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Mr. Yoshikazu Fukushima

Mr. Yoshikazu Fukushima [profile]

Screening Over 500 Games a Year
– Busier Days After Tanaka Joins Yankees

Mr. Yoshikazu Fukushima
Major League Baseball Commentator

The 2014 season looks like it will be even busier than last year, now that pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (formerly of the Rakuten Eagles) will play in the Major Leagues as a member of the Yankees. Major League Baseball commentator Yoshikazu Fukushima (57) is a graduate of Chuo University. He first became interested in the majors while he was a university student and watches more than 500 games during the season. His lifestyle is even more demanding than that of the actual players!

Lifestyle revolving around baseball

"During the season, I watch 2 to 3 games every day," says Fukushima. "Day games played in New York start a little after 2am Japan time. Night games start from around 8am, so night games played in Los Angeles and other west coast cities start shortly after 11am."

One after another, "Play ball!" is shouted at stadiums in America. The games reach their climax and draw to a close. Sometimes there are extra innings. The Major League games go on until a winner is decided.

From this season, Tanaka has joined other Japanese pitchers playing in the majors, including Yu Darvish (Rangers), Hiroki Kuroda (Yankees), Hisashi Iwakuma (Mariners), and Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa (both members of the Red Sox). Fukushima records every pitch when Japanese pitchers take the mound. He is so intent when reporting on these games that he never misses a single pitch.

Japanese fielders playing in the majors include Ichiro (Yankees) and Norichika Aoki (Royals). Fukushima also watches such players intently.

"I feel unsettled if I don't watch the games broadcasted on Japanese television. During the season, my sleep patterns are all over the place. My entire life revolves around baseball. There just aren't enough hours in one day."

Abundance of knowledge

After watching the games, Fukushima writes a draft for his article. He is also asked to provide a commentary when there is big news.

Fukushima provides exclusive information to newspapers with which he has a contract. The following is an excerpt from his article when the number 19 was chosen for Tanaka's uniform with the Yankees.

"The first famous Yankees pitcher who wore number 19 that comes to mind is Vic Raschi. Raschi started wearing the number 19 in 1947, his 2nd year in the majors. Afterwards, he changed to number 16 before becoming the Yankee's ace and leading the team to 5 consecutive World Series championships from 1949 to 1953. Later on, number 19 was worn by famous pitchers including Ford, Turley and Righetti. In the case of fielders, 19 was worn by Boone, who hit a game-winning homerun to lead the Yankees to the World Series in 2003." (Nikkan Sports, January 26th edition)

In contrast, Japanese sports mass media introduced the same news with stories saying that 19 was chosen by adding '1' to the number 18 which Tanaka wore while playing for Rakuten, and that 19 refers to the number worn by Rakuten's former coach Katsuya Nomura during his playing days. However, Fukushima was able to display his knowledge as a Major League commentator by introducing the history of number 19 within the Yankees.

Eye-opening experience

Player photographs and autograph balls displayed next to the bookcase

Fukushima became infatuated with the Major Leagues in 1968, when he was in the 6th grade of elementary school.

It was then that the young Fukushima first saw baseball played in its birthplace of America. On the front of the Cardinal's players uniforms were two birds perched on a bat. Fukushima had never seen such a bold design in Japan.

"As a 6th-grader in elementary school, I was deeply impressed by the dynamic form of ace pitcher Bob Gibson, who fell towards first base when throwing the ball." (A Tale of Major League Baseball, written by Fukushima, published by Kodansha Gendai Shinsho)

In 1973, when he was in the 2nd grade of high school, Fukushima was able to travel to America with financial assistance from his father. In America, he enjoyed watching the Major League games.

Time spent at Chuo University

By the time he was a student at Chuo University, Fukushima was already captivated with Major League Baseball. At that time, there were none of the current television broadcasts such as NHK satellite broadcasting.

"I always listened to the English FEN broadcasts for American soldiers stationed in Japan. At first, I couldn't understand anything, but I gradually began to remember the names of players and acquire information. My dreams grew bigger while listening to the broadcasts, which I enjoyed more than anything else."

