] I have always said this but I have no complaint for the Hawks. So I have made all the protocols that I need to keep. I have reported and updated of where things are. I reported to Manager [Sadaharu] Oh and the team executive yesterday, and today I will tell Mr. Son [team owner].
Q: What did Mr. Oh say?
A: He seems like he scheduled things as if he had already thought I was someone gone from his team. He said, "Tell everyone in the US about the Hawks."
Q: Do you have a message to the fans?
A: I know I have been in the news a lot with all this recently ... I have been in Fukuoka for 11 years, and with the fans' support, I was able to gain this much stature and become a mature player, and that led me to this contract with an MLB team. The reason I was able to develop this much is because of the fans. I have no complaint or issues with the team or the city. That is the reason I spent so much time thinking about this move. But I've decided to make this challenge [to play in the MLB]. So though Mr. Oh told me to show the people in the US about the Hawks, I want to be representing Fukuoka. I want to be a great player and show the team.
Q: It was rather a quick negotiation period?
A: They gave me an offer that was enough for me. So if I went to New York, I may have seen something else, but that would mean that I am putting the Mariners' goodwill/sincerity to me as the first Japanese catcher in the MLB on a scale against other teams. I didn't want to put their goodwill/sincerity on a scale and disregard that attitude that they showed me.
Q: Did you decide everything while you were in Chicago?
A: I decided to prioritize my feelings.
Q: Did you meet Mr. Yamauchi while you were in the US?
Q: In what way did you feel the goodwill/sincerity of the Mariners?
A: The executives of the Mariners took me and my family to a meal and presented us with what is good about Seattle. They showed me that I am necessary for the team in many different ways. I can't specify one.
Q: As the first Japanese catcher in MLB what would you like to appeal?
A: [The Mariners] evaluated me for what I have achieved until now. So I have to do what I have done until now ... which is always difficult to do. I will gradually adjust myself to what MLB does but will try and keep my present style where it is necessary. Even though language may be a problem, I am sure that if I show sincerity, I will be able to get my message across. Communicating the managers' "vision of baseball" is a part of the catcher's job.
Q: The number of games in NPB and MLB is different ... how many games will you be out there?
A: What I have now is a contract and not a regular position in the team. There is no assurance or guarantee that I will be on the field on Opening Day. However, if I am able to wear the mask on Opening Day, I don't want to give that up to anyone. There is only one position for a catcher and I don't want to give it up.
Q: You had an average of about .300 in Japan. What are you thinking about in the US?
A: I don't know yet. But if I am thinking of negative results, I wouldn't be going [to the Majors]. I want to have a good result. I am not imagining of the negative.
Q: Did you hear anything about what number you are having on your uniform?
A: I haven't heard anything.
Q: There may be cases where you will have a difficult time communicating with not only Americans but other people, like Venezuelans. How are you going to deal with that?
A: I will think about it when it happens.
Q: Are you studying English?
A: I have a tutor provided from the Mariners, and starting the day after tomorrow, I will have lessons. Once I go [to the US], I will have a Japanese interpreter.
Q: What is your schedule after this?
A: There will be an official contract made and the press announcement may be made in December or January in Seattle.
Q: You said you have a three-year contract. Are you coming back to Fukuoka after that?
A: I want to retire in Fukuoka, but I don't know when that will be. I am not thinking of a "brief stop" at the MLB.
Q: What are you going to do about the World Baseball Classic?
A: I have had an offer. But the time of the tournament is when I need to get to know the team and when the team needs to get to know me. Mr. Oh said that, "Spring Camp is important, so use it for yourself". I don't think I will attend [the WBC].
Q: Did you make any contact with Ichiro upon making a step to MLB?
A: Not yet. I know he's also busy right now. But as a protocol, I will need to make a greeting to him.
Q: Did the fact that Ichiro plays in Seattle give any effect in your decision?
A: Not directly. But Seattle has an environment ready to accept Japanese [ballplayers]. And I think that environment was made by having Ichiro ... so I suppose it did give an effect in a way.
Q: Do you have any specific player you want to play against?
A: No one in specific. I've got to attend the Spring Camp and be able to imagine myself wearing the mask on Opening Day there. I want to be able to simulate myself playing out there with confidence.
Q: Why do you want to play in the Major Leagues?
A: All players want to be better. It's not a comparison with Japan and the US, but everyone wants to challenge higher goals. I think [the catcher position] is a good point about Japanese baseball. And if [a Japanese catcher] can gain success in the US, it will show Japanese baseball to the US fans.
US baseball has a long history with certain levels. I think it was natural for me to want a challenge. I don't know when I started to have that feeling, but in recent years I have had a strong will, and I want a new challenge.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.