Tonight I’m finding myself in the unusual position of rooting for the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants, the team I generally love to see lose (like the NY Yankees). Part of the reason is that the Giants are playing against the 2004 merger-created Pacific League Orix Buffaloes, for whom I have no feeling at all.
But the main reason is that the Giants’ pitcher is Jeremy Powell, who used to pitch not just for the sorry-ass Buffaloes, but for the sorry-ass Montreal Expos—for whom I did have a bit of a soft spot when they were managed by Felipe Alou, who came to Japan with the San Francisco Giants when I was a kid. (I not only got their autographs; I also accompanied Alou with my dad on the train to Kyoto to speak at our church.)
I like Powell for four reasons: He’s effective, he’s paid his dues, he’s not arrogant, and he knows enough Japanese to answer the postgame interview questions (in English) before waiting for the translation. (Okay, both the questions and the answers are pretty predictable.) His positive attitude comes across very well in an interview last month with Rob Smaal of IHT-Asahi.
What’s been the biggest change since joining the Giants from the Buffaloes organization?
I think the biggest change is that actual pressure to win–the media puts it on them, the fans put it on them, the Giants are such a well-known team around the world. I also think the team unity here is way better. I just feel like everybody here is so much more professional, so much more into it, it’s exciting.
You had an RBI on Tuesday against the Carp. Since pitchers in the Pacific League usually don’t have to hit, how do you like swinging the bat?
It’s fun. I’m a terrible hitter right now, but I guess that’s not my job. I’ll try to go out there and bunt guys over when I have to. I want to try and help the offense out as much as I can. Like I said, it’s fun, kind of brings you back to Little League and high school again….
When you first came to Japan back in 2001 did you ever think you’d be here this long?
Never. It was really hard for me my first year mentally to adapt to the game over here. Toward the end of the (first) year I really changed my mind and started pitching better.
But I never thought I’d be here this long, no.
Describe your pitching style … what are your strengths as a pitcher?
Definitely I’m not an overpowering pitcher. At times I can overpower guys in certain innings, every once in a while I’ll have a good fastball. For the most part I’m mixing it up, just trying to keep the ball down, trying to establish both sides of the plate with the fastball that I do have. My breaking ball’s been a good pitch for me over here, it’s helped me be successful over here and I’ve gotta have that pitch. I’m kind of in between a power pitcher and a thumber (baseball slang for someone who throws a lot of offspeed and/or breaking stuff), I guess….
Your thoughts on the recent World Baseball Classic … good idea, bad idea?
I think it was a really good idea. I was glad to see everyone get together and play again since they took it out of the Olympics. Baseball is a huge sport and it’s just getting bigger around the world. To play games here, play games in the States, play games in Puerto Rico, at all those different venues–it’s great for the game to have the Japanese team win it and to have all those Japanese players going over to the States and doing well. For me personally, it’s great. I hope all the best for those guys that go over there because it makes the game look better everywhere. The WBC was a good showcase for the game.
Who were you cheering for in the WBC, Japan or the United States?
To be honest with you, I wanted to see Japan do well over there. I didn’t expect them to win it but I knew they’d do well. They have a good team and I just wanted them to do well and compete, and they did so it makes the game look good over here. For me, that’s all the better. I’ve been over here this long now and this is kind of where I made my niche so it’s a good thing.
I might even be willing to forgive Powell for his shutout of the Carp last month.