10/19/2002 11:51 pm ET
Shinjo hits import (ant) milestone
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- Tsuyoshi Shinjo made baseball history on Saturday when he hit a leadoff single off Jarrod Washburn in the fifth inning, becoming the first Japanese player to ever record a base hit in the Fall Classic.
Shinjo, a bonafide superstar in his native country -- according to his interpreter, Katsunori Kojima, he can't even walk down the street without being mobbed -- is not unaccustomed to the spotlight. But the 30-year-old outfielder, as much as he's tried, just hasn't grasped the enormity of the World Series.
"Although I played one World Series game, finally," Shinjo explained through Kojima, "I still don't get how the World Series is big. We're Japanese. We don't know any American baseball history."
Maybe not, but there's no denying he's part of it. Shinjo, who in December of 2000 became only the second position player in history to sign a Major League contract, not only walked into the books with the base hit, but he did it playing a brand new role -- designated hitter.
Giants manager Dusty Baker raised a few eyebrows when he assigned Shinjo to be the Giants' DH while slating Kenny Lofton as the starting center fielder. Given that defensively-sound Shinjo is versatile enough to play any outfield position, the choice to DH him and start Lofton in center seemed odd.
So on baseball's biggest stage, Shinjo tried his hand at DHing for the first time ever.
Maybe being unaffected by the hype of the World Series -- the 44,603 fans, the 89,206 ThunderStix, the nail-biting intensity of a one-run contest, the 200 or so reporters in the clubhouse with another 25 Japanese scribes waiting for him in the dugout -- helped Shinjo approach the new DH role with a clear head.
Or perhaps he's still feeling a little left out of things after having watched Lofton take over the bulk of the center field duties in the latter part of the '02 campaign.
"Maybe one of the reasons why I don't feel the World Series 'feeling' is because the last one-third of the season I was sitting in the dugout constantly," Shinjo said. "I didn't play as well lately as I did in the first half."
There's no arguing that these days, Shinjo's not in a position to be too picky. Prior to Saturday's contest, he had received only one postseason at-bat. At this point, any playing time was welcome.
"If I could have a choice, I'd love to be playing on the field, too," Shinjo said. "I have a lot of confidence in my defense, as well as my hitting. But when you have the chance, I just want to play."
Baker admitted he did consider DHing Lofton and putting Shinjo in center field.
"I talked to Kenny about it," the skipper said prior to Saturday's game. "But his years of being in the American League -- he's more familiar with this ballpark, number one, defensively. Number two, he feels more comfortable playing and staying in the game playing than he does DHing. Everybody can't DH."
Plus, Baker added, Shinjo has a pretty good track record against left-handers: "He's very good, probably one of the better guys on our team."
Washburn, a hard-throwing fastball pitcher, "is more conducive to Shinjo's style," Baker said.
Shinjo was happy to oblige his manager, along with, as Kojima pointed out, a million-plus viewers in Japan who have the pleasure of waking up to the Fall Classic.
"It's Sunday morning in Japan," Kojima said. "And I promise, everyone is watching."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.