EXTENDED INTERVIEW 'I Feel Like a Little Boy Again'

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Extended interview with Kazuhiro Sasaki, Japanšs most accomplished relief pitcher

Kazuhiro Sasaki, 31, is the most accomplished relief pitcher in the history of Japanese baseball, with 229 saves in his 10 seasons with the Yokohama BayStars in the country's Central League. The 6'4 hurler is now hoping to extend that success in the U.S., having signed a two-year contract with the Seattle Mariners, as their main closer. Lured by the chance to compete with the world's best, more and more of Asia's top players are jumping ship for America's big leagues. Sasaki spoke to TIME contributor Tim Noonan as baseball seasons got under way in the U.S. and Japan--where Major League Baseball played its first-ever games outside North America last week.

TIME: Did the success of Hideo Nomo with the Los Angeles Dodgers influence your decision to play in the American major leagues?
No, I had wanted to play here for over six years...before Nomo came over. But obviously his success encouraged me. When I became a free agent after the last season, I felt I had accomplished everything that I had hoped for in Japan and I felt that it was a good time to pursue my dream of playing in America.

TIME: Did the fact that the Mariners were owned by a Japanese company (Nintendo) play a role in you coming to Seattle? And how have you adjusted to the United States?
The Mariners were one of the teams I had hoped to play for. And Seattle had all the things that I looked for in a city, so I felt very comfortable. I had visited the U.S. before so there was no problem. There is not much that surprises me about America. The Japanese ownership issue was also a positive.

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