Monday, November 21, 2016

An open letter to all minor leaguers: Embrace baseball abroad

Note: This is a hypothetical letter I would write to any baseball player who has spent a significant amount of times in the minor leagues. This is nothing more than my thoughts expressed in the form of a mock letter to them.

Dear Minor League Player:

It's that time of the year again where free agency strikes and many are looking for jobs. Sure, there are some high profile guys who are guaranteed to some a big contract somewhere else with a Major League club.

However, we're aware of how tough life can be for someone who spent a lot of time in the minors. It's not even easy for someone who will bounce up and down between the 25-man roster and on the fringe of the majors.

I give you the message to embrace baseball abroad. Offers won't come everywhere and understandably so. Straight up higher pay will be an easy option if a team in Korea or Japan gives more than a minor league contract. Yes, it will take a lot to swallow some pride of turning down a shot at the majors, but this journey is a unique experience.

Signed a contract to play overseas?  Great! Here's some tips:

Embrace the culture of where you're headed: Whether it's Korea or Japan, there will always be plenty of changes besides the obvious language differences. Don't approach your team as only a place to collect a paycheck. Sure, it can understandably be a first motive, but don't show it. Making early impressions within the team and area can go a long way.

Learn a few sayings in another language: Don't be like Jonny Gomes and be in shock that players speak another language. You will be dependent on your interpreter quite a bit and no one will blame you. However, don't be reserved, go out of your comfort zone and take some pointers from former players and others.

Inspect your bags before and after packing: Don't be caught with something illegal. Bring what you feel would be appropriate in the new country you're headed to. Anything that is inappropriate (i.e. weapon, drugs) should be removed. 

Never give up: Yes, this sounds like a cliche phrase that we always hear, but you'll notice that players abroad will workout to death. They will have a lot to expect from you too. You will have to pounce at any opportunity you're given.

Did you sign in Japan? Here's some advice we can give based on observation with the league:

There are no fastball counts: If you are a hitter, don't expect a fastball to ever come on a 2-0 count. It sounds easy to hear this and let it go, but beware. This is one of the largest differences between Japan and baseball in the States that everyone seems to notice. Pitchers in Japan will throw what they are comfortable with and do whatever it takes to get someone out. There is no "control your fastball" mentality in Japan. If you're a pitcher, expect the catcher you're working with to do the same.

Be careful with your body: As earlier mentioned, players will workout to death and you'll notice it right away. They practice before a scheduled practice and will continue to even do activity afterwards. It might sound insane to you. If you're not required to take part in some exercises, don't take it all at full speed. Japan's players may not be strongest or fastest athletes in the world, but they have to be one of the better conditioned with how much training happens all year long. An early injury could lead to a setback.

The manager is always right: This might sound subjective, but in the world of baseball in Japan, questioning authority is not going to help. It would be disrespectful and dishonor to make long arguments with the boss. So even if the manager is objectively wrong, players will have to knuckle under. Do not build a bad relationship or burn bridges if possible.

Every run counts: You're going to notice teams trying to play for one run with bunting (which might sound obvious), but also on defense there are shifts. Even early in a game with a runner on third, expect the infield to play in. Sometimes the outfield will play in if they trust their pitcher.  Don't be shocked to see how aggressive defenses are in this case.

Fan Service is taken seriously: When we think of fanfest, it's a simple gathering of fans with a few autographs and some hellos from others. Japan will have crazy marketing in the views of American lenses. While you don't need to sign autographs to every fan out there, don't be a stiff to others when away from the game. There will be fans who will embrace you as you join the team.


With the new journey ahead, nothing will be easy. Nothing is guaranteed, which you're probably familiar with. I hope going away from North America can bring a new life in you and not just be a business trip. Open up, get out of the comfort zone and take advantage of the resources you have while adapting away.  

Don't take your trip overseas for granted. Embrace it. Enjoy it and live life to the fullest. Best of luck in your endeavors. 

Graveyard Baseball.


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  1. Maybe another thing would be "Expect to spent the entire season with the team. These aren't the independent minors where it would not be unusual for you to move to a Major League organization mid-season if you were doing really well. If you're doing really well for an NPB or KBO team they will expect you to play for them all season (it's called fulfilling your contract). Don't go there thinking that you're going to be back in the majors by August"

  2. I would rank them in importance as:

    1. Do NOT question authority;
    2. Practice like the other players;

    At that point, Japanese players are pretty accepting, provided you do 1 and 2 above. If not, life will NOT go well.

    Then, if you do well, make sure fan service is of importance since it will rankle the other players and is connected to #2. In other words, do NOT be a prima donna. No matter how good your stats are, if you are a prima donna, you are pretty much done in Japan.

    At that point, then it is probably best to go outside your comfort zone and try new foods, pick up the language, etc..

    I would also add this:

    For pitchers, FIELD your position. Bunting is big in Japan so if you can't field well, they will MAKE you field well.

    For hitters, at least show an interest in bunting. You may be asked to do so for the team AND if you don't you are at risk of being labeled a prima donna.

    1. One thing I'll say, avoid fan service DURING games. There's a few who've been caught with fan stuff while in the bullpen, as if they're not taking their on-field job seriously. Also, a few Lions got injured trying to partake in the exercises and it hurt them physically.

    2. Nice article! I always wonder why some North American/International players do well, and others don`t laat/go home soon. I`d say an attitude adjustment is a bit part of it.

  3. Bonus: If you like reading, you must read You Gotta Have Wa by Robert Whiting before getting on the plane. If books aren't your thing, Mr. Baseball (Tom Selleck) will suffice. Take the former seriously (though it was written nearly a generation ago) and the latter with a grain (or teaspoon) of salt.

    1. I thought about that, but as someone who read it, it seems really dark for a player. If I read that, I'd stay away from Japan.