SAN DIEGO — Padres pitcher Yu Darvish couldn’t help but land at least one jab as he welcomed Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki to San Diego this week:
“Hey, do you like the warm weather here?”
In free hands, Suzuki had chosen the Cubs, Darvish’s former team, over the Padres this spring. And last month’s weather at Wrigley Field rewarded him with wind, rain and bitter cold.
The Cubs’ three-game series in San Diego this week gave Suzuki and Darvish a chance to meet in person. They swapped jerseys in front of a bevy of cameras ahead of the Cubs’ 7-5 win over the Padres on Wednesday.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been able to hear Japanese,” Suzuki said through interpreter Toy Matsushita with a smile, “so that was a relief.”
As much as Darvish may have wanted Suzuki to join him in sunny San Diego, Cubs fans also have Darvish to thank. He was one of the players Suzuki leaned on as the highly acclaimed Japanese free agent weighed his options this spring.
Darvish had made the same move from Japanese Nippon professional baseball to Major League Baseball a decade earlier, spending three seasons with the Cubs, a club Suzuki was interested in from the start.
“Not only is he a good influence on me, but I feel like he’s like a superstar,” Suzuki said of Darvish. “And just the fact that I know him is something I’m very honored to have.”
In addition to Darvish, Suzuki sought advice from Yoshimoto Tsutsugo and Shogo Akiyama in free agency before signing a five-year, $85 million deal with the Cubs.
Former Cubs pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa didn’t have the same support system as Japanese players in MLB when he joined the Cubs organization from NPB in 2013.
Fujikawa, then 32, saw himself as something of an older brother to the younger players in the organization, such as Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks.
“Now I’m asking them, please take care of Seiya,” Fujikawa said after speaking to Hendricks, now a veteran, on the field ahead of Wednesday’s game.
Suzuki did not play Wednesday when the Cubs put him back in the game after twisting his ankle on a base on Monday. Suzuki left this game early with right ankle pain and a pinched hit in the ninth inning on Tuesday.
Even if he were perfectly healthy, Suzuki would not have faced Darvish this week. The right-hander’s next start is scheduled for Friday in Atlanta.
“I’ve only seen him play on TV, never in a real game,” said Suzuki, whose NPB career began after Darvish left for MLB. “Well, I’m looking forward to it. It will come soon. But until then I want to make sure I can beat him. Because in that moment he will get me out.”
The Cubs meet the Padres again next month at Wrigley Field.
On this week’s trip, Darvish Suzuki provided restaurant recommendations in San Diego. And after the initial banter, Darvish Suzuki assured Chicago would be warmer than last week.
“So I’m looking forward to it,” Suzuki said, “but at the same time I’m worried about whether it’s true or not.”