Nishioka fits Twins like a glove

With his solid work ethic, obvious talent and good nature, Tsuyoshi Nishioka has quickly gained acceptance among the Twins.

hide

Second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka has not disappointed the Twins with his performance in his first major league camp. “I think he’s the real deal,” said Bobby Valentine, his former manager in Japan.

Photo: Dave Martin, Associated Press

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

FORT MYERS, FLA. - Tsuyoshi Nishioka has been a Twin for roughly three months. Ever since he was first handed a uniform with the No. 1 on it, he's searched for ways to fit in with new teammates in a foreign land.

From that perspective, trying to pick a fight with Venezuelan reliever Jose Mijares during spring training is seen as a sign of progress.

"He called Mijares fat," teammate Brian Duensing said. "Then he apologized and said that Mijares would kill him. Then Nishi said, 'You know, I would just kick you real hard and run. You would never catch me.'"

In English? In Spanish?

"No, he had his translator [Ryo Shinkawa] translate," Duensing said. "But we all laughed."

Nishioka comes to America to, in his words, "grow as a human being" after winning three Gold Glove Awards, one batting title and two championships with the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Japanese Pacific League. Spring training has been his orientation period. An infielder once considered flamboyant in Japan is getting used to a new culture -- and a different kind of clubhouse.

Nishioka appreciates how seriously the Twins take their spring training drills; he said Chiba Lotte had similar standards. But he also likes how players enjoy each other off the field.

"It's a team that is very good at 'on and off,'" he said through his interpreter. "In the clubhouse, they are all friends, and they are very good at turning the switch off. But on the field, once they put on the Twins jersey and get on the field, they have the feeling that they want to beat the other team."

But can he play at this level? The Twins have seen nothing this spring to suggest he will not become the everyday second baseman and No. 2 hitter that they envisioned when they signed him during the offseason.

He entered Saturday with a .370 batting average and a 13-game hitting streak.

"He's solid with the glove, and he's proven he can handle the bat really, really well," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's the package deal. He's a really good player, and we're real excited about him, to tell you the truth."

Fitting in

Getting comfortable in the Twins clubhouse has not appeared to be a problem. When a door on Nick Blackburn's stall came off, Kevin Slowey taped "congratulations" in Japanese on it (he's working on the language) and presented it to Nishioka as a gift.

Nishioka is taking English classes and can surprise you when he turns a phrase. When someone says to him, "Ohio," which sounds like the Japanese way of saying, "Good morning," Nishioka replies, "Good morning," perfectly.

And he and Mijares have built an interesting friendship. Mijares was showing him card games on Wednesday, and Nishioka was rubbing Mijares' head and trying to speak Spanish.

"If you just screw around with people, you can find out if they are into that sort of thing or if they are a serious person," Gardenhire said. "Believe me, he's laid back. He likes to have some fun, that's easy to see. I've been messing with him pretty good and he likes it."

There was a time not long ago when Nishioka did much more than fit in.

He broke in with the Marines in 2003. In 2004, he became a switch hitter. In 2005, he was considered the best second baseman in the league. That year he batted .268, stole a league-high 41 bases, committed only two errors, won his first Gold Glove and helped Chiba Lotte win the Japan Series for the first time since 1974.

He was 21 years old. He was about to become a member of Team Japan that won the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006.

And he seemed to enjoy everything about his youthful celebrity status.

"I had him as a baby," said ESPN analyst and former Chiba Lotte manager Bobby Valentine. "I had him when he was playing and learning how to date girls and trying to figure out what being successful was."

Nishioka wore colorful wristbands, let his hair grow out and even tinted it to highlight his uniform. In 2007 he wore his first name on the back of his uniform all season. That didn't go over well with everyone.

"As a young kid he definitely was flashy," Valentine said. "He has settled down a bit. He doesn't mind standing out in a crowd, and in Japan, that's the exception to the rule. He was out in front, and he's out in front because he played with that type of ability at an early age.

"I think he got a little bored at times being as good as he was and not knowing how long he was going to have to stay with that one team."

