From the Mound to the Clubhouse: Yusei Kikuchi’s new tradition of Whisky and Winning

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Clarke Corsan
9 days ago
Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi’s stellar start to the season has sparked a special victory ritual that extends beyond the field. After wins in which he takes the mound, Kikuchi shares a rare and expensive bottle of Japanese whisky with his teammates, fostering a spirit of celebration and camaraderie.
His choice isn’t just any whisky — it’s “The Yamazaki,” a single malt with a rich heritage dating back to Japan’s first commercial distillery in 1923. Kikuchi’s current favourite is the 2022 edition of the Spanish Oak – a special year, as it’s when he signed with the Blue Jays. The Yamazaki’s location is significant too, linking the cities of Osaka and Kyoto near where Kikuchi grew up.

“Those bottles are pretty expensive,” Kikuchi admits with a chuckle, “but [Daniel Vogelbach] joined in recently, and whoever wants to join in, feel free. I don’t mind buying, and hopefully, a few more wins come our way so I can keep doing it.”
The tradition highlights Kikuchi’s generosity and a growing fondness among his teammates. Daniel Vogelbach, who played with the lefty while with the Seattle Mariners and now in Toronto, said, “I hadn’t tried that before — it was fantastic. It’s always cool when someone has something unique like that, especially from their home country. It was special to share in that with him.”
Japanese whisky carries cultural significance. Inspired by Scotch, it often displays similar smoky and peaty flavour profiles. The Yamazaki distillery’s success highlights the growth and global recognition of Japanese whisky in recent decades.
This mirrors Kikuchi’s own rise. As Vogelbach observes, “People sometimes forget the challenges of coming to a whole new country, a new culture, a new language. On top of that, you’re trying to succeed at the highest level of your profession. To see him flourish, to get comfortable… it shows how important that is to someone’s performance.”
Kikuchi isn’t just a whisky enthusiast. He’s a passionate reader with a vast book collection spanning psychology, biographies, and, of course, baseball. It speaks to a thoughtful personality that extends beyond the field and into the camaraderie of the clubhouse.
“Too heavy,” Kikuchi said when asked about relocating his library, hinting he’s happy to stay in Toronto should the opportunity arise. Reading fills his off-field hours, and he consumes upwards of 200 books a year.
While Kikuchi rarely drinks during the season, his post-win tradition is a unique way to celebrate success and build bonds. With every victory shared, he brings a taste of his Japanese heritage, a generous spirit, and a touch of quiet leadership to the Blue Jays.

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