The advent of free agency in Japan may change that. Although only four of 60 eligible Japanese players switched clubs last year, the first year the system was in place, Tokyo newspapers are predicting the trickle will grow to a stream this year. Kuwata, for one, has no trouble envisioning his move next year. "There are a lot of bigger pitchers in Japan, but my special ability is my mental strength," he said. "I can pitch every day if I have to and win 15 games."
At the Tokyo Dome the morning of Kuwata's unscheduled day off, a fan produced a Japan Series program for Kuwata to autograph. With a steady hand he signed his name not in Japanese characters but in a handsome English script. "I always do," he said with a smile. "I love America."