Nishioka last week finally found a barber he liked and arrived at the ballpark with his black hair nicely trimmed. This was news to the dozen or so Japanese reporters at camp who have to write a Nishioka story each day.

He was asked what happened to the colorful wristbands and the longer, tinted hair.

"When I was young I probably didn't have the confidence," Nishioka said. "I think that led to be being a little different with the looks. But now I feel that I'm getting more and more confidence on the field, and that's how I want to make the fans cheer for me."

Settling down

Nishioka is married now. His wife, Naoko, is a popular model. He carefully answers questions and doesn't come across as the wild and crazy guy he might have once been.

Of course, that's the view from the other side of the language barrier, a barrier that is slowly coming down.

"I'm glad through the years I had him that he started to settle down," Valentine said, "because the 2006 version of Nishioka would not have worked very well with Gardy. I think the 2011 version will fit in quite nicely."

Twins international scout Howard Norsetter first saw Nishioka in 2005. The Twins continued to update their files on him, then really bore down on him once they knew he could be available.

Nishioka has long dreamed of playing in the majors. He revealed on Wednesday that he tried to get Chiba Lotte to post him following the 2009 season, but with three years left on his contract, the team wouldn't.

"So I asked, if I got the batting average [up] and the team wins the championship, could they grant me [the opportunity] to accomplish my dream?" he said.

Nishioka played in all 144 games last season and won the batting title with a .346 average. He and Ichiro Suzuki are the only players in league history to have 200 hits in a season. He captained Chiba Lotte to another Japan Series title. Consequently, he was allowed to leave for MLB. At 26, he was the youngest Japanese player ever to be posted.

The Twins paid $5.3 million for the rights to negotiate with Nishioka, then signed him to a three-year, $9.25 million contract with a $4 million option for 2014.

"He is a gifted athlete," Norsetter said. "We've had him at 3.9 [seconds], 3.95 to first base. This guy has some jets.

"He's got balance and he's got bat speed. He has pitch awareness. He can be a tough out, a pesky out."

Valentine believes Nishioka will be able to hit major league fastballs on the outer half of the plate to the opposite field -- something he said others have struggled to do -- and still pull the breaking ball.

"I think he's the real deal," Valentine said.

When Gardenhire suggested recently that Nishioka was good enough to win a Gold Glove, that excited longtime Japanese baseball writer Hideki Okuda. "He might be the first Japanese player to win a Gold Glove as an infielder," he said.

Spring training games are winding down, with a season's worth of games left to track one of the Twins' many story lines of 2011-- can Nishioka make an impact?

As of now, everyone feels good about what they've seen and how he fits in the batting order. So far, signs point to him being a good fit.

"Guys in this clubhouse are already talking about he might be the guy we needed that's really going to be a catalyst for this team," Slowey said. "So I think we're all hoping for that."

