09/27/08 5:18 PM ET
Fukudome's first season an eye-opener
Cubs outfielder's late slump hasn't hampered his defense
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
"I expected everything would be different," the Japanese outfielder said Saturday when asked about his first season in the U.S. Major Leagues, "so nothing really surprised me. I did learn a few differences between baseball in Japan and baseball here, that's for sure."
"Japanese baseball focuses more on details," Fukudome said through his interpreter, Ryuji Araki. "They're more detail-oriented. They use more bunts, they have more signs about how the defense shifts, especially in the infield. Here in the Major Leagues, they're more straightforward, pitcher-versus-batter baseball."
That doesn't mean Lou Piniella is counting on home runs each at-bat.
"It's more simple," Fukudome said of the U.S. Major Leagues. "You hit the ball, you run bases and you catch the ball."
Most players have a little easier time in their second season with the Cubs. They become more accustomed to day games, which tend to throw off a person's body clock, since most road games are at night.
"In my case, it's not just getting used to playing at Wrigley," Fukudome said, "but getting used to playing in the Major Leagues overall. I hope for a better season next year."
Fukudome began the season with a splash, hitting a game-tying three-run homer in the ninth inning on Opening Day against the Milwaukee Brewers. He hit .279 in the first half but has struggled since the All-Star break, hitting .216. He hit .193 in August and was hitting .171 in September entering Saturday's game.
"I think somewhere, deep in my heart, I expected something like this would happen," Fukudome said about his struggles at the plate. "I don't think it's been hard. Obviously, the results are not good, but at least I'm contributing to the team in other areas."
The Cubs need Fukudome in right field. He's considered the best defensive right fielder the Cubs have had since Andre Dawson.
"I'm not doing anything different from what I used to do in Japan," Fukudome said.
What about his first season with Piniella? Fukudome has seen the film clips of the Cubs manager's dirt-kicking antics toward umpires.
"He seems more patient than what I've seen on TV in the past," Fukudome said.
Cubs fans wear T-shirts with his name both in English and also in Japanese kanji script. His teammates may not be able to converse in Japanese, but they can communicate. He waves to the right-field bleacher fans, and they wave back.
"We don't have the relationship with the fans like that in Japan, so it was something new," Fukudome said.
What about hearing fans chant his name?
"I'm glad they aren't saying my name wrong anymore," he said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.