The latest high-priced addition to the New York Yankees stood on the dais in front of a large news conference, put on his pinstriped jersey with No. 19 and smiled.
“Hello. My name is Masahiro Tanaka,” he said slowly in English. “I’m very happy to be a Yankee.”
After chartering a Boeing 787 Dreamliner for his trip from Tokyo to New York, the 25-year-old right-hander with the US$155 million, seven-year contract was presented on Tuesday not in the news conference room downstairs at Yankee Stadium, but in the Legends Suite Club, where the high rollers congregate on game days.
Yankees spokesman Jason Zillo concluded the team’s latest Pacific overture drew New York’s most-attended news conference since Hideki Matsui was introduced in January 2003.
Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said obtaining Tanaka was worth the economic pain of exceeding the US$189 million luxury tax threshold New York had hoped to stay under.
“We needed another starter, and when we do things, we try to do them right,” Steinbrenner said. “And this guy, he’s tough. He’s got tremendous ability. We all know that. And he’s going to be very exciting to watch. And he’s going to be great for the team, a great teammate. And US$189 [million] or not, we wanted a good, quality starter, and we got it.”
Tanaka chartered a Japan Airlines plane, which seats about 200, for the trans-Pacific trip to New York, reportedly costing about US$200,000. There were just five passengers on the plane, including his pop star wife, Mai Satoda, plus their poodle Haru. The flight, originally scheduled to depart at noon, was delayed many hours by a snowstorm.
“There wasn’t many choices of planes,” he said through a translator when asked about the big jet.
And a lengthy commercial trip could have been uncomfortable.
“I thought about my conditioning, just wanted to get here in the best condition possible,” he said.
New York figures to have a big following in Japan this year. Tanaka joins pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and outfielder Ichiro Suzuki on the roster, and reliever Yoshinori Tateyama will be at spring training with a minor league contract.