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Cleveland 12:00 PM
Atlanta
Tennessee 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Detroit 12:00 PM
New England
Green Bay 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Jacksonville 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Cincinnati 12:00 PM
Houston
Tampa Bay 12:00 PM
Chicago
Arizona 3:05 PM
Seattle
St. Louis 3:05 PM
San Diego
Miami 3:25 PM
Denver
Washington 3:25 PM
San Francisco
Dallas 7:30 PM
NY Giants
NY Jets 11/24/14 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Baltimore 11/24/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 11/27/14 11:30 AM
Detroit
Philadelphia 11/27/14 3:30 PM
Dallas
Seattle 11/27/14 7:30 PM
San Francisco
Phoenix 106 FINAL
Indiana 83
Miami 99 FINAL
Orlando 92
Philadelphia 83 FINAL
New York 91
Toronto 110 FINAL
Cleveland 93
Dallas 92 FINAL
Houston 95
Sacramento 113 FINAL
Minnesota 101
Brooklyn 87 FINAL
San Antonio 99
Washington 111 FINAL
Milwaukee 100
New Orleans 106 FINAL
Utah 94
St. Louis 3 FINAL
Ottawa 2
Montreal 2 FINAL
Boston 0
Detroit 1 FINAL
Toronto 4
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
Pittsburgh 1 FINAL
NY Islanders 4
Columbus 2 FINAL
Philadelphia 4
Buffalo 2 FINAL
Washington 1
Florida 2 FINAL(SO)
Nashville 3
Los Angeles 4 FINAL
Dallas 5
Carolina 3 FINAL
Colorado 4
New Jersey 4 FINAL(SO)
Calgary 5
Chicago 7 FINAL
Edmonton 1
Arizona 4 FINAL(SO)
San Jose 3
Incarnate Word 79 FINAL
Princeton 68
Robert Morris 66 FINAL
Georgetown 80
Notre Dame 81 FINAL
Massachusetts 68
Saint Peters 50 FINAL
La Salle 59
Ball State 69 FINAL
IUPUI 71
Utah State 63 FINAL
Miss State 71
High Point 56 FINAL
Richmond 80
Appalachian St 65 FINAL
Virginia Tech 63
Drake 75 FINAL
Western Mich 91
Samford 72 FINAL
CS-Northridge 79
Colgate 54 FINAL
Campbell 48
North Carolina 90 FINAL
Davidson 72
North Florida 49 FINAL
Northern Iowa 66
UMass Lowell 63 FINAL
NJIT 61
Nebraska Omaha 97 FINAL
Marquette 89
Clemson 59 FINAL
Nevada 50
Florida State 54 FINAL
Providence 80
South Alabama 53 FINAL
Detroit 66
Texas State 67 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 80
Trinity Christian 52 FINAL
Chicago State 75
Liberty 52 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 63
Western State 60 FINAL
Air Force 90
Elon 67 FINAL
Northwestern 68
Canisius 53 FINAL
St Bonaventure 59
MD-Eastern Shore 53 FINAL
St Francis-PA 57
Cleveland State 83 FINAL
Savannah State 87
SE Missouri St 74 FINAL
Central Arkansas 68
UMKC 68 FINAL
Ark-Little Rock 73
Southern U 48 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 66
Longwood 72 FINAL
Youngstown St 82
Towson 63 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 42
Loyola-Maryland 39 FINAL
Butler 80
San Jose St 66 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 70
Texas Southern 66 FINAL
Norfolk State 76
Yale 53 FINAL
Southern Ill 46
LSU 72 FINAL
Weber State 58
South Dakota 68 FINAL
Wofford 72
Duquesne 102 FINAL
Abilene Christian 81
Wright State 86 FINAL
Char Southern 79
Miles 71 FINAL
Jacksonville St 88
Binghamton 63 FINAL
Manhattan 78
Alcorn State 80 FINAL
Kennesaw St 83
Bob Jones Univ 50 FINAL
Citadel 81
Piedmont International 33 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 76
Johnson University 41 FINAL
Ga Southern 97
Brown 66 FINAL
Indiana State 78
Colorado 33 FINAL
Wyoming 56
Quinnipiac 76 FINAL
Albany 73
Mount St Marys 73 FINAL
Bucknell 69
Master's College 45 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 91
UNC-Asheville 87 FINAL
East Tenn St 98
Clermont College 50 FINAL
Eastern Ky 115
UNC Greensboro 62 FINAL
Eastern Mich 70
American Univ 44 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 63
Army 76 FINAL
Marist 62
Hartford 65 FINAL
Niagara 62
