The first day of Texas Rangers spring training a year ago -- aka, the day Yu Darvish debuted in a major-league uniform -- was a mixture of one part baseball and one part Japanese media free-for-all.
More than 100 members of the Japanese media, print and television, followed Darvish's every move as he stretched, played catch, fielded grounders, had a bullpen session and threw five minutes of live batting practice.
"You couldn't count the people," left-hander Michael Kirkman said. "It was hard to through the piles of people."
The drill was mostly the same Wednesday as Rangers pitchers and catchers worked out for the first time this spring at the Surprise Recreation Campus.
But there was one exception, a big exception: The Japanese media pool was around 20 percent of what it was a year ago.
The media circus has pretty much packed up and left town, to the delight of, among others, Darvish. He insists he wasn't distracted much last spring or during his rookie season, but he also is looking forward to having a smaller media posse on his heels.
"I think it's going to be a lot better," Darvish said, trying to contain his excitement.
Darvish still has star power in Japan, but last year he kept the media as far away from him as he could. That will keep the numbers down this season, except for days he pitches.
The lack of accessibility isn't the only reason for the thinning of the Japanese media contingent.
Japan will be the host country for two rounds of the World Baseball Classic. The tournament is a big deal, especially since Japan has won the first two.
The media also has more Japanese players in the major leagues to cover. Daisuke Matsuzaka was the biggest story of the day Wednesday as he worked out with Cleveland for the first time in nearby Goodyear.
Fellow Cactus League teams Seattle, Milwaukee, Oakland and the Chicago Cubs also have players commanding the Japanese media's attention.
Manager Ron Washington is a friend of the Japanese reporters, but he said fewer of them could help Darvish find his footing faster this spring.
"It definitely puts himself in a more relaxed state," Washington said. "Now he considers his media just to be part of the media, and I think that's what every ballplayer wants to experience."
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760