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The Sho begins at Reds Spring Training

@m_sheldon
February 13, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- When Shogo Akiyama stepped into the cage for batting practice on Thursday, it was something the veteran outfielder has done for several years. But this was his first time doing so for a Major League ballclub. So Akiyama was surprised more than anybody among those assembled when

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- When Shogo Akiyama stepped into the cage for batting practice on Thursday, it was something the veteran outfielder has done for several years. But this was his first time doing so for a Major League ballclub.

So Akiyama was surprised more than anybody among those assembled when he swung and missed the very first pitch -- a straight ball thrown by a coach. He turned and smiled, slightly uncomfortable.

“I was very embarrassed,” Akiyama chuckled later through translator Luke Shinoda. “I wanted to change right away, but I’m looking forward to tomorrow now. A new day.”

Alas, Akiyama hadn’t forgotten how to take batting practice and wasn’t too dour. The rest of the session went without issue and appeared to go well.

“I was still dragging it, but that was the worst start I could possibly make,” Akiyama said. “It can only get better from here.”

The Reds signed Akiyama -- their first Japanese player -- to a three-year, $21 million contract in January to improve their offense at the top portion of the lineup. Like much of the club, he reported early and arrived on Wednesday. The full squad isn’t scheduled to report until Tuesday.

Akiyama, who turns 32 on April 16, spent a large portion of his morning touring the player development facility, meeting his new teammates and getting comfortable in his new surroundings. The only Reds player he previously met is third basemanEugenio Suárez, who toured Japan with other Major Leaguers during a series of 2018 exhibition games.

Suárez offered a full endorsement of Akiyama’s skills.

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“I watched him every time. He can hit,” Suárez said. “He knows how to play this game. When I saw him here, I was so happy to see him again and meet with him and say, ‘Hey man, what’s up?’ He was so happy to be here. I’m happy we have the first Japanese guy in the organization. I think he’s going to help us a lot. I know what he can do.”

During his nine-year career with the Seibu Lions in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball, Akiyama was a .301 career hitter. He made all five of his Pacific League All-Star teams in each of the last five seasons and won six Japanese Gold Gloves as a center fielder.

Thursday was an informal workout for Cincinnati's hitters, and several came off the field after the batting practice. But Akiyama remained well after to practice in the outfield, taking fly balls and making long throws. He also did some conditioning work and went to an indoor cage to take several more swings.

“Compared to Japan, this is still not that long,” Akiyama said. “But then I’m trying to get in my own routine here and there are less off days. I’m trying to get used to the whole cycle.”

The Reds are preparing for a large throng of Japanese media to arrive to chronicle Akiyama’s time in Spring Training. At least nine media outlets from Japan have been issued credentials to cover him. To accommodate more outlets than the press work room can hold, a large tent and wood floor were being assembled adjacent to one of the fields.

“You hear all about everything he's done his entire career and the track record in Japan. I think we're going to learn so much more about him now, what has made him a great player for so long,” said Reds manager David Bell. “You look at the talent, his speed, the on-base and the defense he's played for so long. There's something behind all that. There's a real competitive nature, there's an edge to him. There's a desire to win. That's what's exciting to get to know him on a deeper level. It's exciting to have him here and in Spring Training.”

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.