SURPRISE, Ariz. – The man in the white cap, neat gray beard, blue-and-white striped shirt and cargo shorts stood halfway up the bleachers on field three at Texas Rangers camp Thursday.
He possessed kind eyes and an easy smile, allowing reporters and fans to bustle past, hurrying and pushing as they were to catch sight of the newest and brightest of baseball's stars.
The young man on the field, the one causing the commotion, was Yu Darvish, the 6-foot-5 Japanese pitcher with the bronze hair and hissing fastball. The Rangers had spent more than $107 million, including the posting fee, for that arm, loose as a stem of lilacs on a summer evening.
The man in the bleachers stood on his tiptoes through Darvish's 19 pitches to a pair of minor leaguers. And when Darvish was done, the man spoke into his cell phone, saying that the kid looked great, that all was well, that he'd call later.
Farsad Darvishsefad is Yu's father.
He stands at least a half-foot shorter and tends to blend into a crowd rather than draw one, unlike his son, the prodigy. Farsad played soccer growing up in his native Iran and continued the sport at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he met his wife, Yu's mother, Ikuyo.
Yu never took to soccer.
"No," Farsad said. "I used to kick the ball to him, but he'd throw it back to me."
He laughed at the memory.
"I give credit to me," he continued wryly, "for not making him kick it back."
On a whirlwind day of introductions, workouts, the occasional impromptu lesson in English or Spanish, a press conference and finally the calm of an empty clubhouse, Darvish wore the full Rangers baseball uniform and stood beside his new teammates for the first time. Through the course of it all, it became apparent that Darvish, in temperament, is closer to the stolid Matsuzaka than he is the engaging Matsui, two stars that preceded him from Japan.
His answers in the heavily attended press conference were brief and generally unrevealing. He refused to speak of meeting Albert Pujols when the two were in Los Angeles last week, calling his conversation with Pujols at a gym and a college field and his impressions of the slugger "private." And putting on the uniform, he said with a shrug, made him feel "part of the team."
Asked what sort of expectations he had of himself as a major leaguer, he replied, "That's hard to predict. I haven't made one pitch in the big leagues yet. But I will make all the effort to be as good a pitcher as I can be."
He seemed to say he would reveal more of himself in his pitching, through the big fastball that sinks and darts even at 80 percent effort, which is about where he settled on field three. And that's fine by the Rangers, who've sheared the ace from their rotation in consecutive offseasons, first Cliff Lee, then C.J. Wilson, and then invested in Darvish.
"He's a very smart kid," Rangers manager Ron Washington said first thing in the morning, before the Yu Show got started. "He certainly has good baseball instincts. I'm looking forward to him fitting in."
Yeah, he'll be the guy with the trail of cameras behind him, with the wall-to-wall eyes peering in on him, what pitching coach Mike Maddux called "a little postseason pandemonium here in spring training."
Being tall as he is, and so conditioned to such treatment, Darvish appeared to stare over the top of the commotion. It's a gift, for sure, along with a tool for survival. He said he doesn't worry about the attention, that it always has come with his baseball.
He, too, was one of the few in camp who wasn't lugging around the memory of Games 6 and 7, those awful nights in St. Louis that simply wouldn't deliver one last out.
Washington crossed his arms at the subject.
"This is 2012," he said. "We know what happened in 2011. We'll learn from it. But, it's not going to be the focus of our camp. We lost one guy – C.J. Wilson. It's not going to take us down."
Some of that depends on Darvish, who admitted he would like to turn the trend of the imported Japanese pitchers, many of whom have failed in the U.S. major leagues.
He is younger than most, and perhaps more talented than all. The rest goes from here.
"Of course, it's a good process for him," Farsad said. "The reason he wanted to come here is choosing a bigger stage. For many of the Japanese pitchers, it is their dream to play here. For him, it's more a transition and going to a higher level. You know? It's every professional's challenge, isn't it?"
Given that, the game at his feet, it's highly unlikely he'll throw it back.
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