First impressions are the most lasting.
For Yu Darvish, the newest member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, he dazzled in his.
Since the whirlwind trade deadline on Monday afternoon that saw the Dodgers acquire Darvish at the last second from the Texas Rangers, fans, players and coaches have all anxiously awaited the arrival of L.A.’s newest import.
On Wednesday that day finally came as Darvish joined his new teammates in Atlanta during their three-game road trip against the Braves.
Many on the Dodgers had not seen Darvish in person before, so to see the larger than life Japanese legend standing in front of them was a bit stunning.
You see, Darvish stands at an imposing 6 feet, 5 inches tall with broad shoulders and a barrel chest. His fastball is in the high 90s and his slider has more movement than a wild animal being hunted through the woods.
“It’s impressive how big he is,” said Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt to reporters on Wednesday after meeting him for the first time. “He is a young man who’s put together very well, a very powerful arm and body. You can look at film all you want to. It’s another thing to see him with your own eyes.”
In addition to Honeycutt, Darvish also met his new manager Dave Roberts, who is of half-Japanese descent, and was prepared to speak to him in Japanese before he realized that the tall right-hander also spoke pretty good English.
As impressed as he was with Darvish’s ability to speak English, like his pitching coach, he was even more impressed with Darvish’s physical stature.
“You see him on TV, you see the No. 11, but when you get in front of him, he’s very physical,” Roberts told the media.
Darvish will make his highly anticipated Dodgers’ debut on Friday underneath the bright lights of the Big Apple when Los Angeles takes on the Mets at Citi Field, but on Wednesday he threw a bullpen session that attracted a small crowd of onlookeers including dozens of Dodger coaches and teammates.
“After seeing his pen today, I’m very excited,” Honeycutt told AM570 radio. “There was a lot of excitement about all the guys who came out just to see him throw today.”
Austin Barnes caught Darvish for the approximately 23-pitch first impression, and later said his slider was “Amazing. I’ve never seen such movement like that.”
Honeycutt noticed it too.
“His slider has one of the best spin rates, but seeing it live, it’s for real,” he said.
Even Dodgers’ pitcher Rich Hill, who possesses one of the best curveballs in the game, was impressed with his new teammate, telling members of the media who gathered to watch, “Wow. He is good. Good pick up.”
After the bullpen session, Darvish addressed the media in a nearly 12-minute press conference that was jam-packed full of Japanese reporters.
The first question they had for Darvish was his feeling of being traded for the first time in the middle of the season after playing the last six years with the Rangers.
“I’ve moved to the strongest team in the middle of the season,” he said. “I’ve thought, ‘What should I do if I hold them back?'”
Even Darvish can’t hold the Dodgers back as they currently own the best record in baseball at 75-32, a 14-game lead on the division, a 12-game lead in the National League, and a six-game lead over the Houston Astros for the best record in the big leagues.
After his fear of disappointing his new teammates passes, Darvish’s next greatest fear is stepping into the batter’s box.
Pitching in the American League with the Texas Rangers for the last six years, Darvish rarely made a plate appearance except for the few occasions during Interleague play.
Before that, in his handful of seasons with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, Darvish never hit because the Japanese Pacific League has designated hitters.
In total, Darvish has made just 14 plate appearances in his six years in the Major Leagues, recording three hits for a career .214 average.
“I wonder if I’m going to get tired,” he said of hitting. “It’s fun to do every now and then, but doing it every time, I don’t know how I’m going to react. I’m a little worried. “
Darvish also discussed joining a team that featured his fellow countryman, Kenta Maeda, and jokingly said he would bully the younger Maeda who also happens to be five inches shorter.
At the end of his press conference, he appeased the media by telling a couple stories about the Dodgers three-time Cy Young winner and former MVP, Clayton Kershaw, who Darvish now has the impossible task of following when the team inevitably enters the postseason.
“When I work out my lower body, I wear weightlifting shoes,” he told the room full of Japanese reporters. “With the Rangers, I was always made fun of for that. But learning Kershaw did the same, it me think, ‘I wasn’t wrong.'”
He also said that during the All-Star Game in Miami on July 11th, that Kershaw told him that he will be waiting for him in three weeks when the trade deadline came around.
Darvish won’t see Kershaw until the team returns to Los Angeles next weekend as the latter is nursing a back injury back in Tinseltown, but when the two of the game’s best pitchers do eventually meet, Darvish already knows what he’s going to say.
“It actually happened,” he revelead. “It’s pretty amazing. I’m really happy it became a reality.”