Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Interview with Hiram Bocachica

I was fortunate enough to get a few minutes to chat with outfielder Hiram Bocachica of the Seibu Lions before Monday night's Lions-Fighters game at the Seibu Dome, where Seibu got their 4000th victory as a franchise.

The first time I saw Hiram Bocachica was in Seattle in 2004; I had partial season tickets to the Mariners that year, and to put it mildly, the team sucked. One day, in the midst of the revolving door that was the Seattle-Tacoma roster transaction list, this outfielder came out of nowhere, wearing Mike Cameron's old #44 and guarding the wide expanse of Safeco Field's outfield as if he WAS Cameron. He had a cool name and he was fun to watch in the outfield. I still remember one game where Ichiro was DH, Bocachica was playing right field, and there was this long fly ball to right. The ball was FIRED in, and the runner on second stayed. We were all joking, "Rule #51 -- Don't go on Ichiro!" until about five minutes later when it was like "...WAIT. Guys... remember that AWESOME Ichiro throw? That wasn't Ichiro! That was HIRAM BOCACHICA!"

Now, after a few years bouncing between the majors and minors in America, he's here in Japan, giving the same all-out effort and impressing the fans on this side of the Pacific!

(You can learn more about him on hirambocachica.com, a fan site dedicated to him, or on Baseball-Reference.)

Thanks to Hiram for taking the time to talk to me, and to the Seibu Lions for letting me on their field :)

What do you think of Japan so far?

It's been a new experience, something different. It's pretty nice, you know, the fans are awesome, and the food is pretty good. Sometimes the weather is pretty cold and then pretty hot, with no inbetween, which is difficult. But it's been pretty good for me here, for my career. I'm just looking forward to finishing this year strong, and see what happens next year.

I was going to ask about the fans, actually. Do you think it's good or bad with all the cheering?

It's pretty good! They don't care about what the score is, they always cheer, they never boo you. They don't look at the bad stuff, they only think of the good stuff, and I think that's something the American fans could learn from the fans here in Japan.

What's been your favorite place to play at over here?

Hmmm. I've played in a bunch of different places here, and they've all been good. Been to Sapporo and Osaka, down to Fukuoka where Softbank plays too. I think overall Japan is a really nice country and we've been able to play in a lot of nice cities, it's ben great.

Yeah, and you guys are doing awesome this year too!

We're doing pretty good. We have a really good offensive team and we have good pitching. We'll see what happens this year.

How does it feel to come to a championship team like this?

Well, I did a bit of research before I signed, heard a lot about the team. You know, what players came out of this team, guys like [Daisuke] Matsuzaka and [Kazuo] Matsui, and I think that's one of the reasons I signed with them. I knew it was going to be a pretty good team and was going to compete, so that helped to make my decision a lot easier.

How's it been adjusting to the game here?

I won't lie, it took me a while to adjust, you know, a few months. They said it might be weeks, but... I'm still adjusting! I'm learning. I don't know if I'm going to come back next year, but at least if I do I'll have an idea of what to expect. It's now almost the end of the season, and I'm feeling pretty good about the way I'm doing.

How was the minor leagues here?

[long pause]

[Laughs] Okay, nevermind...

Actually, you know what? It helped me to work on a few things I had to work on and to get away from all the stuff going on up here. But now I'm here, and I'm looking forward to finish strong and help the team go to the playoffs.

I ask everyone, but have you been studying Japanese while you're here?

Not really. I know a few words, but not enough to have a conversation with somebody. It seems like a pretty interesting language.

You mostly talk to teammates with an interpreter?

Yeah, we talk a lot, I answer a lot of questions, it's been a nice experience.

Who's your favorite teammate?

All the guys are nice. [Hiroyuki] Nakajima, I think we've been the closest, thoguh he's in China right now playing for the Olympics. Overall the team is pretty nice. Pretty nice guys, pretty great teammates, we play really well together.

Do you think you want to stay here for another year?

I don't know. Right now I'm just thinking about this year, going year to year now. I don't want to worry about what will happen next year, just want to focus on finishing this year strong, and then see what happens next.

You've been doing great. You're really popular.

I'm doing all right. The fans are great, and like I told you, they only look at the things that you do positive, and that helps a LOT.

What's it like playing for a Japanese manager? Does it change the game for you?

It's a little bit different. They don't say much, they make a lot of faces, so you don't know what he's thinking exactly but you can imagine what's going on in his mind. My manager is a pretty nice guy, pretty quiet, but when he does talk, he lets you know what he thinks. I think that says a lot about him.

[switches off recorder]

I thanked him for his time, and my Seibu Lions friend who let me on the field in the first place was nice enough to take a picture of us:

Believe me when I say it's been really neat to see so many former Mariners players who are now in Japan. I wish Hiram all the best of luck... except when he's playing against the Fighters, of course :)

Just like last time, I'm still working on learning how to do this whole interviewing thing, and I thought of a whole bunch more questions while I was transcribing it, but I hope people enjoyed reading it anyway!

(Next, I will have to talk about the rest of my adventure at the Seibu Dome today, but I wanted to do this first as a thank you to the Seibu folks. I get the impression they sometimes get the short stick in terms of English-language coverage of the team, although I suppose it makes sense right now in the midst of the Olympics.)

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