TOKYO — At Yokohama Stadium, the Tokyo Olympics baseball tournament unveiled a new bullpen cart that should become a staple in every American ballpark.
The cart features a driver, an astroturf carpet with a drawing of a baseball diamond, and a passenger seat in the shape of a massive baseball glove.
The incoming pitcher sits in it like a king, like Scarface, like anyone trying to get comfortable watching Netflix.
For that reason, it is a shame that Joe Ryan, one of the Twins' newest pitchers, is a starter. He didn't get to ride in the cart. Instead, he took the mound at the beginning of Team USA's first game of the Olympics and proved he didn't need the help of many smaller gloves, either.
Ryan gave up one run and no walks in six innings in USA's 8-1 victory over Israel. It was his first start anywhere since the Twins traded Nelson Cruz to the Tampa Bay Rays for Ryan in a four-player deal.
"I like to use the fastball and changeup, and slider and curveball,'' he said. "Just find a good mix and read the hitters. Don't dive too deep into scouting reports. Read swings and execute pitches.''
In a strange convergence of Twins prospects past and current, the one run Ryan gave up was on a home run by former Twins third baseman Danny Valencia, and Ryan was given the lead on a two-run homer by former Twins slugger Tyler Austin.
You started wondering if Lew Ford was going to rip off his groundskeeper's disguise and grab a bat. Or drive the cart.
A few hours later, the Twins acquired another Team USA player, Class AA right-hander Simeon Woods Richardson, from Toronto in a trade for Jose Berrios.
Austin went 3-for-5 and gave Ryan a scouting report on his old team. "I have nothing but great things to say about the Twins organization," Austin said. "I told him, literally, on the way over here, 'Hey, you're going to love it there. Beautiful city, beautiful ballpark and they have some of the best fans in the world.'"
Valencia, who is Jewish and gained Israeli citizenship in 2019, said the Olympics could be his last experience in competitive baseball. "This is icing on the cake for a long career,'' he said.
Complimented by a reporter from Israel on his play at first base, Valencia needled a writer from Minnesota who had never been so complimentary about his fielding.
Valencia was sitting next to one of the best and strangest stories in Olympic baseball, Shlomo Lipetz.
Lipetz is the vice president of programming and the musical director at the City Winery in New York. He grew up in Israel, playing baseball on soccer fields and dirt lots. At 42, having helped Israel qualify for the Olympics, he practices on nights and weekends in New York, and found himself pitching to young big-league prospects in Yokohama on Friday.
"He's the Derek Jeter of Israel,'' Israel coach Eric Holtz said.
Then the two exchanged fist bumps.
The mood at USA's news conference, with Ryan and Austin sitting beside manager Mike Scioscia, was relaxed. Ryan and Austin, like so many before them, showed obvious pride in playing for their country.
Austin plays for Yokohama in the Japanese league. Ryan was asked about a particular Japanese product: the SSK baseball.
MLB's latest scandal has involved pitchers putting tacky substances on the baseball, a practice that began because MLB's baseballs were slippery, and led to some pitchers using goo so sticky that it dramatically improved the spin rate of their pitches.
Ryan called those "cue balls.''
He pleaded for American baseball to adopt the SSK brand baseball that is used in Japan. "They need this ball over in America,'' he said. "It's amazing. It's perfect. I think the hitters love it. I love it. We need this ball. I think it would solve a lot of the current issues.''
Whatever ball he uses, the Twins wouldn't mind Ryan solving a lot of their current issues.