Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka began shining bright on the MLB radar in 2013, becoming the most coveted baseball commodity from overseas. The 25 year old was dominant in his final season with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, leading the ballclub to a 24-0 record. Always slick under pressure, Tanaka’s 1.27 ERA and killer instinct had nearly every MLB franchise drooling.
Given the almost mystic promise surrounding Tanaka, it is only fitting that he take his talents to the largest baseball stage on earth: Yankee Stadium. When it comes down to it, there is much poeticism in the image of an oversees traveler making his way to the Big Apple in order to carve out his own future in the land of opportunity.
Somewhat less poetic, however, is the image that took place upon Tanaka’s arrival. The baseball star rode into American airspace on a private charter aboard 787 Boeing Jet. The airline, which typically seats upwards of 300 passengers, carried only four people to John F. Kennedy airport, and flew the returning journey to Japan completely empty. The $200 thousand traveling expense was followed by an enormous media spectacle that included over 100 media representatives in order to introduce the Yankees’ new prize player.
Yankee executive Brian Cashman put it best claiming that Tanaka’s arrival was “Yankee big…Steinbrenner big”.
Last season, however, the Yankees were anything but “big”. The most notorious team in baseball missed the playoffs in 2013, and most media coverage they received revolved around turbulent Alex Rodriguez headlines. Perhaps this is why the Yankees organization has thrown caution to the wind, exceeding their own self-imposed salary cap of $189 million per year. Tanaka himself will rake in a kingly sum of $155 million throughout his seven-year contract.
Tanaka did not come cheap for the Yankees, which is why we should expect to see him take the reigns quickly this coming season. In order for the organization to get their money’s worth, an enormous amount of pressure will be placed on the newcomer as he attempts to adapt through a trial by fire approach on the world’s largest stage. But Tanaka does not shy away from the limelight. He appears to be the perfect fit for America’s most luxurious baseball program. He was a superstar in Japan. He is married to Japanese pop superstar, Mai Satoda. He handles the media beautifully. Most importantly, however, he wants the pressure. Tanaka chose the Yankees not only for their global attention, but also because he has been promised the opportunity to make an immediate impact, and to immediately scribe a new chapter in the book of New York baseball history.