FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Heckling the visiting team is part of the fan's unofficial Bill of Rights. You just pray things don't go too far with Kazuhito Tadano.
The Cleveland Indians rookie reliever from Japan likes to joke that he doesn't understand much English, so it doesn't matter what fans say. Which is good, considering his unusual background.
Tadano isn't gay, but he acted in a gay pornographic video three years ago while a rising junior at Rikkyo University in Japan. After this came to light two seasons ago, he essentially had no choice but to leave his homeland and look for baseball work in the United States.
He flunked tryouts with the Diamondbacks and Rockies, in part because of lingering elbow problems but also because of "a lot of rumors," according to Yoshi Hasegawa, a Tadano confidant and consultant for agent Alan Nero.
"A couple of teams backed off because of that," Hasegawa said. "They didn't know the truth."
Eventually, the Indians took a chance and signed Tadano for $67,500. Tadano posted excellent numbers last year in the minors, then got off to another fast start this season at Triple-A Buffalo.
Last week he earned a promotion to the majors, although his debut Tuesday didn't go as well as hoped (four outs, four hits, one earned run).
"He's a kid that everybody in our organization pulls for because they like him," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said during spring training. "He's a hard worker who has had a lot of adversity in a short period of time. He's definitely a good teammate and a good professional baseball player."
Twice last year Tadano stood before a new group of minor-league teammates and explained his side of what happened in Japan. He was young. He needed money. He didn't consider the consequences of his actions.
Oh, and one other thing: He's definitely not gay.
That doesn't keep Tadano from being a fascinating test case in a sport in which social enlightenment is typically hard to find.
"I think we'll see him as part of the team," said Indians outfield prospect Grady Sizemore, who has played with Tadano at two different levels in the minors. "We don't look at him differently on the field or off the field. I mean, he's the same thing. Maybe he'll have to deal with it a little more, but that's just life."
As for the possibility of hecklers, Sizemore said all Indians players are resigned to having to protect the honor of their teammate.
"People have their own views, and something is going to happen," he said. "Everybody is prepared for it. Guys know that's part of the game. Everybody gets heckled every day."
Maybe so, but rarely in the fashion that could befall Tadano in light of his youthful indiscretion.
"I have a lot of respect for him," Sizemore said. "He's gone through a lot. It takes a lot of courage to do what he's doing right now and stand up."
Hasegawa just hopes the fans in rival cities show the same respect.
"I have no idea what people would say about a homosexual player or anything like that," Hasegawa said. "(Tadano) doesn't want to be in that kind of pressure, but people will probably bring it up. He expects the fans to respect him as a baseball player and not anything else.
"He didn't commit any crime. It was no crime. He just made a mistake. Just move on."
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