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Cubs' signing big news in Japan
By Mike Spellman | Daily Herald Staff

Kosuke Fukudome


Associated Press

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Published: 12/19/2007 12:19 AM

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The signing of Japanese star Kosuke Fukudome seems to have gone over real well within Cubs Nation.

General manager Jim Hendry and manager Lou Piniella couldn't be happier. And judging from letters to the editor and calls to sports-talk radio stations, most Cubs fans are agog over the prospect of Fukudome patrolling right field next season.

Many fans will get their first chance to see Fukudome today when he conducts his first news conference at Wrigley Field after agreeing to a four-year, $48 million deal last week with the Cubs.

But how is Fukudome's move to the States playing in Japan?

To answer that and a few of other questions regarding baseball's latest Japanese import, we contacted sports writer Naoko Sato of Nikkan Sports News.

Sato has been a regular in the press box at U.S. Cellular Field the past few seasons covering Tadahito Iguchi and the White Sox. Here is her assessment, via e-mail, of the reaction in Japan to the left-handed hitting Fukudome joining the Cubs.

Q. How does the excitement level there compare to when Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui signed to play in the United States?

A. It is HUGE news in Japan. Fukudome is one of the best position players/hitters in Japan for now. Also people didn't expect he would get that big contract from the Cubs, well … from the MLB teams in general, so now everybody in Japan is kind of stunned at it.

The excitement level is pretty high, but I'd say that it's a little bit lower than (for) Ichiro and Matsui. That's because Fukudome has not played for clubs in big cities such as Tokyo and Osaka.

The Chunichi Dragons, the team he's played for, is not as popular nationwide as the Yomiuri Giants, which Matsui had played for.

Fukudome is a really good player, but his exposure on TV, magazines and newspapers was less compared to Matsui, so his visibility with the public is less than Matsui.

And, needless to say, Ichiro is a superstar in Japan. Nobody can go above him at any level.

Anyway, people in Japan are really excited at Fukudome's new contract.

Q. When Iguchi was playing for the White Sox, there would be about 5-10 Japanese journalists covering him every day. How many would you expect to be covering Fukudome on a regular basis next season? Will that be more or less than the number covering Ichiro or Matsui?

A. I would say about 10-20 Japanese journalists will cover Fukudome every day in 2008. It could be more because there might be TV reporters/crews around.

As for spring training, there might be more. Everything is new for him, so it's easy to report as news.

Now less than 10 journalists are covering Ichiro and about 15 journalists are covering Matsui, so it would be more (covering Fukudome) than Ichiro and almost the same amount of Matsui but probably less than the number covering Ichiro and Matsui for their first year.

Q. A lot of people are saying Fukudome plays like a mix between Ichiro and Matsui. Do you agree, or is there another player or players in the majors you'd compare him to?

A. I agree, but Fukudome might be a little bit smaller scale than Ichiro and Matsui. He has a great arm, and his hitting ability has no problem.

He has a little concern that he had surgery on his right elbow, but it should be OK. If everything is going well for him and he can play as well as in Japan, he will be the type of outfielder like Aaron Rowand.

Q. What would you tell Cubs fans to expect from Fukudome next year? What kind of player will they see?

A. He will help the Cubs both defensively and offensively. There is no question. He might struggle to adjust to the big leagues for a bit, but please be patient.

He will be a big part of the Cubs in the long term. In my opinion, his salary is too much, so I recommend the Cubs' fans not to expect too much judging from his salary like the Red Sox fans did to Dice-K (Daisuke Matsuzaka).