It is ingrained in Japanese players to show respect for their managers, past and present, and that's why Okajima made it a point to seek out Royals skipper Trey Hillman before Monday's game at Fenway Park.
Not long after Hillman came on to the field during batting practice, Okajima ran to meet him in front of the third-base dugout. Amid camera clicks from the Japanese media, Okajima and Hillman exchanged pleasantries for about a minute.
In 2006, Okajima's final season in Japan, he played for the Nippon Ham Fighters, managed by none other than Hillman. As a sign of things to come, Okajima was part of a championship team that year.
"I asked him how he's feeling and how his family is and where he's living," said Hillman. "I congratulated him on last year's championship and told him I thought that was neat, that he was able to get a championship leaving Japan and then the first year over here to get one as well."
Hillman was the first American manager Okajima played for, and the left-hander enjoyed the experience.
"I learned many things in that one year, especially since [Hillman's] style is very similar to the Major Leagues," Okajima said. "I would be watching him, even when I was on the other team playing against him. Even looking at him from the other side, he was very interesting to watch."
Okajima remembers Hillman to be an effective motivator.
"No surrender was his slogan," Okajima said. "Every day we would have a meeting and focus on winning. In Japanese League, the manager has a meeting every day, and Hillman's style would be to focus on something new every day."
When Okajima made the jump to the Red Sox last year, Hillman spent one more season in Japan. From afar, Hillman was well aware of what Okajima accomplished.
"I was shocked at how quickly he made the transition," Hillman said. "I'm not shocked that he's successful and that he's good. He's a great competitor. He had really good stuff. I don't think anyone was smart enough to be able to say he was going to do what he did that quickly. The speed at which he did it, yeah, it was very impressive. But I'm very happy for him, as long as [his success is] not against the Royals."
Okajima was held out of Saturday and Sunday with a minor injury in his left wrist. But he resumed throwing before Monday's game, though Red Sox manager Terry Francona wasn't sure if he would hold the setup man out for one more day.
"Oki's going out right now to play catch. He's fine," Francona said. "Our decision tonight will be after having him down for a couple of days, what works out better? Do we feel like he can hit his spots tonight and help us win? We'll see. But I think what we needed was to stay away a couple of days, which was good. I'm sure that's going to be a big help."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less