All eyes will be on Uehara's debut

All eyes will be on Uehara's debut

BALTIMORE -- Jeremy Guthrie got the ball to start a new season. Koji Uehara will follow him to start a new era.

Uehara, the first Japanese-born player in Baltimore's franchise history, will make his Major League debut Wednesday against the Yankees in a game hotly anticipated on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. Uehara, an extremely well-celebrated star in his homeland, will be taking the next step in a long and distinguished career.

"It will be a historic day for him, for the Orioles and for Major League Baseball," said manager Dave Trembley. "When he takes the mound, the focus will be on him. I think it's a step in the right direction for the Orioles and for the future of Major League Baseball. We'll anticipate that, and I don't expect Koji to be any different than what I saw the first day. The guy is a professional. His preparation is off the charts. ... He'll do the very best he can."

Uehara, a longtime mainstay for the Yomiuri Giants, Japan's most popular team, will get a chance to test himself against their counterpart in the Major Leagues. The Yankees, a 26-time World Series champion whose appeal often transcends the sport, boast their own former Giant in designated hitter Hideki Matsui.

And that confrontation, while just another at-bat in America, will be exhaustively covered in Japan. Uehara is no stranger to the red-hot glare of media attention and said that Wednesday will just be another game.

"It's a refreshing new experience for me. I'm really looking forward to it," he said via translator Jiwon Bang. "As you can see, the Japanese media is here to watch me and Mr. Matsui face each other. There's huge attention to that. When it's only me that's pitching on [another] day, these guys won't be here."

And part of that may be true, but the other half isn't. Uehara drew a crowd of 25 Asian reporters to the airport when he first landed in Baltimore, and he's been the constant target of interviews from reporters of all nationalities. His very presence brings more attention to the Orioles, and Trembley said it's been more than welcome.

"This guy has been a pleasure to be around," he said. "And the other guys love him. He doesn't think he's better, and he doesn't think he knows it all. And you know what? The other 24 guys in that clubhouse are exactly the same. ... That's what makes this team a little more special than the teams we've had here."

Uehara has had to deal with the language barrier upon switching leagues, and he'll see how his skills translate in his first start. But Trembley, for one, thinks there won't be much of difference. Uehara's main skill -- throwing strikes -- should play well in either league, and Trembley just wants the veteran to be comfortable.

"I didn't want to change him when he got here," said Trembley. "I think he's been extremely cooperative in adjusting and adapting himself to the style that we have. And I don't mean Dave Trembley. I mean the way baseball is played in the United States. Obviously, his training patterns and the way he's done things in the past are somewhat different than the way we do them here. But somewhere along the line, he did his homework as well."

Pitching matchup
BAL: RHP Koji Uehara (Major League debut)
Uehara, a former ace of the Yomiuri Giants, will make his Major League debut in the second game of the season. Uehara is undefeated in international competition in his career and was highly decorated in his homeland, winning his league's equivalent of the Rookie of the Year Award once and the Cy Young Award twice. Now, Uehara has come to the United States for a new challenge and will immediately slot in as one of Baltimore's most experienced pitchers. Uehara, who learned a circle changeup in Spring Training, is known as an extreme strike thrower.

NYY: RHP Chien-Ming Wang (8-2, 4.07 ERA in 2008)
Wang made 15 starts for the Yankees last season before his year ended due to a right foot injury suffered while running the bases in Houston. The blow was crushing to the Yankees, as they were 12-3 in games the right-handed sinkerballer had started. Despite missing much of last year, Wang has won 46 games since 2006, tied for third most in the AL and eighth most in the Majors. His .754 combined winning percentage over the past three seasons is the second highest in the big leagues, behind only Boston's Jon Lester. Wang did not face the Orioles in 2008 and is 3-1 with a 5.13 ERA in nine career games (eight starts) against Baltimore.

Bird bites
The Orioles played in front of the largest Opening Day crowd (48,607) in Camden Yards history on Monday. It was also the 21st-largest crowd in the park's history. Baltimore is now 3-0 in home openers against the Yankees, 27-13 on Opening Day at home and 35-21 all-time in the season's first game. ... The Orioles haven't gotten the best of New York in a season series since 1997, which also happens to be Baltimore's last winning season.

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On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television

On radio
• 105.7 The Fan

Up next
• Thursday: Yankees (A.J. Burnett, 18-10, 4.07 in 2008 with Jays) at Orioles (Alfredo Simon, 0-0, 6.23 in 2008), 1:35 p.m. ET
• Friday: Rays (Andy Sonnanstine, 13-9, 4.38 in 2008) at Orioles (Mark Hendrickson, 7-8, 5.45 in 2008), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Rays (Jeff Niemann, 2-2, 5.06 in 2008) at Orioles (Jeremy Guthrie, 1-0, 4.50), 7:05 p.m. ET

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.