How a Grocery Store Near O'Hare Helped Sway Shota Imanaga Toward Cubs

Shota Imanaga feels right at home in Chicago.
May 18, 2024; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher Shota Imanaga (18) warms up before the team’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
May 18, 2024; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher Shota Imanaga (18) warms up before the team’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports / Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
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Chicago Cubs starter Shota Imanaga may not have been as widely pursued as the other pitcher coming out of Japan this winter, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, but he still had options. A recent piece from The Athletic (Patrick Mooney, Sahadev Sharma and Ken Rosenthal contributed) on Imanaga suggests the southpaw drew substantial interest from seven teams, including the division rival Milwaukee Brewers. But Chicago, who had been scouting Imanaga since 2018, won out.

One reason why? A fortuitously located Japanese grocery store.

According to The Athletic, while Imanaga was staying in Schaumburg, Ill., this winter, he and his team grabbed ingredients from a Japanese grocer, Mitsuwa Marketplace, and cooked dinner in the hotel. It was one of the touchstones to make Imanaga feel at home.

"In a way, [Mitsuwa Marketplace] was part of the Cubs’ home-field advantage. The organization already enjoyed a good relationship with Imanaga’s agency, Octagon, which counted clients such as Joe Maddon and Ben Zobrist during the 2016 World Series run. Octagon has an office on Michigan Avenue and a network throughout the Chicago area, which made it a convenient base for Imanaga and agents Lou Jon Nero and Yoshi Hasegawa."

Chicago, the largest city in the Midwest, along with the surrounding metro area, has no shortage of diverse global food options. In addition to Mitsuwa Marketplace in Arlington Heights, you can get a Polish experience at Deli 4 You Market, Greek food at Minos Imported Foods, or Indian cuisine at Patel Brothers, just a small sample of the offerings out near O'Hare, where Imanaga was staying.

Who knows how much having access to familiar tastes swayed Imanaga. After all, an arguably awful college football game at Wrigley Field was a needle-mover in his decision to come to Chicago. Maybe it was destined regardless. But the idea that Imanaga would choose his new home in America based in part by accessibility to a grocery store he likes tracks, considering he's quickly become one of the most relatable and likable new faces in the sport.

Imanaga, as of this writing, has the fifth-best ERA among starting pitchers in MLB and the 14th-best WHIP.


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Josh Wilson

JOSH WILSON

Josh Wilson is the News Director of the Breaking & Trending News Team at Sports Illustrated. Before joining the SI team in 2024, Josh worked for FanSided in a variety of roles, most recently as Senior Managing Editor of the brand’s flagship site. He has also served as a general manager of Sportscasting, the sports arm of a startup sports media company, where he oversaw the site’s editorial and business strategy. Josh has a Bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the State University of New York at Cortland and a Master’s degree in accountancy from the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois. Josh loves a good nonfiction book and enjoys learning and practicing Polish. He lives in Chicago but was raised in Upstate NY. He spent most of his life in the Northeast and briefly lived in Poland where he ate an unhealthy amount of pastries for six months.