With a little help, new Twins infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka took the field and the spotlight in his first full workout with the team.
FORT MYERS, FLA. - Manager Ron Gardenhire wants Tsuyoshi Nishioka's transition to the Twins -- and Major League Baseball -- as seamless as possible.
Gardenhire wanted someone to make sure Nishioka knew where he needed to be at all times. He picked Alexi Casilla of the Dominican Republic.
"Alexi's job today was to take care of Nishioka today and make sure he got to the right fields," Gardenhire said. "I don't know how Alexi was communicating with him."
Right off the bat, the projected starting middle infield was faced with a challenge during Nishioka's first full day with his new team.
"My Japanese is working fine," Casilla joked. "His Spanish, real bad. It's like my English."
Casilla used hand signals and the translation provided by Ryo Shinkawa, Nishioka's verbal bridge. Gardenhire walked by Nishioka and gestured with his hands. Shinkawa translated. Coach Scott Ullger used hand signals later in the morning during more infield drills. Shinkawa translated. Nishioka nodded.
"He picked things up pretty quickly," Ullger said.
That's how it went during the Twins' first full squad workout of training camp. The team began preparations for the 2011 season but it seemed as if all eyes -- and lenses -- were trained on Nishioka, the infielder the Twins signed during the offseason for a $5 million posting fee and three-year, $9.25 million contract.
Nishioka is a three-time Gold Glove winner and the 2010 Nippon Professional Baseball batting champion, hitting .346. His wife, Naoko, is a popular model. They have David and Victoria Beckham-like status in their homeland. Consequently, Nishioka's moves Wednesday were tracked by more than 20 members of the Japanese press.
The foreign media corps filled the clubhouse before the workout. Reporters aren't allowed in clubhouses in Japan, and word is that Nishioka was so surprised by the mass that he dressed in the trainer's room.
On the field, he moved like a veteran, scooping up grounders easily. He definitely has the hands and range. The only noticeable difference between Nishioka and Casilla was that Casilla has a stronger arm.
"He's got hands, you can see that," Gardenhire said. "He's got all the actions. So it's really just been one day out on the field. I think you have to get in game situations and see how he handles himself out there. You know he's proven himself. He doesn't have to prove himself really. He's proven himself as a really good baseball player over in Japan."
During one drill Tuesday, the Twins' potential Opening Day infield -- Casilla, Nishioka, Justin Morneau and Danny Valencia -- were in a group that included Ullger and Justin Huber as they all chatted.
Casilla's hand signals throughout the morning helped break the language barrier.
"Casilla has been playing with the Twins far longer than me," Nishioka said. "For him to guide me through practice will be something very helpful and appreciated."
With Twins greats Tony Oliva and Rod Carew looking on, Nishioka showed off a smooth, easy and level swing during batting practice.
Chase Lambin, a nonroster invitee to camp, was Nishioka's teammate on the 2009 Chiba Lotte Marines of the Japanese Pacific League. He said Nishioka is more of a jokester than many Japanese players but is focused and prepared. Lambin feels Nishioka just needs to face major league pitchers and gain experience before being successful.
"He's not going to see anything over here that he didn't see over there," Lambin said. "If he sticks to what he does and not try to do anything too different, he will be fine."
The first step is for Nishioka to learn how to communicate with his new teammates. He was asked whether he will need to learn Spanish in order to communicate with Casilla as well as English in order to talk to most of his other teammates.
"We will make another new different language," Nishioka said with a straight face. "The two of us."
|NY Giants||20||2nd Qtr 3:15|
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