Lars Anderson Discovers Japan, Part 3

Last week, we ran Part 1 and Part 2 of what was planned to be a three-part series chronicling Lars Anderson’s experiences playing baseball in Japan. This is Part 3, and thanks to popular demand — and Anderson’s willingness to contribute more stories — it won’t be the final installment. We will hear more from the former big-league first baseman in the coming weeks.

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Lars Anderson: “Our off-the-field life continues to be colorful. Yesterday, Yuta (our teammate and driver) was sick, so Rich and I were left scrambling for rides to and from the field. After our shortened practice (just kidding, we still finished at 5:30 P.M.), we asked our teammates Fukae and Kakazu if they would drive us home. They told us that they weren’t going back to the apartments, but rather to the onsen (hot springs) up the road. That sounded like heaven on earth so I asked if we could join. Kakazu said yes, but only if we had some shorts to wear. We did not, but Fukae asked around and scrounged up two pairs of shorts for us. I don’t know why the shorts were such a big deal because clothes were not optional at the hot springs — in the sense that you weren’t allowed to wear any.

“The novel ‘Shogun’ describes in great detail the bathing routine in Japanese culture, and from what I’ve gathered, bathing is a staple here. The book alludes to how repulsed the Japanese were by the European standard of cleanliness. I wonder if there are still remnants of that sentiment? Rich and I were the only two gai-jins there, and though no one made the ‘you smell’ face, but we still received the obligatory funny glances.
 
“The onsen consisted of two hot pools (one indoor, one outdoor), a sauna, a cold tub and about twenty showers. Before indulging in anything, we showered….sitting down as is their style. I’ve never showered sitting down and I found it to be enjoyable.

“The hotel that offers the onsen is in the hills above Ochi-cho, the town that’s home to our practice ground.  The landscape is mountainous with a deep gorge and a river meandering through it. It had the feel of a more forested, more ‘bambooed’ Colorado – incredibly beautiful and I want to explore this area more when I get some time.
     
“Although we thought Yuta to be sick, it appears that report was just smoke and mirrors hiding a more sobering truth. I am sad to report that Yuta has decided to quit the team and go back home to Yokohama. Upon returning from the onsen, he came into our room in tears and we listened as he talked through his decision. Yuta has been on the practice squad nearly the entire year, meaning he had not played in any games and has not received a salary. It’s a league policy that only active players receive get paid. This lead to Yuta having to borrow money from his parents, so there was financial strain, but he also expressed to us that he couldn’t handle it mentally anymore — it was too much for him to be here and not be able to play.
 
“I’ll miss him.  I’ll miss our drives together and his humor. I’ll miss his attempting to say ‘Ronald McDonald,’ ‘Tulsa Drillers,’ and ‘roller blades,’ and the inevitable hilarity that ensued. It’s maybe the hardest part of playing professional baseball — becoming close with teammates and the local people from the towns you live in, knowing that the goodbyes are coming sooner than later. Falling in love or growing a friendship with a known expiration date in sight is an experience of both agony and ecstasy. But as I think about it more, I suppose that’s what we’re all doing as we march towards our own expiration date as living beings.  The date is just (sometimes) further down the road. Poignant stuff to be sure.

“Travel is a constant, and we spend a lot of time on the bus. I’d like to share one such story regarding bus travel. We had a day game starting at 1 P.M. in Ehime, so we departed the apartments at 7:15 a.m.. There are two main routes to Ehime: one uses the freeway and one cuts through the mountains on a two-lane road. 

“About a half hour into the trip, I noticed that the bus was almost coming to a complete stop on a semi-regular basis. I looked up from my book to realize that we were on a road that would feel tight in a Prius and the bus was barely squeezing through. As the road opened up before the next set of turns, the bus stopped and the coaches and driver entered into a brief discussion. Through a misunderstanding, the driver had taken the two-lane road instead of the freeway. If we were going to make it to the game, we’d have to backtrack. But turning this bus 180 degrees on this road was no small task.

“Have you ever seen the first Austin Powers movie? There’s a scene where Mr. Powers is in a golf cart and needs to turn it around, but the walls are too close together. He basically just goes back and forth, forward then reverse, bumping into the walls over and over again with his fender until the scene cuts to the next debacle.

“That’s basically what we did, except it was on a 40-foot bus, on a real road, with lines of traffic stretching on either side of the bus. After we executed our 40-point turn, we backtracked to the freeway and turned a two-hour bus ride into three and a half hours, causing us to miss batting practice (don’t worry, we still got “knock” in). My first swing of the day was my first swing in the game. In my experience, these ‘show and go’ days with no batting practice or preparation are either feast or famine, and I went hungry. The bus driver offered to take my 0-4 and strikeout as penance for his poor choice in roads. 

“Let’s dive into the nuances between eastern and western bus life, starting with general bus etiquette. In the minor leagues in America, seating on the bus is largely on a first come, first serve basis. If bus seats had feelings in the states, I imagine they would feel like a bleeding tuna fish in the middle of twenty-five great white sharks.

“I remember my very first bus trip in the South Atlantic League. I was 19 years old and it was my first year, so I was at the absolute bottom of the pecking order as far as getting one’s own seat. I had no idea about ‘seniority’ or about ‘doubling up’ at this point, so I showed up early, found an empty row, plopped down, and pretended to be asleep so that no one would sit right next to me. I heard grumbling around me to the effect of,  ‘This rookie shouldn’t get his own row,’ but I was unfazed by it. After all, I had showed up earlier than everyone else so I ‘deserved’ it.

“The ‘pretend I am asleep’ maneuver would never fly here. The youngest players are actually forced to sit in the aisle on chairs that fold out from arm rest of the main seats so as not to make any of the ‘senior’ players have to share a seat. They sit there without complaining — which would never happen in affiliated baseball.

“Sitting in a different seat than the one used on the previous trip is a no-no, too. On the first few road trips, I would just arbitrarily put my book, computer and water on an empty seat to save it, then walk back off the bus until it was time to leave (I don’t intend on spending any more than the absolute necessary amount of time on a bus). When I would walk back onto the bus, I’d find my stuff moved to the same seat I had sat in on our first road trip. Everyone sits in the same seats, every time.

“The young guys are also assigned bus duties such as putting player’s baseball bags under the bus, loading the balls and equipment, and cleaning the bus. Buses here are spotless after a trip. Back home, they look like a frat house on Sunday morning. It’s not pretty.”

We hoped you liked reading Lars Anderson Discovers Japan, Part 3 by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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DBall
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DBall

Woooo! Big thanks to Lars for agreeing to keep these going. I have not even read the article yet I just saw the opening lines and had to comment.