SAN DIEGO — Padres pitcher Yu Darvish couldn’t help but take at least one shot when he hosted Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki in San Diego this week:
“Hey, do you like the hot weather here?”
In free agency this spring, Suzuki chose the Cubs, Darvish’s former team, over the Padres. And the weather at Wrigley Field last month thanked him with wind, rain and freezing cold.
The Cubs’ three-game streak in San Diego this week gave Suzuki and Darvish a chance to catch up in person. Before the Cubs’ 7-5 win over the Padres on Wednesday, they swapped shirts in front of a swarm of cameras.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been able to hear Japanese,” Suzuki said with a smile, through interpreter Toy Matsushita, “so that was relieving.”
Even though Darvish wanted Suzuki to join him in sunny San Diego, Cubs fans have Darvish to thank, too. He was one of the players Suzuki relied on for insight as the highly touted Japanese free agent weighed his options this spring.
Darvish had made the same transition from Japan Nippon Professional Baseball to Major League Baseball a decade ago, and he had spent three seasons with the Cubs, a club Suzuki had been interested in from the start.
“Not just a good influence on me, but I feel like he’s like a superstar,” Suzuki said of Darvish. “And just the fact that I know him is something that I’m very honored for.”
In addition to Darvish, Suzuki sought advice from Yoshimoto Tsutsugo and Shogo Akiyama in free agency before signing the Cubs to a five-year, $85 million contract.
Former Cubs pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa didn’t have the same kind of support system Japanese MLB players had when he moved from the NPB to the Cubs organization in 2013.
Fujikawa, 32 at the time, considered himself something of an older brother to younger players in the organization, like Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks.
“Now I ask them, please take care of Seiya,” Fujikawa said after speaking with Hendricks, now a veteran, on the court before Wednesday’s game.
Suzuki didn’t play Wednesday as the Cubs put him back in after he sprained his ankle on a goal Monday. Suzuki exited this game early, with right ankle soreness and a ninth-inning pinch on Tuesday.
Even if he was completely healthy, Suzuki wouldn’t have faced Darvish this week. The right-hander’s next start is scheduled for Friday in Atlanta.
“I’ve only seen him pitch on TV, never in a real game,” said Suzuki, whose NPB career came after Darvish left for MLB. “So, I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to happen soon. But until then, I want to make sure I can shoot him. Because right now he’s going to take me out.
The Cubs will face the Padres again next month at Wrigley Field.
On this week’s trip, Darvish gave Suzuki restaurant recommendations in San Diego. And after the initial banter, Darvish assured Suzuki that Chicago would heat up more than it did last week.
“So I’m looking forward to it,” Suzuki said, “but at the same time, I’m a little worried if that’s true or not.”