ST. PETERSBURG -- Despite being one of the most accomplished hitters in Japan over the past decade, playing in the Major Leagues was something that always appealed to Yoshitomo Tsutsugo.
Over the past six years, Tsutsugo made it a priority to spend at least a month working out in Los Angeles. While his team in Japan, the Yokohama BayStars, is known as one of the most analysis-driven franchises in Nippon Baseball, Tsutsugo believed he could gain an even greater edge by working out in the United States, where the information is more thorough.
Other than the obvious effect the additional data could have on his swing, the trips to Los Angeles also helped Tsutsugo -- who always believed he would ultimately play in the Majors -- get a better sense of the culture in the United States.
“Obviously the culture is pretty different here,” Tsutsugo said through an interpreter on Tuesday, “but I’m going to be able to adjust quickly around the Rays and try and come out and perform the best that I can.”
After getting permission to be posted by the BayStars, many believed Tsutsugo would look to stay on the West Coast due to his familiarity with the area. But as negotiations began, Tampa Bay’s reputation of being analytically savvy and Tsutsugo's relationship with Rays manager Kevin Cash ultimately helped the team land the Japanese slugger.
“Kevin’s passion really struck me, and it really showed how much they wanted me here,” Tsutsugo said. “If I didn’t come to the Rays, Kevin would have haunted me in my nightmares.”
Regardless of the circumstances, the Rays were thrilled to add Tsutsugo to the middle of the lineup. The Japanese slugger hit 205 home runs during his 10-season career in Japan and Tampa Bay is optimistic that the power will translate to the Major Leagues.
Here are five fun facts about the Rays' newest slugger.
1. The meaning behind No. 25
Tsutsugo wore No. 25 in seven of his 10 seasons with the BayStars, and he wanted to carry the number with him as he made the jump to the big leagues. The number was originally given to him by Japanese star Shuichi Murata, who played nine seasons with Yokohama, including two with Tsutsugo.
Upon his departure, Murata asked Tsutsugo to wear the number, which is seen as a great honor.
“I’ve worn the number with the BayStars,” Tsutsugo said. “I thought to myself that it would be nice to wear it over here as well.”
2. Winter ball adventures
As he looked to continue to adapt to different cultures, Tsutsugo played for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. Tsutsugo played just 10 games, but he alluded to the fact that the experience helped him study the different cultures in a baseball clubhouse. During his time in the Dominican Republic, Tsutsugo picked up some “broken Spanish,” which he says is his hidden talent.
3. Family matters
Tsutsugo is married, and he has an 18-month-old daughter. While he expects his family to visit often, he’s unsure where they will live because of how young his daughter is.
Yoshitomo, or “Yoshi,” as he prefers to be called, also wasn’t the only Tsutsugo born on Nov. 26, 1991. He has a twin sister, whom he credits as the brains of the family. Tsutsugo says his sister “looks nothing like me” and was a talented tennis player.
4. Favorite player
Because he’s left-handed and hits for a ton of power, Tsutsugo was asked a lot about Shohei Ohtani and Hideki Matsui, but his favorite player growing up was Ichiro Suzuki, who put together a Hall of Fame career.
“When I was little, Matsui was someone I looked up to,” Tsutsugo said. “But Ichiro is the one that I always watched and looked up to.”
5. Go, Tsutsu, Go
When Tsutsugo came up to the plate, the fans in the stands would sing a song that encouraged the Japanese slugger to hit a home run. Fans played instruments in the stands and it carried over into his at-bat.
“There are no instruments allowed in the [stadiums in the United States],” Tsutsugo laughed, “but I’m excited to hear the live roar of the fans.”