Takuma Sato

CHICAGO – Something about meeting Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato provides inspiration to Major League Baseball players and teams.

Takuma SatoSato visited Wrigley Field on Wednesday afternoon when the Chicago Cubs hosted the Miami Marlins. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver threw the ceremonial first pitch to Justin Hancock, who had been called up from the Cubs’ Triple-A team at Iowa the night before.

Hancock, a 27-year-old pitcher from Defiance, Ohio, made his MLB debut later in the game and struck out the first batter he faced. The Cubs pounded the Marlins, 13-4, to complete a three-game sweep of the series.

The scenario played out much the same as when Sato threw the ceremonial first pitch at the Los Angeles Angels’ game on April 3. Prior to that contest, he met Angels players Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout. Both hit first-inning home runs in a 13-2 win. Ohtani’s blast was the first MLB homer for the Japanese sensation.

Sato said he thoroughly enjoyed his second first-pitch experience, though he again had little time to practice in the days leading up to Wednesday. While he didn’t fire a strike – “not quite,” he said with a smile – Sato was more interested in savoring the experience.

“I just want to enjoy it,” Sato said. “I don’t get nervous in terms of just being in front of people. The first pitch is such a privileged thing. Everybody wants to be on the mound, so I feel really fortunate to be able to do so.”

Takuma Sato and Bobby RahalThe plan was for Sato to meet Cubs pitcher and fellow Japanese hero Yu Darvish before the game, but Darvish was placed on the disabled list on Tuesday with a flu-like illness. Hancock was called up from Iowa to replace Darvish on the roster – and to welcome Sato to Wrigley Field.

“Shohei is doing an outstanding job; he’s making history right now,” Sato said. “I was very pleased to meet him last month.

“It is really unfortunate Darvish had the flu. I wish him a quick recovery. Really disappointed to not be able to see him, but there’s nothing we can do.”

Sato did get to meet with his team co-owner. Bobby Rahal is a long-time Cubs fan who lives in Chicago and frequently attends Cubs games.

Sato returns to the comfortable surroundings of his No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda when practice begins Friday for the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. A pair of 45-minute practice sessions – starting at 9:15 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. ET – precede Verizon P1 Award qualifying at 4:30 p.m. All three sessions will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, youtube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app.

The fifth annual INDYCAR Grand Prix airs live at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.