Fukudome, Suzuki meet for the first time in MLB
AP Wednesday, March 5, 2008, 12:00 am TWN
PEORIA, Arizona -- Ichiro Suzuki got a good look at the newest sensation from Japan.
The Seattle Mariners star and franchise cornerstone watched, smiled and reminisced as Kosuke Fukudome made a running catch on the warning track in right field. Fukudome then wheeled and almost doubled the unsuspecting Brad Wilkerson off first base with a strong throw in the second inning of the Chicago Cubs' 6-5 victory on Monday.
"I thought the umpire should have called him out on the difficulty of the play alone," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said, chuckling.
Fukudome also kept Seattle's Mark Kiger from getting to third base on a shallow fly ball he caught in the third, firing another long strike.
Before the game, Suzuki greeted his countryman on the field. As the two exchanged greetings, Suzuki couldn't help but notice the throng of nearly two dozen Japanese media members and photographers an arm's distance away.
"I had the same feelings I had when I was a rookie," said Suzuki, who seven years ago went from spring training curiosity to American League MVP. "Except there were way more cameras there for me."
The Cubs signed the 30-year-old Fukudome to a $48 million, four-year contract this winter and expect him to follow the standards set by Suzuki and Hideki Matsui in Major League Baseball.
Fukudome played with Suzuki last spring for Japan in the inaugural World Classic. He said, while swarmed by two dozen Japanese media members after he left the game early, that Suzuki had this word for him when they met again on Monday:
No advice from perennial All-Star and Gold Glove outfielder Suzuki to the first-year countryman learning the league?
"No. I'm not a coach," Suzuki said through an interpreter, smiling.
For now, Fukudome is a guy who's defense is ahead of his hitting. His 0-for-2 day left him with one hit in seven at-bats this spring.
Lou Piniella said he thinks it may be time to move him out of the No. 3 place in the batting order to second, so Fukudome can move the leadoff batter along the bases to get himself going.
"Yeah, we need him to swing it," Piniella said of the 2006 MVP of Japan's Central League with Chunichi.
Fukudome's season last year ended in August with elbow surgery. He had a bulbous ice wrap on his right elbow after playing on Monday — he called it a precaution.
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