MESA, Ariz. – Seiya Suzuki felt an adrenaline rush the first time he stepped onto Wrigley Field and saw his name on the scoreboards.
Now, he’s less than two weeks from a return to Wrigley Field, this time with fans packed into the stands and a Cubs logo on his chest. But on Friday, after his spring training debut, Suzuki had a practical concern.
“If I keep on striking out like today,” Suzuki said through his interpreter Toy Matsushita, “someone’s going to throw a beer on me someday.”
Suzuki squeezed his arms to his sides and hunched his shoulders to make his six-foot frame as small as possible.
“If someone throws a beer at me, I’m going to be scrunched up in the corner,” he said with a smile.
Suzuki didn’t have to dodge any beer Friday at Sloan Park, during his first game in a Cubs uniform. As he alluded to, he struck out in both his at-bats. But the Cubs understand that Suzuki, a five-time All-Star and gold glover in Japan’s central league, will have an adjustment period as he transitions into Major League Baseball.
Suzuki drew quite the matchup Friday, facing Rockies All-Star Germán Márquez in the outfielder’s first game-action at-bats against major-league pitching.
That didn’t change Suzuki’s standards. He headed for the batting cages after exiting the game Friday.
“He’s a hard worker,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Passion about his craft, works really diligently, loves to hit, loves to be around the field, loves to take care of his body. And then, the personality stuff has really stood out. Super fun.”
Suzuki’s sense of humor translated right away.
Ross could attest to that after a week of being his manager. Ross was eating trail mix in the weight room one day, and Suzuki asked if it was chocolate.
After some back and forth, Ross confirmed that there was, indeed, chocolate in it. Suzuki reached over, rubbed Ross’ belly and said, “Chocolate.”
“If that tells you anything, he’s got a really good way about him,” Ross said. “He’s fit in really nicely.”
Suzuki joined Cubs camp a week ago, after signing a five-year, $85 million contract. He’d had a tentative deal in place with the team days before, but he wanted to see Chicago for himself before putting pen to paper.
During Suzuki’s one-night stay, the Cubs set up a tour of Wrigley Field. Suzuki’s Cubs jersey hung in a locker. An image of him in his batting stance, clad in blue pinstripes, loomed on the video boards.
“The stands on top of the apartments, I’ve never seen that before,” Suzuki said. “That’s something that really struck me.”
Suzuki’s major-league ambitions, however, don’t end with playing at Wrigley Field. Suzuki wants the results too.
“That’s what I’m going to work on,” he said.
By Friday, after a week of taking live at-bats during spring training workouts, Suzuki was ready to get into game action.
Ross said he told Suzuki, “It’s just about getting ready, not trying to prove anything to anybody. You’re a piece here, and a big piece for a long time. So, let’s do things the right way.”
The Sloan Park crowd gave Suzuki a warm ovation when his name boomed over the loudspeakers and he stepped up to the plate for the first time. He gave a subtle wave.
Suzuki struck out looking twice. But he wasn’t passive. He swung at the first two pitches he saw, fouling off the first. And after his second third-strike call, he made his thoughts clear with a hand on the hip and tilt of the head.
“I’m very happy to be able to face [Márquez,] especially in my first two at-bats in the major leagues,” Suzuki said. “Just want to get adjusted.”
He hopped into a golf cart on his way out of the stadium and directed it to the batting cages.
“I got pissed off a little bit,” he explained sheepishly, “from those two unfortunate at-bats.”