From your friend, Fu-chan
“From Your Friend, Fu-chan”
Friends a half globe away share passion for baseball
In Japanese, Ken knows how to say happy birthday, thank you, good morning, good luck, “and that’s about it,” he laughed. “I couldn’t recite the Gettysburg Address or anything.”
On Ken’s first Major League trip to Japan in 1979 on an All-Star tour, he met Fumihiro “Fu-chan” Fujisawa, president of the Association of American Baseball Research.
“He was very helpful,” said Ken. “He could speak with us without a translator — his English was pretty good. He took us to his house, took us shopping, and made sure we didn’t get lost on the extensive train system.”
Ken and Fu-chan had the luck to meet again in 1984 when the then-World Champion Baltimore Orioles visited and played in Tokyo.
Through the years, Fu-chan and Ken have forged a long distance friendship via mail and e-mails, kept alive by their mutual love of baseball. Before each season, Fu-chan asks Ken for predictions of how American teams will finish in each division, who will be deemed an MVP, and who will win the Cy Young Award.
“Fu-chan has been a good friend over the years,” said Ken, touched that this “very nice and gentle man” closes every e-mail with the words, “Your Friend.”
Recalling Ken’s third trip to Japan in 2004, the black-haired petite Japanese sat in the YES Network booth between him and Michael Kay during a telecast when the Yankees played a Japanese team. Off-air, Fu-chan relayed stories and information via handwritten notes and between-inning-conversations which only a Japanese baseball insider would know.
When the Yankees landed on American soil again, George Steinbrenner was waiting at the St. Petersburg airport to greet the team despite it being 3 a.m. The owner called over Ken and Michael to compliment them.
“I didn’t know you knew so much about Japanese baseball,” said Mr. Steinbrenner, whereby Ken admitted their secret weapon had come in the form of a friend.
“The telecast would not have been the same without him,” said Ken. “He knew the details to make the game interesting.” (A detail like knowing one of the player’s names translated to “red star.” Director John Moore was then able to show a close-up of that center fielder wearing a red glove.)
“Fu-chan knows Japanese and American baseball,” said Ken. “Obviously he’s a big fan.” He has traveled to the United States to watch baseball around the country, and has met up with Ken in Baltimore and other cities, even staying overnight as a guest in the Singleton home.
In an e-mail to Mrs. Singy, Fu-chan remembered the time in 2003 he had taken a photo of one of his sons with Hideki Matsui in Baltimore. He had asked Ken to ask Hideki to sign in and mail it back.
“The picture flew to the USA over the Pacific Ocean,” said Fu-chan, “and came back to Japan! I think it is a very good story of showing Ken’s great personality and our friendship.”
Back when Ken visited Japan as an Oriole, there weren’t any Japanese players in the Major Leagues. MLB had sent not only All-Star teams on tour, but the World Champions periodically had traveled to Tokyo on goodwill trips to play Japanese teams.
“Each time it was tougher to beat them,” remembered Ken. “The Japanese were learning the game.”
Today more Japanese players are in the states, like the Yankees’ own Hideki Matsui. Most teams in both U.S. leagues have added Japanese players to their rosters.
“It’s a big deal when they get to come over here and play,” said Ken.
Some American teams with Japanese players telecast their games to Japan live, for example the Yankees, Seattle Mariners, and Boston Red Sox, which means fans a half globe away are watching today’s game tomorrow (there’s a 13-hour time difference).
“I bet fans DVR a lot of games,” said Ken.
When Hideki Irabu was a Yankee, Ken and I once met him for lunch at our favorite sushi restaurant here in Baltimore County (Edo Sushi in Cockeysville).
George the translator was necessary because remember, Ken only knows four Japanese phrases. I only know Italian, so I just ate my sushi.
Using a translator is quite an interesting method in which to converse with another human being. That’s trust, let me tell you.
As avid sushi lovers, it was the first time Ken and I had eaten eel; Hideki had suggested it. Who were we to argue? The man knew his fish.
The Association of American Baseball Research (AABR) was established in1977 in Tokyo, Japan. It releases, translates, and supervises books about American baseball, histories of teams, and MLB almanacs. AABR hosts monthly meetings, social gatherings, and publishes a bulletin called Dugout, and an annual report called Ballpark, with information collected by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.