Lou Piniella is confident that Kosuke Fukudome, above, will bounce back from a rough finish to the 2008 season.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Last year, Fukudomania was all the rage in spring training.
Wherever Kosuke Fukudome went, the crowds followed, particularly the Japanese media.
The mania gave way to concern, which gave way to worry as the season wore on, and pretty soon, Fukudome was a curiosity because of what went wrong.
So how did Fukudome go from international sensation to a guy who lost his job in right field in the course of a few months?
"My stupidity," Fukudome said Thursday as he officially rejoined the Cubs after the World Baseball Classic.
Fukudome did not play in Thursday night's game against the Giants, but he'll be in the lineup for today's game against the White Sox at HoHoKam Park.
Gone is the gaggle of Japanese reporters - only a handful were present Thursday - but what remains are the questions that arose in the second half of last season, when Fukudome turned in a post all-star break average of .217.
Fukudome may have been hard on himself when he used the term "stupidity," because he says he's trying to learn from the experience.
"I learned a lot since last year," he said. "It's a little easier feeling to come in here to play. I definitely learned a lot last year, and that will make it a lot easier transition for this year. I can use a lot of things I learned last year to implement it this year."
He attributed part of last year's struggles to the elbow surgery that ended his 2007 season in Japan early.
The benefit of the doubt seems to be on Fukudome's side as manager Lou Piniella (who ran out of patience last year) pencils Fukudome into the starting lineup in center field and batting second, at least against right-handed pitching.
"Second year," Piniella said as he ticked off reasons he's optimistic about Fukudome. "More acclimated. More familiar with the National League, the pitchers, the demanding schedule, the travel. More acclimated, so I think it will play big dividends for him."
Overall, Fukudome wound up with an on-base percentage of .359 last year after flirting with .400 early. He batted .257 with 10 home runs and 58 RBI.
He since has lost his right-field job to Milton Bradley and now will share time in center with Reed Johnson.
When asked about the importance of getting off to a good start, given Piniella's impatience, Fukudome flashed a bit of confidence.
"Please take a look at today's practice, and you might find out the answer," he said.
Piniella had one chat with Fukudome when Japan's WBC team visited Mesa. The manager talked with him again Thursday.
"I told him that we were very happy to have him here, that we look for him to have a really good season with us," Piniella said. "He's happy. He's in a good frame of mind."