It was early in
spring camp when rookie catcher Kenji Johjima, who signed a three-year, $16.5
million deal with the Mariners in November after 11 seasons in his native
Japan, encountered his first serious trouble because of the language barrier.
Seattle first baseman Richie Sexson motioned toward manager Mike Hargrove and
told Johjima, who understands a little English, "Hey, Jo. Go tell Grover,
'F--- off.' He likes it."
jo-JEE-muh), the dutiful rookie, marched up behind Hargrove, tapped the manager
on the shoulder and, with a wide, proud smile, blurted, "F--- off!"
After a moment of alarm, Hargrove broke out in laughter, realizing that the
English lessons Johjima was getting were not limited to the thrice-weekly
formal ones with a college tutor.
too, after teammates clued him in on the joke. If nothing else the ebullient
Johjima, 29, is a constant source of energy and good cheer around the Mariners.
His new teammates have given him a nickname (Jo Mama), tricked him with a
shock-emitting cigarette lighter and tied the laces of his spikes together
before he put them on.
More important, any
worries Seattle might have had about a Japanese-speaking catcher running their
pitching staff quickly went sayonara. Johjima arrived with a deep vocabulary of
important baseball terms and has proved to be a quick, eager student of
English. Though the team provides him with a translator, Johjima summons help
only when necessary. "I want to learn myself," he says through the
translator. "I'm doing the best I can, so I don't use him as much as
Washburn and Johjima huddled on their own one day after Washburn threw batting
practice with Johjima behind the plate. "When I want to [throw]
outside," Washburn told Johjima, "especially with a man on second base,
set up in the middle, then move to the outside."
late," Washburn replied.
good," Johjima said, nodding.
Oddly enough, few
Mariners yap as much on the field as their new English student. The 6-foot,
198-pound Johjima is an athletic catcher who loves to bark encouragement to his
teammates. On his first day in camp, while warming up pitchers, Johjima showed
off his English after almost every pitch, usually shouting, "Good!"
"Nice!" or "Attaboy!"
"I felt like I
was throwing to my dad," says pitcher Jamie Moyer. "It's great. I tried
to see how many times I could get him to say it in a row. Time will tell, but I
don't really think there will be a communication issue."