Fukudome unveiled in Chicago
12/19/2007 8:11 PM ET
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Kosuke Fukudome apparently can't wait to show that he belongs in the Major Leagues.
"I've always wanted the challenge to come over here and see how I could do," the Cubs' new right fielder said through his interpreter, Matt Hidaka.
The first Japanese player to sign with the Cubs, Fukudome formalized his four-year, $48 million contract and was introduced to the Chicago media at Wrigley Field on Wednesday.
"He was not only our No. 1 target, but our only target," general manager Jim Hendry said.
The Cubs' diligent effort to lure Fukudome to the Major Leagues paid off. Fukudome has spent his entire nine-year pro career with the Chunichi Dragons, for whom he batted .305 with a .397 on-base percentage and a .543 slugging percentage in 1,074 career games.
"After I declared my free agency, the Cubs were one of the only teams that wanted to get me from the beginning to the end in this whole process," Fukudome said. "I felt they really, really wanted me, and they promised me I could play my position in right field."
The Cubs weren't the only ones thrilled that the 30-year-old had committed to calling Wrigley Field and Chicago home.
"Last week a huge cheer erupted in the Japanese community when the news broke that he would wear a Cubs uniform," said Kenji Shinoda, consul general of Japan. "Everybody is absolutely delighted. He is already a household name. The Japanese community is very happy. I think the 'Fukudome effect' begins today. Through him, the image of the Cubs and the image of Chicago will skyrocket in Japan."
Fukudome could be the first step for the Cubs, who are expanding their international scouting efforts.
"Our intent was to get into the Japanese market and make a big strike with the guy we wanted, which we did," Hendry said. "We'll continue to enhance our scouting in Japan and other Asian countries. We would certainly be remiss to not think this is a very global game."
The Cubs already have an Italian pitcher in the Minor League system in Alex Maestri.
"The world is getting better at baseball," Hendry said. "I certainly would like to see us continue to be the global Cubs in the coming years."
Fukudome has faced American pitchers through international competition, including the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
"How I thought when I played against American pitchers is that they pitch with a lot of movement on the ball," Fukudome said. "The biggest thing for me in the beginning is to adapt to those pitches, make contact with those pitches. I'll probably start out with a more compact swing than try to hit for the fences."
A two-time Central League batting champion, Fukudome led the league in on-base percentage three times and won a Gold Glove for defensive excellence four times. He was the league's MVP in 2006, when he hit .351 with 31 home runs and a career-high 104 RBIs.
The Cubs are counting on Fukudome making a smooth transition to the big leagues.
"What we think about him is one, to choose here, knowing the environment, knowing the big-city market and where we want to go, I think by choosing here, he makes a statement by himself," Hendry said. "He wants the action. There are no other Japanese players [on the Cubs]. He could've gone to other markets. It never seemed to be an issue with him.
"The way our scouting department always described him to me was that in the big international competitions, he played with the attitude that he belonged, and he wanted to show the world he belonged at the highest level."
Hendry's superscouts, Gary Hughes and Paul Weaver, and assistant general manager Randy Bush all saw Fukudome play. All agreed that he plays the game with a confident swagger.
"They haven't stopped talking about him since we first scouted him," said Hendry, who first became aware of Fukudome when Hughes saw the outfielder in the 2004 Olympics.
At Wednesday's news conference, which had more Japanese reporters than those from U.S. outlets, Fukudome smiled and looked relaxed.
"Hi, my name is Kosuke Fukudome," he said in his introductory comments through Hidaka, "and I'm very happy to be able to finally sign my contract and play with this historic team, and I look forward to playing in such a historic ballpark and playing in front of such ecstatic fans."
For the record, he will wear No. 1, and he definitely was No. 1 on Hendry's wish list.
"All the years we needed an outstanding player in right field who had to play right and had to hit left-handed and hopefully played good defense and hopefully was athletic enough to run, that list wasn't too long," Hendry said of the free-agent options. "We could say, 'If we didn't get him, we could make a trade and get that [other] guy,' but that doesn't always work. It wasn't a secret how bad we wanted him."
Fukudome was not aware that the Cubs have not won a World Series championship in 100 years, the longest drought in professional sports. Asked if he had any personal goals in coming to America, he said, "My only target is to help my team win a championship."
He wouldn't compare himself with Ichiro Suzuki or Hideki Matsui, and he wasn't worried about the expectations. He does know who manager Lou Piniella is, but reserved judgment until he had a chance to play for him.
The Cubs, who won the National League Central in 2007, Piniella's first season, now feel that they're a much better team.
"By signing him, it does enable you to look at your ballclub -- at least position player-wise -- and say we're a different team than we were at the end of the year, and in our opinion more versatile and a better club," Hendry said. "I don't think our players would mind me saying this, but all of our marquee guys who are quality players and hit right-handed, we think they're all capable of playing better next year."
The Fukudome effect begins now.
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