Hiroki: I've never enjoyed baseball

Hiroki Kuroda will have the Yankees' playoff fate in his right hand tonight, but he won't feel joy on the mound. Instead, he will feel responsibility. That's it.

“I’ve never enjoyed playing baseball; never enjoyed pitching, to be honest with you,” said Kuroda, whose training in Japan made baseball into more of a chore than a game. “Whether it’s a spring training game, a regular-season game, I put pressure on myself to be as normal as I can.”

Kuroda was speaking through a translator, but his words suggest he has a job to do in Game 162. So it is about fulfilling a commitment, not creating an everlasting memory.

"I’m not saying this because I’m with the Yankees,” Kuroda said. “This has been all throughout my professional career. There’s a lot of responsibility as a starting pitcher, so rather than enjoy myself out there, I feel like I have to fulfill my responsibilities and that’s my priority.”

In a story in the New York Times earlier this season, Kuroda detailed the struggle.

As a boy, he sneaked away from an abusive high school coach to gulp water from a polluted river. He saw some of his teammates, desperate with thirst, drink from a puddle, and he heard of others who would do so from a toilet.

Now, 20 years on, Hiroki Kuroda shook his head and actually laughed a little when recalling — and trying to explain — the hardships he endured as a boy trying to follow his father’s footsteps and play professional baseball in Japan.

“It was a generation,” Kuroda said through an interpreter, “when coaches believed you should not drink water.”