Seiya gets feet wet, staves off beer shower

March 26th, 2022

MESA, Ariz. -- Seiya Suzuki marveled at the stands atop the neighboring rooftops beyond the Wrigley Field walls on his tour of the Cubs' old ballpark earlier this month. He had never seen anything like it.

As Suzuki surveyed the scene before him -- his likeness in the white home uniform with the blue pinstripes up on the stadium's scoreboards -- he imagined the bleachers filled with the team's famously raucous fans. And on Friday, the outfielder realized something.

"I had that adrenaline rush when I saw my name on that billboard," Suzuki said via his interpreter, Toy Matsushita. "But, if I keep on striking out like today, someone's going to throw some beer at me someday."

There is that sense of humor Suzuki's teammates have been talking about.

Suzuki's highly anticipated Cubs debut arrived on Friday afternoon, and the Japanese slugger was welcomed to the big leagues with a pair of called strikeouts in a 17-1 Spring Training loss to the Rockies at Sloan Park. The results mattered little in this moment, which further turned the page on the last core of Cubs stars.

The five-year, $85 million contract that Suzuki signed represents the Cubs’ largest addition since president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer took the front office reins. It was a signing that supported Hoyer's vision of competing now, while building a bridge to the "next great Cubs team."

Suzuki’s debut, which included a warm ovation as he stepped into the batter's box for the first time, was an introduction to the chapters to come.

"I definitely told him," Cubs manager David Ross said, "'It's just about getting ready, not trying to prove anything to anybody. You're a piece here and a big piece for a long time, so let's do things the right way.' He understands that."

That did not stop the 27-year-old Suzuki from spending a half-hour taking extra swings in the batting cage after he exited the game. Even with some borderline strike calls, the outfielder said he could have done more damage on pitches prior to the called third strikes.

"I just got pissed off a little bit from those two unfortunate at-bats," said Suzuki, who also praised the work and resume of his opponent, Rockies right-hander Germán Márquez.

That drive to work, learn and adjust was evident from the moment Suzuki arrived in camp.

Not long after Suzuki's introductory press conference on March 18, the outfielder jumped right into the team's workout that day. He did baserunning drills on Field 1 at the Cubs' complex and then headed over to Sloan Park to take batting practice and face live pitching.

Cubs prospect Ethan Roberts knew he was going to throw to batters that afternoon, but suddenly Suzuki was on the list.

"I told him, 'Take it easy on me, dude,'" Roberts said with a laugh.

As he warmed up in the bullpen during BP, Roberts said he looked over at the berm that stretches from left to center field. He counted the baseballs Suzuki had deposited during his last round of swings on his first day with the Cubs.

"One, two, three, four, five," Roberts said. "I was like, 'Well, this is going to be fun.'"

A memorable moment followed. In Suzuki's first live BP at-bat, Roberts finished him off with an elevated fastball that generated a swing and miss. As he left the box, Suzuki gave a salute to the young pitcher.

"That was so cool," Roberts said. "I was like, 'Wow, this dude is awesome.' Utmost respect. He's going to be a really good guy for Chicago."

Helping the acclimation process has been Suzuki's easygoing personality and sense of humor. The outfielder let that side of him show in his initial press conference, and has continued to gain comfort in that way behind the scenes.

One example arrived on a recent morning in the weight room, where Ross was enjoying some trail mix. Suzuki walked by and asked if there were pieces of chocolate in the manager's snack.

"I was like, 'Oh, yeah, yeah. That's chocolate,'" said Ross, who then cracked a smile. "And he reached over and rubbed my belly. I was like, 'You're way too comfortable.'"

The task now is for Suzuki to find that same comfort while facing Major League pitching. Otherwise, Suzuki joked that he would be "scrunched in a corner in right field" to avoid the beer shower from fans.

Kidding aside, Suzuki is excited to experience a packed Wrigley Field for the first time.