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Thursday, December 20, 2007

A little Nipponese swagger

Posted By on 12.20.07 at 02:59 PM

click to enlarge 2409.jpg

I haven't seen Kosuke Fukudome play, but I know his statistics make him look like a prime baseball player. Over nine years with the Chunichi Dragons in the Japan League, he hit .305 with 192 homers. Even better, he posted a .397 lifetime on-base percentage and was above .430 his last three seasons. That's the sign of a good, sound, fundamental ballplayer with a keen batting eye, something the Cubs need (as if any team couldn't use such a talent), which is why they paid $48 million over the next four seasons to bring him to Chicago.

Baseball Prospectus's Nate Silver projects him hitting 15 homers with a .289 batting average and a .400 on-base percentage next season in Wrigley Field, while noting that's held down by the season-ending arm injury he suffered this year, which should be fully healed by spring training. In a video, BP's Will Carroll likewise says Fukudome's skill set should translate to the American game, while commenting on the mysterious lack of video on him in the digital age. So for now all we have to go on is his presentation to the Chicago media at Wrigley Field Wednesday -- which was quite favorable.

Speaking through a translator, Fukudome said all the right things: that he chose the Cubs to play for a "historic team" in a "historic ballpark" before "ecstatic fans." He answered concerns about day baseball by pointing to his career, in which "I actually performed better in day games," adding, "I think I can make my adjustments as I play the game." Asked to project his own statistical goals, he said, "My only target is to help this team win a championship." Altogether, he projected a confident, smiling demeanor, with long, seemingly eloquent and well-thought-out answers. But one image struck me above all the others. When Fukudome donned a Cubs jersey (No. 1) and cap and finally had the jersey buttoned over his dress shirt and tie and the cap fitted just right, he suddenly thrust out his chest with apparent pride, as if the Cubs had finally found the man to epitomize the "Cubbie swagger" Lou Piniella said they needed when he became manager a year ago.

So here's your homework between now and spring training, Cubs fans: Pronounce Kosuke Fukudome. The last name, Fukudome, is easy enough: Foo-koo-DOH-may. But the first is just two syllables: KOH-skay. Right-field bleacher bums: time to trade the salaam in for a proper bow. 

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