The first time I saw Yu Darvish pitch must have been in 2007. I had just started to get back into Major League Baseball with Daisuke Matsuzaka and friends stateside, when I came across NPB games. Back then the Pacific league had official streams you could access from abroad and I tuned in to a game between the Nippon Ham Fighters of Hokkaido and the Softbank Hawks of Fukuoka, Kyushu. I don’t remember which team was the home team, but the channel was a Hawks station.
I had heard about Darvish before. People were saying he now was, after Matsuzaka bolted for America, the No.1 pitcher in the Japanese big leagues. And the reports weren’t lying, Darvish was pitching one hell of a game. My Japanese was terrible back then (“terrible” as is “I wasn’t able to speak and understand the language”), but even in Japan they got scores, and the scores for the Hawks were showing zeros all across the board. Yes, he was pitching a perfect game.
It wasn’t meant to be on that day either and the bid was broken up in, I think, the 7th inning. And I’d be lying if I said that I still remember his reaction to the hit back then. But I somehow have the feeling he was smiling on that day, too.
Now, Yu Darvish isn’t your role model superstar. He had his fair share of conflicts over his still very young career. But what I will take from Tuesday’s game, besides the brilliant pitching performance, is the way Darvish reacted to his perfcto bid being broken up by a clean single up the middle through his legs: he threw up his arms and … he smiled. And it wasn’t a hurting smile or a sarcastic smile. At least it didn’t look like that to me. Instead I saw a smile of an athlete who just had to admit, that someone had beat him fair and square. He had every right to be angry with himself. Instead, he smiled. A smile that would have fit perfect with the kids at Koshien tournaments.
It was a wonderful reminder that, in the end, it’s still just a game.