Lafayette 83 FINAL
Penn 77
Nebraska 62 FINAL
Rhode Island 66
Vermont 60 FINAL
Saint Josephs 68
Eastern Wash 68 FINAL
SMU 77
UNLV 57 FINAL
Temple 50
Chattanooga 67 FINAL
Tenn Tech 69
UNC-Wilmington 110 FINAL
Va Military 93
Ohio Midwestern 48 FINAL
Northern Ky 98
Sam Houston St 74 FINAL
Fairfield 60
UC Davis 58 FINAL
Furman 55
Ill-Chicago 60 FINAL
Kent State 78
Transylvania 63 FINAL
Lipscomb 74
Central Conn St 50 FINAL
Monmouth 65
Oakwood 61 FINAL
Alabama A&M 81
Morgan State 57 FINAL
Houston 72
Lamar 72 FINAL
Indiana 85
Northeastern 68 FINAL
Navy 44
William & Mary 69 FINAL
Rice 65
Missouri State 68 FINAL
Texas Tech 80
TX A&M-Kingsville 77 FINAL
TX-Pan American 82
Southern-New Orleans 45 FINAL
Tulane 89
SE Louisiana 57 FINAL
Western Ill 60
Belmont 64 FINAL
Western Ky 63
Hampton 66 FINAL
North Dakota St 74
UMBC 51 FINAL
Minnesota 69
Houston Baptist 69 FINAL
Texas-Arlington 87
St Thomas Aquinas 55 FINAL
Gonzaga 109
Utah Valley U 85 FINAL
Southern Utah 75
New Mexico St 76 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 77
Stanford 59 FINAL
Duke 70
Morehead State 69 FINAL
Presbyterian 49
SIU Edwardsville 53 FINAL
Portland 75
Boise State 54 FINAL
Wisconsin 78
Valparaiso 8:30 AM
Maine
Kent State 0 Cancelled
Buffalo 0
Texas-El Paso 13 FINAL
Rice 31
Air Force 14 FINAL
San Diego St 30
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Utah State 41
Char Southern 9 FINAL
(9) Georgia 55
South Alabama 12 FINAL
So Carolina 37
Rutgers 3 FINAL
(10) Michigan State 45
Minnesota 28 FINAL
(21) Nebraska 24
Northwestern 38 FINAL
Purdue 14
(18) Marshall 23 FINAL
UAB 18
Kansas 7 FINAL
(23) Oklahoma 44
Indiana 27 FINAL
(7) Ohio State 42
Penn State 14 FINAL
Illinois 16
(14) Eastern Ky 3 FINAL
Florida 52
TX-San Antonio 7 FINAL
Western Ky 45
SMU 7 FINAL
UCF 53
Tulsa 28 FINAL
Houston 38
Virginia Tech 3 FINAL
Wake Forest 6
Washington St 31 FINAL
(13) Arizona State 52
Louisiana Tech 27 FINAL
Old Dominion 30
Western Mich 32 FINAL
Central Mich 20
New Mexico 20 FINAL
(22) Colorado State 58
Eastern Mich 30 FINAL
Ball State 45
Appalachian St 35 FINAL
Louisiana 16
(15) Arizona 42 FINAL
(20) Utah 10
FIU 14 FINAL
North Texas 17
(8) Ole Miss 0 FINAL
Arkansas 30
Louisville 31 FINAL
Notre Dame 28
Maryland 23 FINAL
Michigan 16
Texas Tech 34 FINAL
Iowa State 31
(14) Wisconsin 26 FINAL
Iowa 24
Syracuse 7 FINAL
Pittsburgh 30
Boston College 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 20
Georgia State 0 FINAL
Clemson 28
Tulane 6 FINAL
East Carolina 34
Stanford 38 FINAL
California 17
Western Carolina 14 FINAL
(2) Alabama 48
ULM 30 FINAL
New Mexico St 17
So Florida 20 FINAL
Memphis 31
Colorado 10 FINAL
(3) Oregon 44
Fla Atlantic 34 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 35
Samford 7 FINAL
(16) Auburn 31
Miami-Florida 13 FINAL
Virginia 30
Vanderbilt 0 FINAL
(4) Miss State 51
(19) Missouri 29 FINAL
Tennessee 21
Oklahoma State 28 FINAL
(6) Baylor 49
(24) USC 20 FINAL
(11) UCLA 38
Cincinnati 41 FINAL
Connecticut 0
Boise State 63 FINAL
Wyoming 14
Oregon State 13 FINAL
Washington 37
Fresno State 40 FINAL
Nevada 20
UNLV 35 FINAL
Hawaii 37
Ohio U 11/25/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Ohio
LSU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(5) TCU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
(21) Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(18) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Massachusetts
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(19) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(15) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(11) UCLA
(22) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
Tulsa
BYU 11/29/14 2:00 AM
California
(20) Utah 11/29/14 2:00 AM
