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Aki tells it like it is

After nine seasons in Japan, Akinori Iwamura joined the Devil Rays in the offseason, signing a three-year deal worth $7.7-million.

By TOM JONES
Published July 22, 2007


They call him Aki.

After nine seasons in Japan, Akinori Iwamura joined the Devil Rays in the offseason, signing a three-year deal worth $7.7-million after the team spent $4.55-million for rights to negotiate with him. In just a half-season, Iwamura, 28, has made quite the impression. He has played a stellar third base and has done just fine at the plate with a solid .283 batting average going into the weekend.

But what kind of impression has the United States and the major leagues made on him?

We sat with Aki and his translator, Masa Koyanagi, last week to get his midseason impressions of the majors, the Devil Rays and even Elijah Dukes.

You've been here for half of a season now. What's the biggest difference between the majors and Japanese baseball?

Physically, the players are so much bigger, more powerful here. There are many things different. That's the biggest - how strong the players are.

What about the pitching? What's the biggest difference there?

When a Japanese pitcher throws a fastball, it's a straight fastball. Here, all the fastballs move. Some Japanese pitchers have some movement. But here, all the pitchers have moving fastballs. That's the biggest difference. Over there, there are two leagues and the differences are probably like the American and National leagues here. Like over there, the Central League has more breaking-ball pitchers. Same here with American League. But all the pitchers here have good fastballs that move.

Who are the toughest pitchers you've faced?

(Without translator) D-Train!

Dontrelle Willis of the Marlins?

Yes, D-Train, Dontrelle Willis. C.C. Sabathia. Mariano Rivera. I haven't seen all the pitchers, of course. But those have been the best ones I've seen. All the big-name pitchers are big-name pitchers because they have good stuff. I can see why they are big-name pitchers.

Who is the best overall player you've seen?

So many good players. So many.

Okay, which player do you enjoy watching?

Magglio Ordonez of the Tigers. I just enjoy watching so many players, especially those who play third base and the infield. A-Rod (is one). But, really, I enjoy watching all the players because the major-league players are so good. I like watching all of them and I try to learn from them. I have already learned many things by just watching other players.

How would the Devil Rays do in the Japanese league?

You mean, if the Devil Rays were in that league every day?

Yeah, how would they compare? Could they compete over there? Would they dominate?

If the Tampa Bay Devil Rays played in Japan and were a part of the league, there is no guarantee we would win the pennant. Japanese baseball is much better than people think. In Japan we have good teams. Not only offensively, but defensively, the teams are so strong over there. Pitching and defense are so important in Japan.

So the Devil Rays might not win a lot over in Japan?

Well, this team here, the Devil Rays, are a team of potential. So many young players. As a team, we still have room to improve and that's very interesting to watch. This team will get better and better.

What do you miss about playing in Japan?

In Japanese baseball, there is more focus on protecting the lead. Not giving up a run. And of playing for one run. Every run in Japan is so important. One run has so much value. If you score one run, it's so big. And to protect a one-run lead is so important and the other team is trying so hard that protecting a one-run lead is more difficult in Japan. I like how the game is played like that. One run is everything. I like that.

What has been your favorite road city so far?

I can't really say which one is the best compared to the others. I lived in Tokyo, downtown Tokyo, for about six years and I enjoy the city life very much. So I like New York. I like Chicago. I like the big cities. But I also like that I play in a more quiet place like St. Petersburg. You can move around here. It's comfortable. I like playing in a city like this. I prefer playing in a place like this.

Who are your favorite players here with the Rays? Who are you closest to?

Carlos Pena is a great guy. I like C.C. (Carl Crawford). Really, I like everyone. Everyone has treated me so well.

Let me ask you about Elijah Dukes.

(Without translation begins to laugh.) Elijah Dukes? Unbelievable!

What would happen to a guy like Elijah Dukes in Japan? Would something like that ever happen over there?

If there is a player who does the same thing in Japan, the player is going to be buried. Buried not only professionally, but socially. Buried. Their life would be destroyed. The shame and disgrace that they brought upon themselves would basically destroy their life in Japan. That would not happen in Japan.

Last question. Are you happy you are here? Are you happy you decided to come to the majors and the Devil Rays?

It has been everything I was hoping for and everything I thought it would be. Of course, I want to be a part of more wins. I would like it if we won more games. I hope I can be a part of more wins in the future with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. I want us to compete for more wins and we will. I'm looking forward to being with the team when that happens.