Nakajima hopes early arrival pays off
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PHOENIX -- When pitchers and catchers reported to the A's complex in Phoenix, Hiro Nakajima probably asked what took them so long. The Japanese-born shortstop has been working out here in Arizona for the last 10 days.

An eight-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove-winner in Japan, Nakajima will be asked to adapt immediately to life in a new country and a new league this season. The early arrival has helped him achieve a comfort level as he transitions to a new culture, and different brand of baseball.

"I got the feeling of how the workout routine is going to be," Nakajima said through interpreter Hiroo Nishi. "It was a very effective 10 days."

"I was also able to get a tan," he added jokingly.

His sense of humor is one thing that hasn't gotten lost in translation. He cracks a large smile in anticipation of the media's laughter as he waits for his joke to be interpreted to English. Fitting in with this loose A's clubhouse certainly hasn't been a problem yet. And don't worry, he doesn't plan on growing a beard like Josh Reddick or Coco Crisp to blend in.

"This is the best I can do," he said of his sideburns and light scruff.

Personality can only carry him so far, though. He knows that, and as a result he is eager to prove himself on the field.

"The late season run for the Athletics was simply amazing," Nakajima said. "In order to re-form this championship team this year, I just want to do everything in my ability to contribute as a valuable asset to this team."

Inside the A's clubhouse in Phoenix, he cited the importance of getting to know his teammates, getting accustomed to the environment, and said that establishing communication between the second basemen and himself, and learning the tendencies and timing of the pitchers he will be playing behind will all be of equal importance.

"He's smart," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He knows that getting here early and getting to know everybody will cut down on the time where he feels like he has to fit in. It's not easy to come over from another country and be expected to do what you do on the field and still have to get acclimated with things."

With that idea in mind, Nakajima has already found a home in the Bay Area. If all goes according to plan, he'll be there for a while as he signed a two-year, $6.5 million contract with a club option for a third year.

He may be foreign, but he doesn't stick out like a sore thumb in this clubhouse. The A's roster is a shining example of how baseball has become an international game. Players from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Japan, and Australia will don the green and gold this season.

If anything, the 30-year-old shortstop might have to slow down. He explained that on average, people workout at least seven hours a day in Japan for spring training, and only got a 15 minute lunch break during those grueling days.

"I'm very happy that I can come to this Major League way of spring training," Nakajima said. "In Japan everyone reports on the first of February and they make you push. The body is very sore and painful."

Last season Nakajima hit .311 with 13 home runs, 74 RBI for the Seibu Lions. He was named a NPB All-Star and won a Gold Glove. Shortstop will be his job to lose even after the addition of infielder Jed Lowrie.

"Bob Melvin actually came up to me later last week and said don't worry about it," Nakajima said. "He told me to just concentrate on what I'm doing."

His clubhouse stall may be packed with new green and gold gear, grey and white pants, and several new caps -- and he did spend some time with a wide grin as he tried on some new batting helmets -- but he is ready for the real thing.

"I'm going to be working out in practice-wear," Nakajima said. "I just can't wait until I get to wear the uniform."