GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Sam Onada is a freelance reporter who provides coverage for NHK Television in Japan. For the past three years, he's essentially been covering Yu Darvish on a full-time basis, filing reports back to Japan, one of 10 or so Japanese media members covering the Texas Rangers' All-Star right-hander.
So when Darvish went down for the season with Tommy John surgery, Onada says he "half-joked" with his bosses that he was probably out of a job. After all, as a freelancer, it would be pretty easy to cut him loose if there's no news to report. Darvish is currently in Arizona after his surgery and will return to Dallas for rehab during the season, but there won't be a lot of reporting to do on that front.
Luckily for Onada, he lined up another gig: He'll be heading up to Seattle to cover Hisashi Iwakuma.
Onada admits that Darvish is more popular in Japan. "He's more dynamic," he said. "Iwakuma is a good pitcher, but Darvish has more pitches and a better fastball," a combination the fans love. Still, a job is a job.
A couple of the other reporters also will leave the Darvish beat to cover Iwakuma. There were about six or seven Japanese media members on hand for Wednesday's game between the Rangers and Reds. Darvish may be out for the season, but relief pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa, formerly with the Cubs, has a good chance to make the Rangers' roster. He pitched 1.1 scoreless innings on Wednesday and hasn't allowed a run in 4.2 spring innings.
Onada also covered Daisuke Matsuzaka when he first came to Boston. "Dice-K was even bigger than Darvish," Onada said. "He was already a legend because of Koshien," the high school baseball tournament in Japan the entire nation fixates on. In the summer tournament, Matsuzaka threw 148 pitches in one game, threw 250 pitches in 17 innings the next day in the quarterfinals, picked up a save in the semifinals and then threw a no-hitter in the championship.
But there was also huge interest in Darvish, although Onada says there were more reporters covering him his first year with the Rangers.
Ichiro Suzuki often declined to speak with the mass of Japanese media, or would often talk to them with his back turned. Darvish, whom Onada describes as "a very private person," was a little shy initially but began opening up more last season. Still, he wouldn't talk with the media the day before a start -- it had to be two days before.
The Rangers had two Japanese pitchers, Koji Uehara and Yoshinori Tateyama, on their 2011 postseason team. Both pitched in the ALCS but were then left off the World Series roster. (Ron Washington lost confidence in Uehara after he served up three home runs in the first two rounds of the playoffs.) I remember covering that World Series and feeling bad for the large throng of Japanese reporters who now had no story to cover.
Hopefully Iwakuma will prove dynamic enough to give Onada and his cohorts plenty of news so they can keep their jobs.