The first edition of the 2015 magazine is now in the hands of fan club members. Over 90% of its content is devoted to ticket purchase information (who knew it was this complicated!) but the first few pages feature a nice interview with young catcher Ryutaro Umeno and young pitcher Ryoma Matsuda. Here is my translation of the interview in its entirety.
— You’ve had lots of opportunity to stand in front of fans at different events this offseason. Have you gotten more comfortable with public speaking?
U: Yeah, I have. Speaking is no problem. I feel a lot more comfortable speaking about baseball than about my private life, though.
M: I don’t feel like I’ve gotten more comfortable. But I think my third year was better than my second, and my second better than my first.
— You guys are both from Kyushu – Fukuoka and Nagasaki – do you feel like you have a lot of similarities?
U: Hmmm… if I had to pick something, it would be our way of speaking. It’s way different from people in Kansai.
M: I don’t speak Kyushu dialect much, but Umeno does. I’m younger than he is, so I have to use respectful language when speaking.
— What is your impression of Matsuda, your junior?
U: Heh, his head is huge. Jokes aside, he is really good at setting a boundary between baseball and his private life. He jokes around a lot, communicates well and is easy to get along with. This makes him popular among the veterans on the team.
— What is your impression of Umeno, your senior?
M: He’s like a big brother I can always count on for anything…
U: Shut up you liar!
M: He really looks after the younger players, talks to all the pitchers… as a catcher he makes a wonderful wife.
— As pitcher and catcher, how do you see each other?
U: Ryoma only throws towards the end of games… his strength is the power pitch that he brings. The hitter knows what’s coming and still can’t hit it. He’s mentally strong and a warrior.
M: I want to throw that power pitch all night, and Umeno is the kind of catcher that will go with it, telling me to “bring it.” It’s so easy to throw to him because he understands that I want to beat them with my fastball. We’re close together in age so he’s easy to talk to – not that the other catchers are hard to talk to! But with Umeno, we often eat out together so we can talk about the game a lot more.
— Umeno, you were a rookie this year but still managed to stay with the team all season. Did the season feel long or short?
U: It was long. Every day kind has the same feel to it, so the longest part of the season was the end of the first half and start of the second half. When it was over, it was like, “Finally!”
— It looked like you lost a lot of weight during the season, too. Were you not able to eat?
U: At the time, yeah. I thought I was eating enough, but obviously I was burning it all up pretty fast through all the moving around. I was mentally exhausted, because I was learning a lot of things for the first time, and I guess it contributed to my weight loss.
— Matsuda, you hurt your elbow and left camp. You didn’t make it up to the big team until mid-September. Would you say that pretty much sums up your year?
M: Yeah. Last year (2013) I got hurt, and I really wanted to avoid injury this season, but then I got hurt again…
— Your rehab was quite lengthy. What goes through your mind as you’re getting back into game shape?
M: I got a little depressed at first, but I know that doesn’t help any, so I just got to work, training hard. I wanted to show the team a completely different me when I came back. As I trained, trainers, coaches and others kept encouraging me to do my best. It felt good to retire the side in my first game back.
— The crowd really made a lot of noise for you when your name was called at that game (Sept.19 at Koshien). Did you notice that?
M: Yeah, I heard them. I was so happy to hear them cheering for me. It pushed me to work even harder.
— You were able to make some appearances during the Climax Series and Nippon Series. How did you feel about that?
M: In a short series everything gets amplified, but pitching is still pitching so I tried not to think about it too hard.
— Umeno, you were only able to make one playoff appearance. I’m sure you feel a little choked about that, but was the experience important to you?
U: It was huge. Of course I was bummed but getting to the Nippon Series in my rookie season and playing a little was a good experience. It was a special atmosphere.
— What would you say you got out of this season?
U: The fact that I finished the season with zero passed balls to my name. I practiced one-hoppers with Coach Yamada before games all season. I was also able to learn what data is important to keep in mind throughout the entire season.
M: I was told by Coach Nakanishi and (Shinobu) Fukuhara things like, with a one-run lead, “It’s OK to give up a walk in this case,” or with a three-run lead, “Throw strikes and avoid walking the guy” – changing my strategy based on the score. I only made 6 appearances this season but I played in some close games, so I was able to think about those things as I threw. I’m not sure if I was able to pull it off, but it gives me something to build on for next season.
— What kind of training are you planning on doing to prepare for camp this February?
U: Mainly lifting weights. Getting bigger and tighter. At the same time, I want to see how flexible I can get, because I’m pretty stiff. With all the movement I will have to do during the season, I want to make myself flexible now so that it is easier to maintain during the year. Flexibility is key.
M: I first and foremost just don’t want to get injured. I’m going to lift weights and build up my strength.
— Lots of people are joining the fan club. Tell the people your goals for the upcoming season.
U: I can’t say too much about what’s ahead but I want to focus on the games before us, not the numbers. I want to be in the opening game. I played 92 games last year and started 60, but I want to be in games right until the end of the season this time. I want to improve my numbers, of course, but not just for the sake of doing so. I want to do better with the pitchers and show the team who I can really be.
M: First, I won’t get hurt this coming year! Sounds simple but I really want to make this happen. I’ve blown it two years in a row so this year I want to be on the big team all season. I want to be used in a lot of crucial situations and close games, and of course win the pennant and Nippon Series.