FORT MYERS, Fla. — Masataka Yoshida had been a Red Sox target for years by the time vice president of professional scouting Gus Quattlebaum and manager of baseball analytics Dan Meyer made it to Japan last season to get a look at the Orix Buffaloes star.
Both were well aware of the glowing reports that had been filed for years by Pacific Rim coordinator Brett Ward and Japanese area scout Kento Matsumoto. Yet while the batting practice displays of all-fields power and standout performance in some road games had already served as confirmation, the Red Sox officials weren’t prepared for seeing Yoshida step to the plate in his home ballpark later on their trip.
“The Village People come blaring on. The fans all have dumbbells. I turned to Dan Meyer and said, ‘What the heck is going on?’ ” recalled Quattlebaum. “It was the spectacle of the ‘Macho Man.’ ”
Nippon Professional Baseball fans typically serenade home players with choreographed chants as they step to the plate. Yoshida’s inspired two stanzas, loosely translated as:
“In ceaseless pursuit of strength
Countless obstacles overcome
Heights never before seen
This man shall reach them.
Masataka! Masataka! Masataka! Masataka!
Oy oy oy oy oy oy! Masataka!
Smash that ball!
Masataka! Masataka! Masataka! Masataka!”
But for the last five seasons, whenever Yoshida stepped to the plate with runners in scoring position at home, fans of the Buffaloes were treated to a different level of pump-up-the-volume excitement.
While virtually all NPB players receive some choreographed introduction, superstars receive an added dimension of build-up. For Orix, Yoshida fit that bill.
“You could tell who was the guy on the team just from looking at the Jumbotron when they would hit,” said Chris Marrero, who played with Yoshida for Orix from 2017-19. “On our team, he was the guy, 100 percent.”
And so, Yoshida got an introduction worthy of his status. Yoshida’s walk-up featured the blaring sound of “Macho Man,” the iconic 1978 track by the Village People, accompanied by a video of Yoshida alternately pumping dumbbells and crushing pitches.
“I don’t remember why I started using that song, but after I used it, I felt like it made the fans really excited to be all part of one team in the stadium,” Yoshida said through translator Keiichiro Wakabayashi. “That was really good.”
The video appears to date to 2018, and was developed, according to the website Full Count, in concert with Yoshida. The initial version, which came at the start of a season in which Yoshida doubled his career high for home runs, from 13 in 2017 to 26 in 2018, mostly featured his swings and stance from a variety of angles, with a few seconds in the middle of Yoshida engaged in the rhythmic lifting of dumbbells.
By 2019, it had evolved into a 34-second delight. Yes, there were snippets of Yoshida’s swings. But those were appetizers, giving way to Yoshida standing between a pair of masked wrestlers — and then transforming into one, with the trio pumping dumbbells in rhythm to “Macho Man” (as well as an interlude where Yoshida, in mask and baseball pants, rides an exercise bike).
The video became a sensation. In the stands, fans joined in the cardio festivities while holding inflatable dumbbells imprinted on the side with Yoshida’s number (34 for most of his career, before he switched to 7 in 2022).
For the Red Sox, the dynamic surrounding a Yoshida at-bat proved entertaining and telling.
The team spent last year diving into the question of Yoshida’s power potential, looking to see if their views aligned with those of Matsumoto and Ward. Matsumoto, who worked as a translator for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks from 2009-19, had long had a particularly interesting vantage point for Yoshida.
He had seen Yoshida from across the field for the initial years of his NPB career, then regularly followed him from the stands as a Red Sox scout from 2020-22. He likely scouted Yoshida for upward of 100 games, by himself and as a tour guide for a steady succession of Sox officials.
“He always made good adjustments. He doesn’t chase balls. He has good discipline, and he has power,” said Matsumoto. “You don’t expect him to have such power, but he did.”
Quattlebaum and Meyer found different forms of validation for that view. They’d taken note of games where Yoshida hit a pair of homers and was intentionally walked multiple times, pointing to an acknowledgment by opponents of how difficult it was to attack him. They saw him turning on and destroying pitches in the mid-90s, an important display given the question of how NPB players will fare against the elevated velocity of major league pitchers. They likewise had widened eyes during batting practice sessions in which the outfielder blasted balls into the upper deck to both the pull side and opposite field.
But in its own way, the song represented another interesting piece of the puzzle.
“Another scouting director came up right after a [batting practice] session and was like, ‘Did you expect to see that power?’ I said, ‘Eh, the ballpark.’ I downplayed it at the time, but then you see the ‘Macho Man’ mystique, and you’re like, ‘Yeah, it sort of adds up,’ ” said Quattlebaum. “[In Japan], they see this guy as a physical presence, where maybe at first glance the scouting community might not.”
Ultimately, the Red Sox saw enough alignment between the projections of their scouts and analysts to become convinced that Yoshida was a player they wanted to pursue. And Quattlebaum and Meyer now had a vision of the team’s pitch.
“We’re going to the team store tomorrow!” Quattlebaum recalled the two saying to each other.
They bought two pairs of inflatable dumbbells as an icebreaker for a potential Zoom introduction should Yoshida be posted by Orix to MLB teams in the offseason. Such a Zoom, however, never came to fruition.
Agent Scott Boras met with the Red Sox as soon as Yoshida was posted. An agreement on a five-year, $90 million contract was reached almost immediately, without Yoshida’s participation. As for the dumbbells?
“They are floating around somewhere in the organization,” said Meyer.
(Manager Alex Cora said that he has one sitting at his house in Puerto Rico. The whereabouts of the others remain unknown.)
It remains to be seen if inflatable dumbbells pop up at Fenway — or, for that matter, if Yoshida selects “Macho Man” as his walk-up song.
“We’ll see,” he said, coyly. “I’ll keep thinking about it.”
But for the Red Sox, as much as their evaluators enjoyed the spectacle of Yoshida as the “Macho Man,” the greater excitement has come in seeing him this spring. Both in the World Baseball Classic (where he set a tournament record by driving in 13 runs for Japan) and in Sox camp, he looked the part of the elite hitter they’d seen for Orix — no soundtrack required.
“He’s been exactly who we thought he’d be,” said Matsumoto.
Daigo Fujiwara of the Globe staff contributed to this report.