MINNEAPOLIS — You usually don’t see anybody inside of Target Field in December except cleaning crews. That was not the case on Saturday as dozens of reporters packed Target Field to see the introduction of the Minnesota Twins latest addition, Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka. So much about the Twins has changed in the past year and things Twins fans never thought they’ed see are becoming real. There were nearly two dozen Japanese reporters among the media Saturday, something no Minnesota team has ever seen; plus there was a translator, a kind the Twins have never seen. The media of mixed cultures watched as Nishioka, Bill Smith and Ron Gardenhire answered questions and signed a three year, $9.25 million contract with a $4 million fourth year option. It’s still yet to be determined how good Nishioka’s skills will transfer to the Majors, and how well the superstar shortstop will play at second base, but Saturday wasn’t a day to worry about that; it was a celebration welcoming Nishioka into the Twins family. “I’m excited to be part of the Twins Family, thank you.” Said Nishioka via a translator. “After winning the whole thing [last season] I really felt I gave a lot to Chiba and I had a new dream that I wanted to achieve now. Luckily it led to this.”
Nishioka left Japan after a career year with Chiba Lotte in which he had a .346 batting average and 206 hits. He was the first Pacific League player to have 200 or more hits in a season since 2000 when a player named Ichiro Suzuki did it before he famously joined the Seattle Mariners. “He’s got charisma. He’s got personality.” said GM Bill Smith. Nishioka displayed that charisma Saturday when he noticed fans on a Target Field tour. Nishioka, who was in full uniform doing promotional photos on the club level, went over to the fans motioning with fingers as though he was snapping pictures of the fans. He then threw his arms around a couple members of the group and posed for photos. This is great for the Twins and fits the fan friendly personality of this ball club. He wore number 7 in Japan but for obvious reasons, that number is not available to him. Instead Nishioka will wear number 1.
Nishioka was focused on one particular photo in his tour of the ballpark. That photo was of Dan Gladden being upended by Atlanta Braves catcher Greg Olsen in Game 1 of the 1991 World Series. “He recognized Dan Gladden right away from playing [later] with the Tokyo Giants,” said Bill Smith. Ron Gardenhire proudly held up his book on learning Japanese, and left the news conference by saying, “See ya later, Nishi!” in the best Japanese he could. Nishioka has a playful side but he also knows when to be serious, “I do understand that if I do not perform, a lot of media coverage will go away. So I hope to keep a lot of media coverage here throughout the season.” Nishioka is no stranger to heavy media coverage; his wife is a model and the two garnered a lot of attention in Japan. Nishioka dipped back into his joke bag by saying he had no preference where he plays when the question of him moving to second base came up. “If [Ron Gardenhire] wants me to be the ball boy, I will do that as well.” But in (newly) typical Nishioka fashion he ended with his serious side. “My job is to step on home plate as much as possible.” Twins fans everywhere are hoping he does.