Column: Yu Darvish has a message for Dodgers fans: He will not be offended by your boos
Yu Darvish was navigating San Diego traffic this week when he cracked a joke over his car’s speaker phone system about how he’d prefer to not be booed too loudly at Dodger Stadium.
Actually, he was told, there’s a good chance he’ll receive a warm welcome there when he takes the mound for the Padres on Friday in the second game of their four-game series.
“Really?” he asked.
Darvish sounded genuinely surprised.
The former Dodger was booed two years ago when he returned to Chavez Ravine with the Chicago Cubs. Of course, that was before it was revealed the Houston Astros were stealing signs throughout the 2017 season, including during the World Series in which Darvish was crushed in his Game 3 and 7 losses for the Dodgers.
When the Astros scandal broke in late 2019, Darvish received a flood of apologies on social media from the same Dodgers fans who had maligned him after his October nightmare. As much as he told them to not be sorry, they still seem to regret how they directed their anger at him.
“I really don’t want anyone to feel guilty,” Darvish said in Japanese. “The fans really wanted the team to win and cheered hard every day. If something like that happens at the end, it’s common sense they’d want to criticize the player, especially if he was acquired in a trade to help the team win.”
Darvish had never begrudged the fans. If anything, he still viewed them in a positive light. Before that game he pitched for the Cubs, he wrote a message to them on the mound: “Thanks.”
“I’m on the Padres now,” he said. “We’re challengers to the Dodgers. So it’s not as if I’m going to be hurt just because I’m booed. I also think booing is one of the things fans look forward to doing at the stadium. So please write that if they want to do it, I would like for them to not be overly considerate of my feelings and enjoy booing as loud as they can.”
The Dodgers might have taken two of three games in their series with the Padres, but it’s clear they can ill afford to take San Diego lightly.
Imagine that, a $126-million pitcher feeling guilty that others feel guilty for how they treated him.
The suggestion here to the 18,000 or so fans who will be at Dodger Stadium: Give Darvish a standing ovation Friday, boo him as a rival player next time and forever after.
Darvish has dealt with the fallout from the 2017 World Series with unusual grace. In the immediate aftermath of his Game 7 defeat, he said he was despondent over his inability to repay an organization and fan base that helped him rediscover his passion for baseball.
So please write that if they want to do it, I would like for them to not be overly considerate of my feelings and enjoy booing as loud as they can.
— Yu Darvish
When news of the Astros’ cheating scheme surfaced, he said he wouldn’t use it to excuse the results. “Because I had that experience,” he said at the time, “I was able to work hard these last two years and become the person I am now.”
Darvish still feels that way.
Asked if he wonders about the extent of the Astros’ cheating — it remains unknown whether the team stole signs on the road, including Game 7, which was played at Dodger Stadium — he responded by pointing out how not every Dodgers pitcher was hit hard in that World Series. He said the outcome could have been avoided if he was a better pitcher or had taken more precautions to ensure his signs weren’t stolen.
Instead of dwelling on how the Astros might have wronged him, Darvish wanted to talk about the empathy shown to him by his then-Dodgers teammates. He spoke with admiration about how such players as Clayton Kershaw and Justin Turner helped him recover from the devastation of failing on the sport’s greatest stage.
He recalled how in the team meeting immediately after the Game 7 loss, Turner walked over and put his arm around him, remaining by his side as manager Dave Roberts addressed the team.
“I thought, ‘This person’s really a leader,’ ” Darvish said. “I thought I was really fortunate to play on a team with such a kind person.”
Darvish was particularly touched by how Kershaw asked him to be his throwing partner the following winter. They both make their offseason homes in the Dallas area.
Think of how much Kershaw wanted to win a World Series ring, Darvish said, and consider the generosity of spirit he demonstrated by setting aside his disappointment and reaching out to a player who might have cost him a championship.
“I do think I’ve become emotionally stronger since then, but not because I was strong,” Darvish said. “The strength that [Kershaw] had to do that has, in a way, become my strength, my support.”
Darvish thought back to that offseason when he pitched against Kershaw at Petco Park last week. In particular, he recalled how Kershaw vouched for the quality of his pitches and implored him to be more confident at a time when he was overwhelmed with self-doubt.
While Darvish was injured for the majority of the first season with the Cubs in 2018, he pitched spectacularly in the second half of the following year. He finished second to Trevor Bauer in voting for the National League Cy Young Award last season, after which he was traded to the Padres.
I’ve become emotionally stronger since then, but not because I was strong. The strength that [Kershaw] had to do that has, in a way, become my strength, my support.
“I think I was able to be on that stage last week because Kershaw and other people on the Dodgers extended a helping hand to me when I was at rock bottom,” Darvish said. “When I played catch with him after the 2017 season, I wasn’t the kind of pitcher who could consider himself to be at his level. Our status was completely different, our substance as pitchers was completely different, right?
“But in the four years since, I was able to pitch against Kershaw as someone in a similar position, a position of being called an ace for a rival team, in a game to which everyone was looking forward. I really couldn’t believe I had come that far and I felt nothing but gratitude toward Kershaw.”
Darvish limited the Dodgers to one run over seven innings. Kershaw pitched six scoreless innings. The Dodgers won 2-0.
Darvish received another endorsement from Kershaw after the game, with the Dodgers left-hander texting him something along the lines of, “You’re nasty.” Darvish said he returned the compliment. They will pitch opposite each other again Friday.
In a postgame video conference following his start last week, Darvish called the Dodgers “the strongest team in the world” and described their lineup as the best on the planet.
Fearing cultural differences might have given some Padres fans the impression that he was conceding the division title to his former team, Darvish wanted to clarify that wasn’t the case. He views the Dodgers as a benchmark the Padres have to pass to get to the places they want to reach.
“I’ve said this a number of times since I joined the Padres, but there are many things we can learn from the Dodgers,” Darvish said. “The other team was No. 1 in the world last year. Over the last several years, how many times have they gone to the World Series, how many times have they gone to the playoffs, how many times have they won the division? If you think about it objectively, I think we become stronger by learning from them.”
The San Diego Padres’ 2021 mission statement is “Hungry for More.” After opening day at least, they are in first place ahead of the Dodgers.
He has complimented the Dodgers many times for doing the small things necessary to win games. Take his start last week. Darvish had a perfect game through 4 2/3 innings when his breaking ball struck Zach McKinstry’s back foot. McKinstry could have dodged the pitch, but didn’t. The Dodgers went on to score that inning.
Darvish was pleased the Padres showed a similar ability to take advantage of a small mistake in the series finale Sunday when they exploited a throwing error by Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager to avoid a sweep.
“I think we can stick our chests out and say we’re a strong team too,” he said.
Darvish sees another similarity between these Padres and the Dodgers team for which he played in 2017.
“The Padres and Dodgers are collections of good people,” he said. “Good people treat others with respect. When good people get together, they are more likely to be happy and I think that has a positive influence on how they play.”
Darvish is in a good place. At 34, he feels he’s a better pitcher than he’s ever been. He’s playing for a contender. And regardless of whether he hears cheers or boos Friday at Dodger Stadium, it won’t affect the amount of the gratitude with which he will scale the mound.
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