He was easy to spot.
Standing atop the center field batter’s eye bar at Camden Yards, Yuhi Hattori wore a half-and-half Oakland Athletics and Orioles jersey. For extra effect, Hattori added a Mount Fuji hat and unfurled the flag that captured so much attention this month when he attended a game at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California.
“Let’s go! Shintaro Fujinami,” it reads, with Fujinami’s surname written in Japanese characters.
As Hattori stood Wednesday evening, looking down at one of his best friends in the Orioles bullpen, Fujinami threw a baseball for Hattori and waved. Fujinami’s trainer and interpreter, Issei Kamada, also waved, laughing at the sight of their friend in Baltimore.
Hattori is here for them, a level of dedication to his friends — and to baseball — that’s rarely seen. He took a leave of absence from his job as a sports broadcaster in Japan to go on an adventure, following Fujinami’s rookie season through Major League Baseball. Since the season began more than five months ago, Hattori has traveled the U.S., experiencing the cultural differences between the countries that extend far beyond baseball.
And on Wednesday Hattori arrived in Baltimore for the first time — an unexpected destination after Fujinami was traded from the Athletics to the Orioles in July. Now through the end of the postseason, Hattori will stay with Kamada and Fujinami in Baltimore, providing support, a touch of home and ample laughs.
“I’m glad that he came over here from Japan, and he’s enjoying his life, too,” Fujinami said through Kamada. “He cheers me up. On the other hand, he’s kind of …” Fujinami paused, then laughed as he prepared to banter with his friend … “annoying.”
That’s them. Fujinami and Hattori first greeted each other with a covered-up hand gesture whose meaning is understood on either side of the Pacific Ocean. At the same time, their friendship has a strong backbone that has brought Hattori to the other side of the world.
“The only thing I want to do is support for Fuji,” Hattori said, “going to see his rookie year over in MLB. That’s why I decided to go.”
Hattori and Fujinami first developed a working relationship in 2016, as reporter and player, but over the years they gradually became close friends. Hattori doesn’t know exactly how it happened, but he points to their shared hobbies. He sometimes announces play-by-play commentary for horse racing, and Fujinami enjoys watching the sport.
And Hattori, of course, has a passion for baseball. He began to pick Fujinami’s mind about why the right-hander threw a certain pitch in a certain situation, and the strategic conversations grew Hattori’s understanding of the game.
By the start of the 2023 season, Hattori had petitioned his work for the leave of absence, and with permission, “I decided to go to Oakland, without no money,” he said. So Hattori stayed near Oakland with Fujinami, and while he wanted to follow his friend to Baltimore immediately after the trade, various arrangements were required, keeping Hattori from heading east until now.
Wherever he is, Hattori leaves no doubt about who he’s supporting. When at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum for the first time, Hattori first unveiled his hat and flag. They go to each game with him now.
During Fujinami’s introductory press conference with the Athletics, he introduced himself and informed the assembled media members to “please call me Fuji, like Mount Fuji.”
So Hattori bought the Mount Fuji hat. His sister, a designer in Japan, made him the Fujinami flag, which Fujinami later autographed. Between those two props and his split Athletics-Orioles Fujinami jersey, Hattori has drawn the attention of fans and television cameras.
While Japanese baseball crowds constantly chant or sing in unison, American crowds are more muted. Hattori has helped to raise the energy level of his section whenever Fujinami enters, and Fujinami often spots his friend’s antics.
“He’s very annoying, so maybe keep him out of the stadium,” Fujinami joked, before Kamada added: “They have a very good relationship, so they talk s--- to each other all the time.”
The jokes give way to pride once Fujinami enters. In Baltimore for the first time, Hattori watched as his friend completed a flawless ninth inning Wednesday against the St. Louis Cardinals.
By the end of the month, Hattori’s cheering section will expand. His family is visiting from Japan, and his sister is bringing her brother a new flag to represent Fujinami — this one in Orioles colors rather than Oakland’s green and yellow.
Hattori will be in Baltimore for as long as the Orioles are playing. Originally, he planned to head back to Japan — and back to his job — at the beginning of October. But since Fujinami was traded to the Orioles and Baltimore appears destined for a postseason berth, Hattori is extending his stay. While the Orioles are in town, Hattori is staying with Kamada. When the Orioles go on the road, he’ll house sit for Fujinami.
This has all been so amazing, Hattori said. The travel, the baseball — amazing, yet expensive. But it’s all so worth it.
“Now my money is terrible,” Hattori said. “But I’m happy. I’m so happy to get the chance to see him in [the] postseason.”