Seiya calm, collected in Opening Day debut

April 8th, 2022

CHICAGO -- Seiya Suzuki toured an empty Wrigley Field before penning his name on a contract with the Cubs. He saw his likeness on the videoboards, visited the clubhouse and held the home white jersey with his name stitched across the back.

In a 5-4 win over the Brewers on Opening Day, Suzuki put on those blue pinstripes and finally saw what the Friendly Confines looks and feels like when it is packed. And he very much looked the part as he collected a series of firsts in the Major Leagues.

"You don't know what's going on inside," Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks said. "But he was calm as can be, it seemed like."

Suzuki got his first career hit out of the way in the fifth inning, when he connected with an 0-1 slider from Brewers ace Corbin Burnes. The Japanese slugger pulled the pitch into left field, where the baseball began a journey from outfielder Christian Yelich's glove to the Cubs' dugout for safe keeping.

Over four plate appearances, Suzuki drew a pair of walks and saw 19 pitches. Via his interpreter, Toy Matsushita, the Cubs' new right fielder said he was not that nervous. In fact, following the initial jitters of his Spring Training debut, Suzuki has continued to find a rhythm and his comfort zone.

"It was actually really fun," Suzuki said. "In all my at-bats, I was able to be myself. So I just enjoyed the game today."

Suzuki signed a five-year, $85 million contract with the Cubs after rising to stardom with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in Japan. There is early hype surrounding the 27-year-old in the National League Rookie of the Year conversation, but the Cubs know a period of adjustment and cultural acclimation is expected.

"The transition is going to be real," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said before the game. "You have much better pitching, much better stuff over here. I think you also have just different deliveries, different ballparks -- things you haven't been a part of."

On Day 1, Suzuki was tasked with facing Burnes, the NL's reigning Cy Young Award winner. It was an eye-opening experience. The outfielder said he had never faced a cutter with as much power and movement as Burnes' pitch.

"There's stuff that I've never seen before, so it was really fun," Suzuki said. "But I came to this stage to challenge myself and to be able to face pitchers at that caliber. It's going to bring my game to another level, so I'm just very excited for what's ahead."

Following his single in the fifth, Suzuki hustled to third on a single from Jason Heyward and then scored on a sacrifice fly from Patrick Wisdom. That marked the first run of the 2022 season for the Cubs and Suzuki smiled wide as he made his way through the dugout crowded with his new teammates.

"The whole team was excited for him," Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said. "Coming over from Japan to play in the big leagues is not easy, but I think he's a really smart guy, a really smart hitter and he's going to make the adjustment and it's going to be fun."

Already, fans wearing Suzuki's jersey could be spotted around Wrigley Field. That made him happy.

"But I have to get those results to live up to those expectations," Suzuki said.