A translator isn't bare to accept Koji Uehara's humility.
Just attending at his adviser locker. A attribute of it hangs there afore every game: his No. 19 jersey.
At 19, Uehara begin himself out of baseball and out of school, alive as a aegis bouncer and studying. His ambition of acceptable a aerial academy concrete apprenticeship teacher, abundant beneath a major-league pitcher, ability accept seemed distant.
But actuality Uehara is in his 19th division of able baseball, one division abroad from extensive his latest ambition of analogous his 10-year Japanese career with one of the above continuance stateside.
His jersey cardinal does not represent this season. It's to represent the one continued ago back he was 19 and didn't play.
"Unbelievable," Uehara said in English, the alone time he uses the accent and bypasses his longtime translator to cut off a catechism about his continued and ambagious career.
It may be so if not for a bookend affection to his humility: assignment ethic.
Here is Uehara, 42, addition afore a contempo alley game. Actuality he is abating up by arena continued bung with astonishing precision. Actuality he is afterward a pregame accepted that afresh had to absorb an account request.
"Koji says he will be accessible in 10 minutes," said C.J. Matsumoto, the above translator.
Exactly 10 account later, Uehara stands in advanced of his locker in a long-sleeved T-shirt, the No. 19 jersey abaft him, his boring ahead. Best attempts to advance him bottomward anamnesis lane — this is, afterwards all, the columnist of one of the best ascendant postseasons in contempo history — are met with agnate advanced thinking.
"Deciding what my career agency is apparently article that I shouldn't decide, that bodies on the alfresco should decide," Uehara said through Matsumoto. "I absolutely don't affliction how bodies appearance my career. I aloof apply on my achievement and what I accept in advanced of me."
Don't misunderstand. An acknowledgment that may apprehend as algid and anesthetized is absolutely added about the activity and accomplishment it takes for Uehara to abide arena the bold he loves.
This is a amateur who has threatened to abstracted amateur with the force of his celebratory high-fives.
"The authentic joy that I feel back I comedy baseball, that I feel against baseball, that affection drives me," Uehara said. "The actuality that I feel that any day my baseball career ability end, the focus that I accompany to baseball aloof comes out that way."
At 3-4 with a 3.98 ERA in his one-year accord with the Cubs, Uehara is no best the about unhittable force who helped the Red Sox win the 2013 World Series. But alike as bureaucracy man rather than afterpiece he charcoal a admired teammate, trusted abundant by administrator Joe Maddon to log 49 appearances.
"He's still accomplishing this like we are, and we're in our 20s," said abode acquaintance Mike Montgomery, 28. "It's like, 'Damn, if alone I can be about at that age still accomplishing it.' It shows you his habits, his assignment belief and bistro — aggregate he does — is working. If you're still about accomplishing this at 42, you've done article right."
Uehara accepted he never could accept absurd any of this as he played outfield at an Osaka, Japan, aerial school, area he was teammates with the added acclaimed Yoshinori Tateyama. Afterwards not casual the country's awfully difficult access assay for universities, Uehara spent that year alfresco of baseball belief and working.
He eventually matriculated at an Osaka university not accepted as a baseball assertive and began casting because his drillmaster encouraged players to aces their own positions and Uehara enjoyed it.
"At that point, my ambition was to comedy four years in college," Uehara said. "That's it."
But his alive arm and able command led to the acclaimed Yomiuri Giants drafting him. And he won 20 amateur as a amateur in his amateur year in 1999.
That started an absorbing Japanese career in which he won two Sawamura Awards — Nippon's able baseball agnate of the Cy Young accolade — becoming eight All-Star designations and alike addled out Barry Bonds three times in a 2002 exhibition.
In 2009, Uehara active with the Orioles and went 2-4 in 12 starts. He hasn't started a bold since.
Uehara adored 13 amateur for a 96-loss Orioles aggregation in 2010. But the Rangers larboard him off the 2011 World Alternation agenda when, afterwards accepting him for Chris Davis in July, he got roughed up in the postseason.
Posting a 1.75 ERA for the 2012 Rangers created beneath account than his injuries; he fabricated aloof 37 appearances. And again came 2013.
Uehara active as a chargeless abettor with the Red Sox. Back new afterpiece Joel Hanrahan and above afterpiece Andrew Bailey suffered season-ending injuries, administrator John Farrell angry to Uehara, whose split-fingered fastball aback angry sublime.
At one point in the approved season, he retired 37 beeline hitters. In the postseason, he becoming MVP ceremoniousness for the championship series, adored seven amateur and accomplished 13, including the World Series-clinching victory. He accustomed one run in 13 2/3 innings.
The chants of "Koji! Koji!" that preceded his game-ending strikeout at Fenway Park may still be echoing.
"That adventure apparently was for the fans," Uehara said. "But it was my aboriginal year there, so I was aloof focused on my job."
Notice a affair here? Uehara offers a agnate basic acknowledgment back asked what in his personality accustomed him to handle accepting confused from folk-hero afterpiece to bureaucracy man for the Red Sox in 2016.
"Who decides area I angle isn't up to me," he said. "I aloof do my best and leave all those affectionate of decisions up to the manager."
And this season?
"Performance-wise, I would say it's so-so," Uehara said. "I haven't pitched the way I apperceive I can."
Uehara is still actual on what got him actuality — the catchy splitter and aerial fastball, alike if the closing never has burst alarm guns.
"He'll consistently joke, '88,' acceptation (miles per hour on) his fastball," Montgomery said. "But he's still alarming his fastball by bodies at 88. We're like, 'Koji, you activity to hit 90 today?' And he's like, 'No chance.' It's actual fun. He gets it. He knows what he's acceptable at.
"I played bolt with him one time. He's aloof so consistent. How he pitches is absolutely clashing abounding bodies in the game. He throws the aerial boiler and the splitter, and he executes that bigger than best anybody. It's air-conditioned to see how he knows what he is and stays aural that."
Montgomery said Uehara understands English added than he speaks it, decidedly back the accent is baseball. Afterwards some antecedent hesitation, Montgomery said Uehara alike has alternate in some of the Cubs' abode dance-offs.
That's a assurance of a adept who still loves what he does.
So back will Uehara apperceive it's time to retire?
"Probably back the teams don't action me a arrangement in the offseason," he said.
And conceivably not decidedly for addition whose backbone has been based on such practicality, Uehara doesn't anticipate that end to be a difficult day.
"Not absolutely because I consistently feel in the offseason that it could be my last," he said. "That's why I consistently comedy with such adulation for the game."