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Finding common ground

Rays double-play duo has two languages but one goal: Get in synch.

By Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer
Published March 4, 2008


ST. PETERSBURG - Shortstop Jason Bartlett's reading material for a recent post-workout meal stood out even in a crowded clubhouse.

Pitchers played cards. Rightfielder Rocco Baldelli solved a crossword puzzle. But between bites, Bartlett scanned two scraps of paper with Japanese words and phrases.

"Atsui" hot. "Samui" (cold).

"It's like a study sheet," he said.

Bartlett's crash course in Japanese started as a joke with converted second baseman Akinori Iwamura, who would give his new double-play partner a word to learn every day. Now, Bartlett is so hooked he joked that his unborn son Jayden Anthony (due in July) will end up speaking Aki's native language.

The duo met just four weeks ago, after Bartlett was acquired from the Twins in the Delmon Young trade. But with chemistry and communication vital between middle infielders, manager Joe Maddon said he wanted Bartlett and Iwamura to become so close, they'd share a last name - think "Iwa-lett" or "Bart-Amura."

To "turn two," the duo is becoming one.

Their lockers just a couple of feet apart, Bartlett, 28, and Iwamura, 29, do everything together, from their workouts to wardrobe. When Iwamura wore his pants up, so did Bartlett. When Aki put on two sweat bands Saturday, Bartlett copied. When they each had a day off, they went golfing at Feather Sound, and even their cards were close (Aki's 94 edged Bartlett's 97). Maddon said that when Bartlett whips out a red, alligator-skinned glove like Iwamura's, "the marriage will have officially begun."

All the great double-play duos, from Reese and Robinson, to Groat and Mazeroski, to Trammell and Whitaker, shared one common thread: They were almost always in synch. Whitaker said it took about a year for him and Trammell to click, but after rooming for two years and "growing up together," they anticipated each other's moves, from cutoffs to who covers the bag.

Rays third-base coach Tom Foley thinks Bartlett and Iwamura are well on their way. Foley said the fact that both are intelligent and athletic players helps them, along with Bartlett's "easygoing attitude."

Foley, a former longtime major-league shortstop, said another big factor is Iwamura making what has been a seemingly seamless transition to second base. Iwamura, a six-time Gold Glove winner in Japan, worked on the switch all offseason while overseas.

"I don't think (Aki) has to get any better," Bartlett said. "He does everything perfect. He handles himself like he had played there forever."

And Bartlett said he isn't buying Iwamura's need for his trusty translator, Tateki "Bori" Uchibori. "That's all for show," Bartlett joked.

When told of Bartlett's teasing, Iwamura smiled. Through Uchibori, Iwamura said it "was a pleasure that (Bartlett) wanted to learn Japanese" and that he hopes, by the end of the season, they can joke in both languages. Bartlett made the first move Saturday, stopping Aki cold at his locker with a one-liner of “Sa-Ko," Japanese for "Let's go!"

"We clicked right away," Bartlett said. "He's a great guy. Even if I didn't play baseball, I'd hang out with him. ... I'm curious if his wife knows English; maybe her and my wife can hang out."

Bartlett and Aki: from double play to double date.

. FAST FACTS

Learning the language

Some examples of Japanese words Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett keeps in his locker, to learn for his partnership with second baseman Akinori Iwamura:

English Japanese pronounced

Hot atsui at-soo-ey

Cold samui sam-u-eey

Sore itai ah-tie

Let's go sa ko sy-cho (like psycho)