In Iguchi’s first year in Major League Baseball, his team, the Chicago White Sox, won their first World Series in 88 years. Last year, the Philadelphia Phillies, which he joined in the second half of the season, did extremely well and came from behind to win, making the playoffs. He has always been in the spotlight as a baseball player. Wherever he goes, a miracle happens. This year, the San Diego Padres welcomed this talented infielder with extraordinary luck. His first home run as a Padre led the team to win in an extra-inning game, making a strong impression on the fans in San Diego. He is the only one Padre player who have had the experience of winning a World Series. His teammates and fans are excited about “Gooch”, the powerful leader, with their hearts full of hope and expectations.
—— Now that you’re in San Diego. What’s your impression of the city?
It’s a beautiful place. I have to be out of town half the season, but I have peace of mind while away from my family. My family came to San Diego in February. My daughter enjoys going to a local school. We have no inconvenience in our life here and feel so fulfilled. But, I wish I had more time to enjoy San Diego with my family.
—— What’s your image of the Padres?
It’s a team with great pitching depth. We can of course aim to win the league. I believe if I can contribute to the offense, we’ll have good success.
—— You’ve signed a one-year deal with the Padres, right?
I’d like to do my best to contribute to the team and continue my endeavors next year. I want to help the Padres win. It was my decision to come to San Diego, so I want to play baseball here as long as possible.
—— What’s your goal for this season?
Every year, before the season starts, I set a personal goal of hitting .300, stealing 30 bases, and scoring 100 runs. The Padres need to score more runs, so my number one goal is to hit and score 100 runs. I believe that’s my job.
—— When did you become interested in baseball? Did you like baseball when you were a child?
I started playing baseball sometime during my childhood. Something like that. My father was the coach of a little league team and my elder brother was a player on the team. I was raised in such an environment, so I naturally became familiar with baseball.
—— When did you start dreaming about playing in the Major Leagues?
When I was a freshman in college, I played in the Japan-U.S. College Baseball Series, and the American players left a strong impression on me. I also played against the Latin American teams in the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996, so I wanted to play with these players again. After joining the ranks of Japanese professional baseball, I still wanted to play on a global stage. Perhaps, I started vaguely dreaming about playing in the Major Leagues when I was in college.
—— Who was the Major League player you idolized?
Cal Ripken, Jr. (*1), who had visited Japan to play in the Japan-U.S. All-Star Series. Although he is tall for the position, he was one of the outstanding shortstops in the Major Leagues. I was so impressed by his defensive quickness. Back in those days, I was also a shortstop too, you know.
—— What was the biggest turning point in your life? When did it come?
It came in my third or forth year with the Daiei Hawks. In 1999 or 2000, perhaps. I wasn’t performing well then and I was thinking, “How can I survive as a pro?” I was looking for an answer. One of the ways I tried was by changing my registered name as a player—I changed the kanji for “tada.”
I just followed the advice of a name fortune teller, but I believe it was at the very least effective in resetting my mind. Then in 2001, I was able to overcome the biggest crisis of my baseball career, with satisfying results. (*2)
—— What’s the difference between Japanese baseball and Major League baseball?
Basically, there’s no difference. But, America is a country of individualism, you know. You’re responsible for whatever you do. You have to manage yourself 100%. That’s why there are no mandatory training menus. On the one hand, it’s easy for the players; on the other hand, it’s scary because we’re finished if we don’t perform well. (Laughter)
—— Did you learn anything new as a Major Leaguer?
During the season, my most important job is to manage my body. In my early years, I tended to rely on my trainers, but come the third or fourth year, I’d come to understand how to take care of myself. In that sense, I think I’m still learning.
—— Have you experienced any difficulties living in the U.S.?
Professionally, I don’t have any problems, but in daily life, I always have some difficulties. (Laughter) For example, I sometimes can’t make myself understood in English when I go shopping with my family. Or, I order something in a restaurant and get something else.... That happens so often. (Laughter)
—— What’s your preference in the batting order of the Padres?
I’ve been a second batter for four years since I joined the Major Leagues. I believe it’s ideal for me. So I’ve come to understand the responsibilities of batting second...whether there is a sign or not, I know what to do according to how the game is unfolding. For example, when to hit a sacrifice bunt to allow the base runner to advance. Early on, I didn’t always want to play the role of a second batter because I’d often have to hit a sacrifice bunt or fly. But, I’ve overcome it.
—— It seems difficult for the players to hit home runs at PETCO Park, the home of the Padres. What’s your impression of PETCO?
PETCO Park is definitely huge. I hardly hit a home run even during batting practice. (Laughter) But I believe I can contribute to the team more by hitting doubles or triples rather than home runs. I think PETCO Park is ideal for running. It’s also a clean park and I don’t think it’s difficult to get hits there.
—— Can you send a message to the fans who hope the Padres will win the league championship?
The Padres have great pitching depth and might be one of the favorites to win the division. If we are able to get things going, we can definitely win. I’ll hit and run as much as possible to energize the team. If I can excite the team in that way, we can surely score more runs.
—— You’re also active in charities, such as visiting and cheering up patients waiting for heart transplants.
Although, I’ve always been supported by so many people, I personally wasn’t able to do anything to give back in return. So I started visiting kids at children’s facilities and children’s wards in hospitals as a way of showing my gratitude. They were glad to see me and I was very moved by that and they motivated me to work even harder. There are children who come to America – an unfamiliar environment to them – to wait for their operations. They don’t know how long they’ll have to wait. I like visiting them and talking with them so that we as Japanese on foreign soil can cheer up each other. I’d be glad if I could make them happy by doing so. I’d like to continue these activities whenever possible. (*3)
—— Can you tell us about your dream for the future?
I love baseball, so I want to play as long as I can. My goal is to continue playing until I turn forty. I’m also dreaming about training young players in the future, using my experience in both Japan and the U.S. I’d like to pass down everything I know, including the strengths and weaknesses of both Japanese and American baseball.
*1: Cal Ripken, Jr.: Former Baltimore Orioles infielder who entered the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007. He holds the Major League record of 2,632 consecutive games played. He retired in 2001.
*2: In 2001, Iguchi became the third player in Japanese professional baseball history to hit 30 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season.
*3: February 2008, Iguchi visiting and cheering up patients at the University of Tokyo Hospital waiting for heart transplants. April 2007, as a White Sox player, visiting the University of Chicago Medical Center to see Takuya Matsumoto (pictured on page 14) from Kumagaya, Saitama who was waiting for a heart transplant. Iguchi donated a million yen to the fund set up to cover Takuya’s medical expenses. His operation was successful and he is well, living in Japan now. Since Iguchi was with the Daiei Hawks (currently the Softbank Hawks), he’s been active in charity, donating wheelchairs and automated external defibrillators, as well as making contributions to guide dog training.