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ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – It may be Baseball Time in Texas, but Monday night’s Texas Rangers game is national news in Japan.
The big-league debut of Yu Darvish by itself would bring a substantial crowd of fans and members of the Japanese media to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, but the fact that Yu’s first game is against the Seattle Mariners and their star Ichiro Suzuki kicks the game into the stratosphere.
Monday’s game has everything a fan of Japanese baseball could hope for, the aging superstar batter Ichiro facing the up-and-coming star in the making (over here) in Darvish.
Both players were popular superstars on their respective Nippon Professional Baseball teams when they decided to come over to the United States, so both already had large followings of media writing about their every move.
Since they are facing each other on Yu’s debut will bring arguably one of the largest media crowds Arlington has seen outside of a World Series game.
The game will be broadcast live in Japan, and that has hundreds of members of the Japanese media in town to cover the game.
“It is huge, really huge. It is kind of a dream match, especially for Japanese fans,” says producer Toshiuki Horiuchi with the Japanese television network TV Asahi.
Horiuci predicts almost everyone in Japan will be watching Monday’s game.
“It will be 9:05 a.m. in Tokyo when the game starts. I believe many Japanese fans will call in sick just to watch the game live because they want to see the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Fort Worth resident Austin Perry knows just how big this game will be. He spent time in the Kobe area as a Southern Baptist missionary, and become a fan of the Orix BlueWave, the now-merged team that jumpstarted the career of Monday’s marquee opponent, Ichiro Suzuki.
“I thought people here were obsessed with baseball before I went over, but there I saw their pep bands, heard their team songs with cheerleaders. It’s very much like watching an A&M football game,” he said.
He adds that the media follows every move of the players because it’s the one sport everyone watches in Japan.
Darvish’s first Cactus League game last month should be a good indication of how big Monday’s game will be also.
He drew hundreds of media from all over Japan to the tiny San Diego Padres spring training stadium in Peoria, Arizona.
Horiuchi, who is based in New York, was one of the people who traveled to cover Darvish this spring. When asked to explain why Darvish is such a big deal, he said he’s simply the package deal.
“He has everything. Great looks, long legs and arms, money, fame, and more than anything, countless baseball-related awards and achievements with his amazing talents for baseball,” he said.
Horiuchi admitted he’s been a Phillies fan since going to college at Temple, so he’s already familiar with the American game. But he said there are some differences that will help Darvish thrive here.
“The biggest difference, I think, is scouting in MLB and the quality of batters. Don’t get me wrong. I think Japanese scouting and batters are pretty good, but ones in America are simply superb and better than in Japan.”
On opening day, Yuki Akustu with Hokkaido Television was at Rangers Ballpark getting ready for Monday night’s game.
She covered Darvish on the local level when he was with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. She says the attention Yu has been getting since signing with the Rangers has been normal.
“He was our star, and fans have always held their stars in high regard,” she said.
She reiterated what many Japanese fans have already said: “We’re glad to see him do well, we like to see our players do well in the major leagues.”
Perry believes Japan’s loss will be a boom for DFW tourism.
“This will vastly increase DFW as a destination for Japanese families. There will definitely be more fans come out as Darvish gets more and more popular.”
He remembers seeing a large crowd of Japanese fans on hand for Mariners games at the Ballpark just to see Ichiro.
“It might take a few years, but the Rangers will see the same effect. “You will see a huge increase of Rangers fans in Japan as the fans follow Darvish’s career.”
The Rangers, it seems, are already taking that into consideration. The team has employed Fan Ambassadors who speak fluent Japanese.
You can spot them walking around the park with the ubiquitous baseball-shaped “How Can I Help You?” signs translated into Japanese characters.
So as the clock ticks down to the first pitch, Rangers fans may still not understand just what we have, or how big we have it, but thousands of miles away fans of all ages are about to be introduced to Arlington.