In 1977, when he was 20 years old, Fukushima traveled to America by himself. For 70 days, he watched a total of 74 Major League and Minor League games in 21 different cities.

"Actually being there was like having my dreams unfold before my eyes. I was thrilled."

At that time, there were no Japanese players in the Majors. In September 1964, pitcher Masanori Murakami of the former Kainan Hawks (currently the SoftBank Hawks) became the first Japanese to play in the Major Leagues when he joined the San Francisco Giants. However, Murakami returned to Japan after only 2 years. Afterwards, there were no Japanese in the Majors for the next 29 years until Hideo Nomo of the Kintetsu Buffaloes joined the Los Angeles Dodgers. Fukushima had many years to wait until the appearance of Japanese players.

At Chuo University Surugadai Campus, Fukushima wears a Major League team jacket, a rare item at that time (photograph provided by Fukushima)

"At that time, I had a few friends who were interested in the Major Leagues. Together, we formed the American Baseball Fan Club. However, none of my friends at Chuo University were interested in the Majors. All of my baseball friends were outside the university."

Fukushima went to Western book stores in Tokyo's Ginza neighborhood to search for American magazines on Major League Baseball. Player directories and record books could only be found by placing special orders and they took a long time to be delivered.

"My extreme enthusiasm is a personality trait I got from my father. I am the type of person to become obsessed with a single thing."

Fukushima studied at The Gakushuin School Corporation during junior high school and high school. Normally, he would have entered Gakushuin University, but he selected Chuo University because of the school's strengths in sports.

"Gakushuin University had a philosophy of valuing tradition above all else, something which I couldn't identify with. I wanted a change in environment. Ultimately, I selected Chuo University because it had a strong baseball team and had produced numerous Japanese professional baseball players. After spending 6 years of junior high school and high school in the same place, I wanted some stimulation."

Although Fukushima had never played baseball, he loved the sport and spent his days watching Japanese professional baseball games, university games and high school games. Although Gakushuin University won the championship of the Tohto University Baseball League in autumn of 1958, its team failed to find similar success afterwards.

Expecting 20 wins from Tanaka

After graduating from Chuo University, Fukushima found employment at a travel agency. He planned tours which included watching the Major League games. He even went on the tours as a guide himself, traveling throughout America. He also wrote baseball reports when requested by the media.

History changed greatly in 1987, when NHK began satellite broadcasts of the Major League games. Fukushima was selected as a commentator. Although there were no Japanese players in the majors at the time, Fukushima's daily study of American baseball enabled him to provide a bounty of information about Major League players. Together with his cheerful speech, he was soon highly regarded as a commentator. Since then, he has been a leading figure in the field.

Fukushima poses in front of his home. The nameplate is shaped like a home plate.

When pitching in Japan, Tanaka posted 24 straight wins from the start of last season. There is hope that he will become the first Japanese pitcher to win 20 games in the Majors. The current record is the 18 wins posted by Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2008 when he played for the Red Sox.

"I am truly happy that the performance of Japanese players has increased the popularity of Major League Baseball," says Fukushima. "I never imagined that such a time would come. If I had been born in an age overflowing with information like today, perhaps I wouldn't have become interested in the majors. When I was a child, the Major Leagues were a distant dream based in far-off America. That's why I checked even the small details to satisfy my desire to know."

"There is now frequent interaction between Japanese and American baseball. America's national pastime has become international. My opportunity to work in this field is truly a blessing. I am deeply grateful to Nomo and all the Japanese players."

Fukushima's life is inseparable with Major League Baseball. Even the nameplate at his home is shaped like a home plate.

Mr. Yoshikazu Fukushima
Fukushima was born on October 3rd, 1956 in Chiba Prefecture. He graduated from Gakushuin Boys’ Senior High School before entering the Chuo University Faculty of Commerce. After first traveling to America during his 2nd year of high school, he began visiting America nearly every year to report on Major League Baseball. His written works include A Tale of Major League Baseball (published by Kodansha Gendai Shinsho) and Major League Trivia (Diamond Publishing). His most recent book is Principles for succeeding as a Japanese Major Leaguer--The Challenge Faced by Masahiro Tanaka (Futabasha Publishers).