You know what I love? The New York Times. On Saturday, the resilient newspaper published a piece by Bill Pennington called “Kei Igawa: The Lost Yankee,” and it is a perfect example of what I consider to be brilliant baseball writing; the type of baseball writing I enjoy reading most. I urge you to take the time to read the piece; it’s well worth it.
Much like, well, everyone, I’d forgotten all about Kei Igawa. I had no idea he was still in North America, grinding in the minors while making Major League money. I figured he went back to Japan. Years ago. But he didn’t. Hasn’t. Won’t.
As Pennington points out, Igawa wakes every morning in his Midtown East Manhattan apartment, and is then chauffeured either the 90-minute drive to Trenton, New Jersey, or two hours and ten minutes to Scranton, Pennsylvania. And back. Currently on the roster of the Trenton Thunder, Igawa figured his stay in the minors would be temporary when he was sent down, hence the ride. Turns out, it was the opposite: Igawa will never again pitch for the New York Yankees. General Manager Brian Cashman, quoted in the article, didn’t hold back: “Yeah, he’s passed me on the drive down to Trenton. He drives faster than his fastball.” Burn.
After reading Pennington’s feature, I found myself feeling sympathetic towards Igawa. I know, sympathetic towards a multi-millionaire who still plays baseball for a living, that’s crazy. But I admire the fact that Igawa’s still chasing his dream of pitching in the Majors. Sixteen games weren’t enough. They wouldn’t be for me, either. And here’s a guy who was an all-star in his native Japan, a celebrity, who now lives alone in Manhattan, a recluse in the city that doesn’t sleep, and who carries the legacy of being the worst free-agent signing in New York Yankees history. And they’ve signed a lot of free agents.
Pennington does a fantastic job in conveying Igawa’s mysterious nature, and his very Japanese personality. Igawa uses the words “honor” and “duty” when describing his life as a pitcher, and that whether it’s in the minors or the big leagues, “Wherever I am, this is the choice I made, so I have to move forward. As long as there’s a place to pitch, I’ll do my best and want to contribute to the team.” How could anyone not feel for him?
The details of Igawa’s existence as “The Lost Yankee” are what make the piece. Not only is Igawa chauffeured from Manhattan every single bloody day, he’s never been late. He’s got his own personal interpreter, paid for by the Yankees, who travels with him on the road, and who takes the mound when Igawa’s visited by either his pitching coach or manager. And there’s these kickers: Igawa makes 130 times more than his AA-teammates, and hasn’t had a conversation longer than “hello” with Cashman since 2009. Yet Igawa still dreams of a call-up, so he can one day be a Major League pitcher.
Igawa’s 32-years-old now, and will be a free agent after this season. I’m rooting for him. I hope he keeps his dream alive as long as he possibly can. I mean, at the very least, he’s got to be able to pitch for the Baltimore Orioles, no? When asked why he hasn’t ever, you know, lost his proverbial shit, Igawa responds: “I am Japanese.”
Read the article.
Wait! Two More:
Back in late March, as Japan continued to dig out of the rubble caused by the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck their country, others, and myself, wondered and wrote about the role baseball would play in the rebuilding of a fractured nation. As always, The New York Times is on the case. Ken Belson, in particular, who wrote “In Japan, High Schoolers Use Baseball to Help Forget,” and “In Fukushima, Japan, a Baseball Story of Coming Together and Carrying On.”
Again, both are must reads, and powerful ones. How many of us haven’t used baseball to forget? That’s often what baseball is best for, to use as an escape, for just a few hours.
Both articles focus on Japan’s annual High School Baseball Championship, the largest scale amateur sporting event in the country, and the story of three high schools “forced into exile,” who “cobbled together a team to pursue their dream, however remote.”
Check out the story of Keita Niinuma:
When Niinuma went to see what was left of his home, he picked through the rubble and found his game uniform, which he washed. It was an upbeat moment in an otherwise trying time.
That sure put my problems in perspective.
The Soso Rengo baseball team is one I’m sure everyone in Japan was rooting for; full of a group of high school kids from different schools, who all lost family, friends, and even homes, in the natural disaster, baseball their common denominator.
Unfortunately, Soso Rengo were eliminated in the first round of their regional qualifier for the national championship. It wasn’t even close, an 8-1 defeat. That hardly matters, though, I think. In the aftermath of the tragedy that struck Japan, baseball’s being put to good use. Just as I knew it would.
Image courtesy of, obviously, The New York Times.
Navin Vaswani is a replacement-level writer. Follow him on Twitter.