Make way for the kid.
While he's still technically a rookie, Yomiuri Giants outfielder Hisayoshi Chono certainly doesn't carry himself like one--doesn't sound like one either.
"I'm just trying to concentrate on what I need to do," Chono said before a recent preseason game at Tokyo Dome. "There's always pressure, but I'm just trying to play the same style that got me here. I'm not going to change the way I do things."
Chono is not lacking in confidence, and judging by what he did this spring that confidence is well-founded. Since joining the Giants from Honda in the Industrial League, Chono has impressed his teammates, coaches, the media, Kyojin fans--basically everyone who has seen him in action. He hit .286 in the "open-sen," driving in 10 runs over 16 games, completely undaunted by the pressure of playing for Japanese baseball's glamour club.
Chono is fully aware that his "rookie" status is a little misleading, considering that at the age of 25 he is four years older than the club's starting shortstop, Hayato Sakamoto. Since joining the Honda team after college, Chono has racked up several awards, including being named to the Industrial League Best Nine after he hit .579 in the Intercity Baseball Tournament last year.
He has also starred on the international scene for Japan, hitting .457 in the 2007 World Cup and leading the nation to gold at the 2009 Asian Championships.
"Even though I'm a rookie, I'm also 25 so I'm not a fresh-faced kid out of high school," the Saga native said. "I knew the team was expecting results from me right away, so I'm not surprised with the numbers I put up in the preseason."
When asked if he was ready to step into a spot on the big club, Chono did not hesitate.
"Oh, I'm ready all right."
One thing working against Chono is the crowded outfield at Tokyo Dome. With no designated hitter in the Central League, two-time league MVP Alex Ramirez will be a fixture in left, although he may also play a little first base this year. Speedburner Tetsuya Matsumoto will be in center with Takahiro Suzuki in a backup role, while Yoshiyuki Kamei and veteran Yoshitomo Tani will be penciled in for right field. On top of that, rejuvenated outfielder Yoshinobu Takahashi has been swinging a hot bat this spring, but he may see the lion's share of his playing time at first base.
Any way you slice it, a lot of competition for those three spots.
It didn't have to be this way, however. Chono could have signed with the Nippon-Ham Fighters, who drafted him out of college in 2006, or the Chiba Lotte Marines, who took him in the second round in 2008 and made him a solid offer. In either case, he likely would have stepped into a starting role right away.
But Chono said "No thanks," his heart set on playing for the Giants, who finally drafted him in 2009.
"The Giants are the only team that really paid attention to me from the time I was in college," Chono said. "Since this was the first team to really show an interest in me I felt like this was the team I wanted to play for."
As for all the attention he has garnered after signing with Yomiuri, Chono is taking it all in stride, to the point of even enjoying it.
"I've never felt overwhelmed since joining this team," he said. "Actually, I've been having fun with all the attention."
Get used to it, Chono-san.