Colorado
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 2:00 AM
Oregon State
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:00 AM
(24) USC
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(17) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(9) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Indiana
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Northwestern
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Temple
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Troy
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(8) Ole Miss
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(6) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Maryland
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(12) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Fresno State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
(25) Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
(16) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
UNLV
Montreal 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 3:30 PM
Calgary
Grand Canyon 77 FINAL
Austin Peay 84
Bowling Green 60 FINAL
Milwaukee 50
St Bonaventure 68 FINAL
Detroit 56
Illinois-Chicago 72 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 69
Louisiana Tech 55 FINAL
Louisiana 58
MD-Eastern Shore 57 FINAL
Marshall 74
Butler 77 FINAL
Fairfield 81
Central Conn St 81 FINAL
UMass Lowell 58
Bucknell 61 FINAL
Fairleigh Dickinson 60
St Marys-CA 57 FINAL
UC Davis 55
UNC-Asheville 53 FINAL
South Florida 97
Colgate 51 FINAL
Drexel 59
Niagara 64 FINAL
Buffalo 73
Vermont 61 FINAL
Boston U 66
Marist 51 FINAL
Northeastern 58
UNC-Wilmington 72 FINAL
Appalachian St 82
Duquesne 52 FINAL
Green Bay 84
Saint Josephs 75 FINAL
Liberty 76
Army 81 FINAL
Manhattan 49
Eastern Michigan 75 FINAL
TX-Pan American 81
Southern Ill 50 FINAL
Wright State 70
Youngstown St 70 FINAL
Radford 44
Stetson 62 FINAL
Indiana State 52
Rockhurst 65 FINAL
UMKC 60
Ark-Little Rock 55 FINAL
Rice 40
(23) Syracuse 77 FINAL
Jacksonville 61
NC Central 53 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 73
New Orleans 51 FINAL
Jacksonville St 65
(22) Rutgers 64 FINAL
LSU 57
Missouri State 36 FINAL
(21) Oklahoma St 77
Eastern Washington 53 FINAL
SMU 69
Houston Baptist 61 FINAL
Texas State 56
TX-Arlington 61 FINAL
Wichita State 71
(9) Maryland 75 FINAL
George Washington 65
Presbyterian 51 FINAL
Western Carolina 44
St Francis-NY 71 FINAL
Rider 60
Central Arkansas 56 FINAL
Jackson State 45
Kennesaw St 72 FINAL
Georgia Southern 51
Loyola-Chicago 45 FINAL
Northern Ky 38
Howard 64 FINAL
La Salle 65
San Jose St 91 FINAL
Cal-Irvine 65
Tennessee St 73 FINAL
Lipscomb 55
San Francisco 53 FINAL
UC-Riverside 66
Temple 56 FINAL
Kansas 76
San Diego 58 FINAL
Idaho 52
Concordia (OR) 35 FINAL
(20) Oregon State 92
Corban 74 FINAL
Portland State 64
Charleston Southern 48 FINAL
Wofford 55
UT Martin 58 FINAL
Pepperdine 59
Eastern Kentucky 64 FINAL
Mercer 69
Weber State 40 FINAL
Utah Valley U 61
North Dakota 54 FINAL
Towson 52
Seton Hall 75 FINAL
Penn State 70
LSU-Shreveport 58 FINAL
Grambling 67
Brown 57 FINAL
New Hampshire 60
Penn 60 FINAL
Navy 51
Xavier 89 FINAL
Binghamton 71
Georgetown 58 FINAL
Alabama 72
(13) Kentucky 71 FINAL
Central Michigan 68
Texas Southern 52 FINAL
TCU 69
South Dakota St 62 FINAL
(18) DePaul 84
Talladega 70 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 66
Arkansas State 69 FINAL
Colorado 80
Alcorn State 43 FINAL
UAB 57
Tenn Tech 61 FINAL
Valparaiso 79
Dayton 83 FINAL
(19) Iowa 90
Nevada 60 FINAL
BYU 65
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: What do you think of the new Twins home uniforms?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close