Even his own teammates can't help but cheer for Kensuke Tanaka. It's not often a household name in his native land trades in fame and fortune , for the tough road to the major leagues in the United States. But that's exactly what Tanaka did this past January.
"I was able to accomplish many things in japan, but to a certain extent," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I wanted to take it a step further. I really felt like starting a second baseball career here."
Tanaka left behind a $2.7 million salary, five career gold gloves and four Best IX awards as the best overall second baseman in the Japanese league.
"It's about the dream!" Tanaka explained. "I believe I was able to reach a certain level of success in japan. But I wanted to start anew. What's in the past is what's in the past. I'm not worried about it."
And that alone is earning the respect of the 31-year-old Tanaka's new teammates.
"I think it's awesome," said recently-promoted San Francisco Giants First Baseman Brett Pill. "He got out of his comfort zone. He was playing well over there in Japan, and he wasn't scared to try something new. To come over here and see if he could get up to the big leagues here."
"It's a pleasure to have him on the club," said Grizzlies Manager Bob Mariano. "He's a positive guy. The guys love him on the bench. He brings great chemistry and energy. And like I said: he's a pleasure to manage."
The transition has been tough because of subtle differences between Japanese and American baseball.
"What's considered good in Japan is different than what's considered good in the U.S.," said Tanaka. "Even the ball itself is a little smaller and not as slippery in Japan."
But Tanaka says it's only a matter of time until he figures out a way to play at AT&T Park, as his .350-plus batting average indicates.
"I think I just need to get the hang of everything," Tanaka said confidently. "I believe I still need to adjust and adapt to the playing style here."
"He's won some gold gloves," said Mariano. "You know what? He's shown here that he can play this game and he plays it well."