BRIDGING THE GAP: Katsunori
Imagine being in a different country, a place where the language
and culture - not to mention the food - is completely different from what you grew up with. Imagine that all the people that
you work with have grown up in that country. Feelings of loneliness and isolation would certainly enter your mind. You might
feel misunderstood, you might just give up and go home. There is one person that has been assigned to help you, to make the
difficult transition easier - that person is your interpreter.
Katsunori Kojima, a native of Atsugi, Japan (about
an hour from downtown Tokyo), has been working as an interpreter since 1996. His current assignment is bridging the cultural
divide for San Francisco Giants outfielder, Tsuyoshi Shinjo. Shinjo, who spent 10 seasons playing for the Hanshin Tigers in
Japan, began his career in America last season with the New York Mets. After he was traded to San Francisco in off season,
Kojima was contacted by the club to act as his interpreter.
Kojima, 29, learned the English language as a student
by watching American movies and listening to American music. He found the language "fun" and picked it up quickly. He explained
it was much easier for him to learn the language through movies and music than it was through school, which he found too structured.
Kojima's first taste of the United States occurred at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, when he acted as the interpreter
for Japan's silver medal winning baseball team. After graduating from Nihon University in 1997, Kojima began working for the
Yokohama Baystars of the Japanese major league. He spent a total of five years in the organization, the first three as interpreter
for non-Japanese players (many of which were American and spoke English) and the final two as the manager of sales and marketing
for the teams' minor league affiliate, the Shonan Searex.
Lou Merloni, currently with the Boston Red Sox, spent part
of the 2000 season with the Baystars and worked with Kojima, whom the American players dubbed "KK". "I was with him a lot
during Spring Training. He helped make the transition that much easier for us (the Americans)," Merloni explained. "In Japan
the biggest problem is communication - he just tried to make the Americans feel more comfortable and help us adapt and find
restaurants and bars - he helped my transition a lot."
Kojima had known of Shinjo in Japan, but the two really didn't
meet until January in Tokyo. During the meeting Kojima said that Shinjo "tested my personality," to see if the two would be
compatible. Since then the two have become friends. "A very close friend of Shinjo's is a very close friend of mine," Kojima
Kojima, who is spending his first full year in the US, said that working with Shinjo is fairly easy, "With
Shinjo I don't have any problems - he's very independent. I don't have to be with him all of the time," he said.
has developed a basic understanding of the language, but has trouble with sentence structure - which is when Kojima is needed
to bridge the gap. "Whenever he has a question or problem, he comes and asks me."
Kojima, who also serves as the teams
Assistant Video Coordinator, spends games in the clubhouse making video clips. "I cannot miss one pitch, including pick-offs,"
At the beginning of each of the Giants' series, Kojima sits in on the advance scouting meeting to relay
important information, like the opposing pitcher's tendencies, to Shinjo. A true student of the game, Kojima hopes having
access to all of this inside information will someday pay off.
"Being an interpreter is not my goal," he stressed.
"I am here to gain experience, to learn a lot of things that I cannot learn in Japan. My main goal is to create some new entertainment
sports business in Japan. To reach my goal, I think I need to be here in the States at the major league level for at least
one or two years."
The game of baseball is universal, but cultural differences exist. For instance, a player in Japan
would never be intentionally hit by a pitch, but the Japanese have no problem when an opponent steals a base late in a game
when his team is up five to seven runs.
Kojima believes that the flood gates are beginning to open and that more Asians
will make their way to the US to play baseball. "Everybody thinks Americans have more power or speed, but lately players in
Japan have been gaining those skills" he explained. "Hopefully people, not only from Japan, but all of Asia, can come to the
States and play Major League Baseball."
Simply Baseball Notebook