Ohkamania

We all started to wonder why we were waiting so long. More than an hour had passed from the time Tomo Ohka headed into the clubhouse to go through a workout, and us reporters continued to stand outside, soaking up the sun as we pondered why this was a story in need of our immediate attention.

As the minutes passed by, though, the story quickly became how contrasting this interview was in comparison to Sunday’s Matsuzaka mayhem in Fort Myers. That’s where more than 200 media members, including 100-plus Japanese reporters, were on hand for Daisuke (pronounced Dice-K, thus, the nickname) Matsuzaka’s first bullpen session with the Red Sox.

In Dunedin, it was eight of us Toronto reporters and seven members of the Japanese press. But, as we soon learned, it was a larger showing that when Ohka broke into the Majors with the Red Sox in 1999. Ohka said that nobody was there when he first came over from Japan.

Ohka understood why there was such hype surrounding Dice-K: "He just came here. He’s special for the Japanese." But he also sounded a bit surprised by how much attention the new Boston pitcher has received: "It’s crazy. I saw him on TV. He just threw in the bullpen. Nothing happened."

Ohka has sort of flown under the radar, as far as having a following of Japanese press, since coming to the Major Leagues. He certainly hasn’t received even remotely near the amount of attention that players like Matsuzaka, Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, Hideo Nomo, or even someone like Hideki Irabu received when he came over. There’s one story about Ohka refusing to speak to Japanese reporters during his time in Milwaukee, because they never made the effort to talk to him at any other time.

Knowing that, we wondered if we were witnessing a repeat of that when Ohka emerged from Toronto’s clubhouse. He said, "No, no," and shooed away the Japanese reporters when he first came out. It turned out that he just wanted to meet with the Toronto, English-speaking, press first. He conducted the interview with the Japanese press corps second, and concluded it with the customary exchange of multiple bows.

Also on hand was Canadian Matt Stairs, who is in line to be Toronto’s fourth outfielder/backup DH/backup first baseman. Stairs spends his offseasons in Bangor, Maine, where he coaches high school hockey and plays in a recreational men’s league. "It’s supposed to be a gentlemen’s league, but you get some guys out there where it’s like Hockey Night in Canada. The only thing we’re missing is Don Cherry," Stairs laughed.

FUNNY MOMENT OF THE DAY: After batting practice, some players got in a group to decide where to go next. They opted to split up and head in different directions. Stairs then said, "Where do backup DHs go?" which caused quite a bit of laughter from his new teammates. Frank Thomas — three months younger than the (soon-to-be) 39-year-old Stairs — responded with: "Old guys over there," waving a bat towards the clubhouse.

ALL IN: All of Toronto’s 59 players are now in camp. Besides Ohka and Stairs, Jason Smith and Ray Olmedo were among the new arrivals on Wednesday. The first full-squad workout is scheduled for Thursday — pitchers and catchers in the morning, position players aiming for an 11:30 am start after their physicals. Intrasquad games are on deck for Monday and Tuesday.

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS: Thomas was in Las Vegas — his home — during the recent NBA All-Star game, but he didn’t attend the festivities. He said that the city was as wild as he’d ever seen it: "That place was too crazy. I’ve never seen Las Vegas like that. It was unbelievable. That place was packed until six in the morning on the strip. It was crazy. It was a strange crowd — they were partiers."

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "No, I’m not tired — just a little bit sleepy." – Ohka, who traveled 15 hours from Tokyo to Washington to Tampa on Tuesday

1 Comment

I like Ohka. If healthy, he will eat some innings and keep us in ball games.I also like Thomas and having a Matt Stairs on the bench will be a big upgrade over last year.Everyone is making a fuss over the Zambrano in Chicago,but I have a better feeling about the Zambrano in Toronto.He is progressing well,and could very well be the steal of the winter.Bring him back slow and it will be like a mid-season pick up that we give nobody up for and get to keep for 2008 with out the big pricetag.

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