By Nathan Wright
The New York Yankees literally drew a line in the sand between Masahiro Tanaka and the media on Saturday.
A team media relations assistant dragged his heel through the dirt of the warning track about 200 yards from where Tanaka was about to throw his first bullpen session in pinstripes and virtually dared any one of the more than 100 journalists from two continents to cross it.
"Line, line!," the man shouted whenever one of the professional gawkers, generally a Japanese TV cameraperson, inadvertently ventured into the forbidden territory.
That was moments after another Yankees official had issued detailed instructions about where reporters could and could not go during the brief workout, instructions that translated roughly to: "Don't stand anywhere that might allow you to see him throw."
Or, cause him to see you.
For a pitcher who came to the United States with one of the strongest resumes of any Japanese export - Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles last season, led his team to its first Japan Series title, and has not lost a regular-season game since August 2012 - the Yankees seem to be swathing him in bubble wrap.
The way they controlled Tanaka's first spring "workout" - a session even he admitted was surprising in its brevity compared to the norm in Japan - made you wonder what they were so worried about.
After all, if they feared Tanaka would be distracted by 100 or so reporters and camera people, what will happen the first time he pitches at Yankee Stadium, in front of 40,000 fans? Or at Fenway Park, before 35,000 enemies?
So far, he doesn't appear to be the slightest bit breakable. Tanaka is young (25), fairly large (a listed 6-foot-2, 205 pounds), easygoing and seemingly not fazed by the media attention, of which he certainly got plenty in Japan.
"Honestly, when I stepped out on the field today, I was very, very surprised how many media there were out there," Tanaka said.
Sandwiched between Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova on the Yankees' four-headed bullpen, Tanaka appeared free and easy in throwing 32 pitches, none of which, manager Joe Girardi said, was thrown at full intensity.
"I didn't think he was trying to do too much," Girardi said. "I thought he had a good plan when he went out there today of what he was trying to do, and I thought he executed it."
No one would say exactly what that plan was, but at this point in spring training, the workout generally is considered successful when everyone gets through the session without screaming or grabbing an elbow.
All four of the Yankees starters came through unscathed - CC Sabathia toiled virtually unnoticed on the fourth mound, did some rather low-intensity running, and then everyone broke for lunch.
Afterward, Tanaka was brought into the media pavilion, another highly controlled environment, to answer a few questions with the aid of his personal interpreter.
The highlights: No, he was not nervous in his public unveiling as a Yankee; no, he did not feel pressure to live up to his $155 million contract; and no, he does not particularly like to run.
That seemed obvious as Tanaka labored through four laps around the warning track, a total of approximately one mile, along with Nova and three other rookies (Sabathia and Kuroda invoked the veteran's privilege of passing on the run).
Asked what his lasting memory of his first day in Yankees camp would be, Tanaka said, "Probably what I will remember is the four laps that we did at the end. It was pretty hard.