Yoshida on 1st spring game: 'I was really excited to play in that atmosphere'

February 24th, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For Masataka Yoshida, his exhibition debut for the Red Sox in a 5-3 victory over Northeastern University at JetBlue Park on Friday afternoon was all about the little things that only someone who has made a major culture change could relate to.

Hearing the public address announcer say everything in English felt surreal.

Catching two fly balls in the sun, while routine, was gratifying for someone who played the majority of games in Japan in domes.

Interacting with teammates who all speak other primary languages than he does was also something different, but Yoshida said he was able to read their body language.

And the atmosphere of a Red Sox Spring Training game -- although it won’t match what he'll feel at Fenway Park on March 30 -- was something that he took in and cherished.

“First of all, I was happy to stay healthy and, also, I was really excited to play in that atmosphere,” Yoshida said through an interpreter. “I felt a really fresh feeling. Everything in English, including the announcements, that’s a really good opportunity to get to know Major League Baseball.”

The place where Yoshida looked the most comfortable was in the batter's box, and it is his expertise in that area that led the Red Sox to sign him to a five-year, $90 million contract while also sending a posting fee of $15.4 million to the Orix Buffaloes.

In his first at-bat, which came in the bottom of the first inning, Yoshida got enough of an 0-2 pitch to send it just in front of the replica Green Monster for a sacrifice fly.

The ease with which Yoshida can hit the ball the other way should help him acclimate swiftly to Fenway Park, which has always rewarded lefties who can do so.

“With a two-strike count, I try to hit the ball to the opposite field. That’s good for me,” he said.

Yoshida’s initial stint with the Red Sox in Spring Training will be brief. On March 3 he will travel to Japan for the World Baseball Classic.

The Red Sox don’t expect to see Yoshida until the end of the tournament, which wraps up with the semifinals and finals in Miami. The Classic comes to a close on March 21.

To compensate for the time he’ll miss, Yoshida reported to Fort Myers a couple of weeks before the first full-squad workout, impressing Boston's brass.

“The fact that he was here early, it means a lot to us,” manager Alex Cora said. “He didn't have to, and he's been great for us. I think he's done an amazing job with [adjusting to the culture]. Obviously, he's gonna keep learning, and there's gonna be situations that are different.”

That doesn’t mean the adjustment is over. It will be a work in progress all season.

Cora knows this first-hand from when he played with Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima for the Red Sox in 2007.

“Traveling is a lot different than in Japan. Obviously, the food and the schedule are different,” he said.

Between the lines, the Red Sox have a lot of confidence in their biggest external investment of the offseason.

“We know that he's a good player,” said Cora. “He’s a guy that we trust. We made a big commitment with him, and so far he has been great. And he’ll go to Japan and do his thing, play in the tournament. Probably we'll see him in Miami at one point, but when it's done, it’s done.”