TOKYO -- Fun-loving Mariners reliever Tom Wilhelmsen is soaking up every experience possible while in Japan, including cheering in the Tokyo Dome bleachers with the Hanshin Tigers fans on Monday night and then picking up the victory in the Mariners' 3-1 win over the A's in Wednesday's regular-season opener.
After the Mariners played the Yomiuri Giants in Monday's early exhibition, Wilhelmsen stayed around and headed to the outfield seats for the Hanshin game. He said he naturally rooted against the A's during their 12-6 loss to the Tigers, getting caught up in the boisterous singing and chanting that Japanese supporters engage in for their home teams.
"I bought a bunch of gear, some bats, scarves and a towel and just dropped my butt down next to all those guys and just started going with it," Wilhelmsen said. "When they scored runs, we popped our thundersticks together. It was just really cool."
He doesn't think the Japanese fans had any idea a Major Leaguer was in their midst.
"Maybe they just thought I was some happy American fan, clapping away with the sticks," Wilhelmsen said. "It was a lot of fun. They have different songs for different situations for different players. I just got right in. I was trying to sing along, but they had different songs. I was just getting the parts down."
The 6-foot-6 Wilhelmsen wanted to buy a Hanshin hat and jersey as well, but they didn't have any in his size.
Two days later, the 28-year-old pitched two hitless innings to pick up his own win against the A's. It was the third victory of his big league career and clearly the most meaningful yet.
"Opening Day win. In Japan. You can't get cooler than that," he said. "Especially with Fi-Fi [Felix Hernandez] pitching.
"I think I need a week to decompress and realize we really did this. We really went to Japan and played ball. But right now it's pretty overwhelming. Well, I don't know about overwhelming, but very special. Maybe just 'whelming.'"