OAKLAND, Calif. — In beautifully spoken English, Shintaro Fujinami formally introduced himself then asked that everyone simply call him “Fuji.”
“Like Mt. Fuji,” he explained. And, nope, he’s never been.
In Japan, he is more formal, going by Shintaro, but he figures this will make it easy on everybody as he embarks on his U.S. baseball career after 10 years playing back home.
The lanky right-hander joined the Oakland Athletics on Jan. 17 after signing a $3.25 million, one-year contract. He smiled as he finally got the final button of his No. 1 jersey to cooperate before posing for photos alongside new manager Mark Kotsay, GM David Forst and agent Scott Boras.
“I didn’t realize we brought Mt. Fuji to the Bay Area. We’re moving mountains, I guess,” Boras said. “Today marks a very special time for him, it really does.”
The A’s showed Fujinami the sights in his first visit to Northern California. He toured San Francisco in recent days and went out for a nice seafood lunch, expressing how he loved the weather despite the unprecedented rain and even shared that his favorite stop was at the dilapidated Oakland Coliseum, where he will play.
“We’re in real good shape then,” Forst said as the A’s are in the middle of searching for a new ballpark location either in the city’s Howard Terminal area or Las Vegas.
Cracked Kotsay: “We are way ahead of the curve.”
The hard-throwing Fujinami even got a workout in at the nearby University of California in Berkeley, where former A’s reliever Mike Neu is coach and worked the pitcher in with others throwing side sessions Jan. 16.
“This feels like the beginning of my major league baseball career so I’m very happy about it,” Fujinami said through interpreter Issei Yamada.
Fujinami was expected to fly back to Japan on Jan. 18 to wait for his visa then fly early to get acclimated at spring training in Mesa, Ariz., with the A’s pitchers and catchers scheduled to report Feb. 15.
Fujinami is eagerly looking forward to facing two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani of the Angels in the same AL West division.
They are from the same 2012 draft class.
“There’s no doubt about it, I’m very excited,” Fujinami said. “We’re the same age. Obviously, he’s one of the best players in the world. For the Japanese fan it will be very exciting for us to play against each other.”
Yu Darvish and Kenta Maeda have offered some insight and encouraging words about adjusting to the major leagues.
The 28-year-old Fujinami is slated to be a starter for Oakland after spending the past 10 seasons with the Central League’s Hanshin Tigers. He is set to earn an additional $1 million in performance bonuses for starts.
The 6-foot-6 Fujinami was 3-5 with a 3.38 ERA and .240 opponents’ batting average in 10 starts and six relief appearances last year. He walked 21 batters and struck out 65 in 66 2/3 innings.
Acquiring a standout player from Japan is a big deal for the low-budget A’s.
“We felt like this came together perfectly,” Forst said. “We’re providing a great spot for Fuji to start his career here and he was excited about being in the Bay Area.”
In the meantime, Fujinami received a nice invite to also play in a local Japanese adult baseball league. “Sure, why not?” he said with a grin, “I’ll probably join if it’s batting fourth and playing shortstop.”