Johjima’s enthusiasm catchy

  • By Kirby Arnold / Herald Writer
  • Thursday, February 16, 2006 9:00pm
  • Sports

PEORIA, Ariz. – Step 1 in shattering the language barrier occurred Thursday at the Seattle Mariners’ spring training camp, where catcher Kenji Johjima punctuated his first workout with words of encouragement.

In English.

Johjima, the first catcher to make the transition from Japan to the major leagues, caught several pitchers in the bullpen and constantly praised their good pitches.

“Nice!” he would shout, or “Good job!”

He made veteran left-hander Jamie Moyer feel entirely at home.

“I almost felt like it was my dad,” he said. “My dad was the same way in the driveway.”

Johjima, who has enthused the Mariners’ pitchers with his outgoing approach to learning their tendencies, was simply himself on the first official day of workouts. He laughed before practice and was business-like during it.

He displayed soft hands and a bright red catcher’s mitt behind the plate, then swatted balls over the entire field during batting practice.

Johjima will catch more pitchers today as he continues to learn what they throw and when they like to throw it.

“I want to see the pitchers as much as possible,” he said.

What caught everyone’s ear, to no surprise, was the way he spoke with the pitchers, encouraging them when they hit his trademark red mitt.

“When I see a good pitch, I honestly say ‘Good pitch,’” he said. “When I don’t say anything, it’s not a good pitch.”

Moyer, who played catch with Johjima last month at Safeco Field, said he didn’t seem any different Thursday despite the pressure of his first U.S. workout amid the unmistakable focus of reporters and photographers. The Japanese media corps, while not as large as when outfielder Ichiro Suzuki was a rookie, still recorded everything he did on the field Thursday.

“He’s happy and he’s excited,” Moyer said. “He was that way when we played catch and he was that way today.”

Manager Mike Hargrove didn’t want to make too much of how Johjima took charge in working with the pitchers, but he was impressed with his first day.

“I liked the way he received the ball, I liked his energy level and I liked the way he swung the bat,” Hargrove said. “It was good to see him smiling. Everything I saw out of Johjima today was for the good.”

Relief pitcher Eddie Guardado, the team jokester, also made sure Johjima realized he’s a rookie.

Guardado added a twist to Johjima’s nickname – Joh – by calling him “Joh-mama!”

Asked about that, Johjima requested reporters to “please tell me what that means.”

“Hey, he’s a rookie,” Guardado said. “He has to go through these things. I think he’ll look good in a dress one of these days.”

Johjima wasn’t surprised that Guardado already has entered his space.

“Everybody tells me to watch out for Eddie,” he said.

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