Forget, for a moment, the many baseball variables to which Kodai Senga adjusted in his first year in the majors — the ball, the mound, the weather, the league and so on. He figured out all of the above to post a 2.98 ERA with 202 strikeouts in 166 1⁄3 innings as a rookie.
Let’s talk about the cultural change instead.
Senga’s transition off the field, much like his one on it, seems to have been a resounding success. After he dreamed for so long of this move to the United States, it lived up to the hype, he said, with elevator small talk, cilantro, Boston, a plate of sushi and an unreliable parcel system among the revelations.
“At any point during these eight months, I’ve never really missed Japan or thought to myself, ‘Oh, I really want to go back home,’ ” the 30-year-old Senga said through an interpreter on Thursday. “So I think it’s been a really good experience.”
Manager Buck Showalter said: “It was a good partnership and a marriage of people willing to adjust to what his needs were and him adjusting to what things were here. I couldn’t imagine it going any smoother.”
That included, for example, the Mets’ kitchen staff seeking out Japanese food in whatever city the Mets were in to ensure there was something Senga would like, according to Showalter.
And after he reached the 200-strikeout milestone in his season finale Wednesday, they planned to present him a plate of sushi — in the shape of ‘‘200.’’
That was Daniel Vogelbach’s idea, Showalter said.
“Whether it was Francisco Lindor, [Brandon] Nimmo, Pete Alonso, Vogie — anybody, really. Just to name a few. I can go down the whole list,” Senga said. “Everybody took part in welcoming me in with open arms and teaching me different things about the culture . . . I can proudly say that from the bottom of my heart that I really appreciate them. If it weren’t for them, nothing would’ve gone as smoothly as it did.
“Even though I’m not able to speak English, they tried to communicate with me, invited me to team events to build camaraderie. Even the little things, they really helped me out this entire year, making an environment that keeps me comfortable.”
Senga’s favorite place to visit? Boston, which is “a really beautiful city,” he said.
Favorite ballpark? The Cardinals’ Busch Stadium, he said, because “the vibe and the atmosphere is incredible. The outfield grass was in pristine condition. That stuck out to me.”
Favorite American expression? None that were safe to share, apparently.
“He’s become a fan of some American foods,” Showalter said, declining to elaborate for some reason. “You’d have to ask him. I’m not going to give that up.”
Asked which new food he liked most, Senga instead offered one he learned to accept: cilantro.
“In Japan, they have a good variation of food. But the only thing that Japanese people don’t eat very much is cilantro,” he said. “And Mexican-type food, Latin food has a lot of cilantro. We get that a lot in the clubhouse, so it was definitely a new exposure to me. I can get by. I can eat it.”
Among his less positive experiences: malfunctioning blackout curtains that never quite got repaired, incompetence that yielded relatable frustration.
“In Japan, they’re very specific on dates and times,” Senga said. “If it’s the postal service, you get to choose which day and whether you want it in the morning, the afternoon or the evening. But obviously that’s not a thing here.
“[His curtains are] supposed to be blackout curtains. They malfunctioned. They [the blackout curtains repair people] said, ‘We’ll be there on X day.’ They would come in, be there for 20 minutes and be like, ‘Oh, we didn’t bring the parts. We’ll come back next week.’ Then they don’t show up. ‘Sorry, we’re waiting on the parts. We’ll wait two more weeks.’ It still hasn’t been fixed.”
But at least he learned about talking to strangers.
“Like getting on the elevator with people you don’t know,” he said, “but you say good morning, hello, how are you doing? It’s nice, light conversation. A little smile to your day.”