Hiro's welcome: A's introduce popular Nakajima

New Oakland shortstop a hit in first American news conference

By Rick Eymer /12/18/12 7:00 PM ET

OAKLAND -- Hiroyuki Nakajima wants to be able to perform the "Bernie Dance" made popular by the Oakland Athletics during their run to the AL West title in 2012.
Nakajima made an impression on the gathered crowd at his introductory news conference Tuesday at the Coliseum after making two prepared statements in English, one at the beginning and one in closing.
In between, the new Oakland shortstop was just as amicable answering questions after signing a two-year contract, with a club option for a third year, with the A's earlier in the day.
Nakajima opened with this statement:
"Hi Oakland, my name is Hiroyuki Nakajima, but you can call me Hiro. I am honored to be here today. Thank you very much, Mr. Beane."
Nakajima acknowledged while sitting alongside general manager Billy Beane that he spent the previous 24 hours memorizing his opening dialogue to the point he was "getting nervous, even in my dreams."
He closed the news conference by saying, in English, "I will do my best for the team, but I also want to do the 'Bernie Dance' with Oakland."
The A's signed the 11-year Japan League veteran to fill a void at shortstop. He turned down the New York Yankees last year because he would have been asked to play elsewhere.
"When we finished the season, we knew we didn't need to make many changes," Beane said. "One area we knew we had to replace was shortstop. This is a gentleman we have been watching for a couple of years."
The 30-year-old Nakajima became the second big free-agent signing in as many years for Oakland, which signed Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes last season.
Nakajima is an eight-time Japanese All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove winner.
"Earlier in my career in Japan, I thought of myself as an offensive player," Nakajima said through an interpreter. "The past couple of years, I have put a priority on my defense skills. At this point, I feel like I am balanced. I love playing defense."
Cliff Pennington, now with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Stephen Drew, who signed with the Red Sox, played the majority of time at shortstop for the A's last year. Pennington moved to second when Oakland acquired Drew, which forced Jemile Weeks out of the lineup.
Nakajima said the reputation of the A's team chemistry was a factor in his signing.
"I heard a lot about it," he said. "Part of the reason they made it to the postseason was team chemistry, youth and energy. I'm fascinated and excited to be part of that."
Nakajima leaves the Japanese League with a career .302 batting average, 738 RBIs and 162 home runs. He's driven in 90 or more runs four times and hit 20 or more homers four times.
He appeared in both the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2009 World Baseball Classic for Japan, though he decided not to participate in the Classic this year.
"I want to get to Oakland's camp as soon as possible," Nakajima said. "It was a tough decision to make, but I will not be participating in the World Classic."
Nakajima said he tried to reach out to every Japanese player in the Major Leagues seeking advice and council. He said he received responses from Ichiro Suzuki and former Seibu Lions teammate Kazuo Matsui.
Matsui, who spent seven years in the Majors with the New York Mets, Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros, played with Nakajima in 2002-03.
"Everything will be new to me," Nakajima said. "I am confident in my skills and I can adapt to any surface. I want to stick with the basics and learn as I go."
Nakajima joked about Beane, calling him "sexy and cool" and a reason he wanted to come to Oakland. He also made a reference to the lack of bathtubs in America.
"That is a challenge I will have to face," Nakajima said.
He'll fit in just fine with the still youthful and exuberant A's.