Friday, August 4, 2017

Translation: Mejia not happy with own 2017 season, taken off roster

Ernesto Mejia has been the longest tenured foreign player on the 2017 Saitama Seibu Lions. However, things have been in the midst of a standstill with recent struggles leading to others playing instead.

Claudio Rodriguez of Béisbol Japonés had an exclusive interview with Mejia last month. Understandably, English is Mejia's second language having come from Venezuela prior to being in the Atlanta Braves organization.

In this interview, which is in Spanish, Mejia provided more details on some goals in Japan as well as the outlook of how the Lions are doing. In short, he said he isn't happy with his performance thus far in 2017. He also spoke about the All-Star Series and his past experiences from 2016.

With permission granted from Rodriguez, we have translated this interview for it to be available for the English speaking audience. Here is what he said, as translated in English with the questions included:

Note: This interview took place sometime on July 2 or July 3 as the Lions were in the midst of a five game losing streak. 


Let's first talk about that new contract you signed in September, which is for three years and it makes you one of the best paid in NPB, if not the highest. How did you feel about that [contract]? 

"Obviously, very happy. I am very happy to have an opportunity to continue doing what I like, which is the most important thing. This is a very good salary as well as three years of contract, so I'm focused on giving my best every day to not disappoint the team. They put a lot of confidence in me, so I am working hard to help the team and take them far."


What was the difference from previous years? It has been good since you came to Japan, but the team was only renewing your contact by only one year in the past. Why did they decide for three years on this occasion? 

"I don't know. As you said, they have been renewing me for one year at a time, but this time they approached me and said they wanted to renew me for a longer time. In our first instance, the contract was set to be two years with an option for a third. However, the third year option was not the best choice, so I talked to my agent and proposed that it was better to sign for three years, which is what we ended up doing."


Let's talk about your offensive production. Your numbers are good, but obviously not as good as what you recorded last year. How do you evaluate yourself in that aspect? 

"Well, I'm not happy with the season I've had so far. As you said, I have decent numbers, but they do not reflect what I know or demonstrate what I can do.  This is baseball, especially in a league like this that is so competitive, where every day [the team staff] shows us videos of the opposing pitchers and in turn, [opponent's will] watch our videos, looking for weaknesses."

"The strike zone is also bigger here. Yet, believe it or not, I am in a period of adaptation. Every day I have to adapt to different situations of play, because although the ball is round and the bat is the same as everywhere here, everything is quite different. Those who have played here know what I mean. All I have left now is to go ahead and work hard. What has already happened in the past [has passed] and I can not do anything to fix it. The only thing that is in my hands is the present and to give the best of my abilities and have a promising end of the season and with good numbers."


Let's talk about your defensive performance now. A few weeks ago you made four to five spectacular defensive plays at 1B where your videos are seen everywhere. Have you also had this [ability] or is it something new? 

"Well, I don't know what to say to you. The plays just came and bats/balls followed in the same game. Fortunately, I've had the joy of being able to make plays well. I always try to give my best on both the offense and defense and there are times when things go well and other times when they don't. I've been working hard on defense."

"At this point, I think I have only four or five errors, but hey, there should be less at first base because most hits go to the other sides of the field, not where 1B is. Nevertheless, I think my defense has improved a lot. After all, I've been working hard on it."


Something that has changed over the last year is the team playing much better. You're winning more games, in third place (A-class) and on your way to the postseason. What has been the difference in regards to 2016?

"Well, we've lost the last five games we played, but yes, overall we're having a good season. I'm sure it is due to the pitching, which has been better. When we have the [lead] in a game, we already have three pitchers who are in charge of the 7th, 8th and 9th innings. All three have been solid and most importantly, they can do the work."

"We have Kazuhisa Makita in the 7th, Brian Schlitter in the 8th and Tatsushi Masuda in the 9th. Thanks to them, when we are winning in the 7th, the game is practically ours. The starting pitchers have also been pretty consistent. We have had some bad luck recently because of some injuries and have lost some games, but hey, you can't always win."


Is there anything in particular that you haven't achieved in your NPB career that you'd like to accomplish? 

"Of course! I believe every goal I want to reach has not been met. I want to more than 40 home runs [in one season], grab more than 100 walks, strike out less than 100 times, hit .300, drive in 120 RBIs and become a [Japan Series] champion, among other things. This is to see that things are not as easy as they seem. Anyways, I will keep working hard everyday to try and reach these goals."


Last year, you won the Home Run Derby during the second All-Star Game [in Yokohama]. How was that experience? 

"Very good, especially because I was competing against several stars here and in the end I was able to win. I had luck that others didn't hit many home runs, so I took advantage of that. It was a wonderful experience. Yokohama stadium was full and I had an opportunity to be [part of the Pacific League All-star team] with players from other teams which I normally don't get a chance to see, so it was very special."


What do you think about the great performance that other Latino hitters are having this year? Let's talk about Alfredo Despaigne [Softbank Hawks], Alex Guerrero [Chunichi Dragons], Carlos Peguero [Rakuten Eagles], and José Celestino López [Yokohama DeNA Baystars].

"It's great to see what they are doing. I have a very good friendship with all of them. [José] Cestino [López] is having a fairly solid season, but incredibly won't be playing in the All-Star Series. Things here in Japan are not as you think. Apparently for teams, it is not as important if you make the All-Star Series or not."

"In the end, those who decide are the fans. There are players who have hardly played this season, but nevertheless end up being voted in by fans. Here in Japan, everything is very different. People think that if you don't have good numbers, you cannot go, but it's not like this. Despaigne and Guerrero are having great seasons, as well as Peguero, as it has surprised the fans and team who are happy with him. I'm really happy for all of them. We all came here with a dream and for that, we keep fighting, to get ahead and help our families which is the most important thing."


Your new three-year contract guarantees that you will at least spend six years in the league and that will place you among the Venezuelans who have played the longest here in NPB. How do you feel about that? 

"Well, very happy. I'm scheduled to retire in this league. I'm currently 31, and maybe I could play until I'm 40, I don't know. I have to work as hard as Alex Cabrera to have the terms to achieve this. We already have the experience of Alex Ramírez and Alex Cabrera, who each played here 13 years, so to become a Venezuelan player and stay here for a long time putting up the name for our country is an honor and I hope to achieve it."


Finally, what do you think of Japan as a country, its food, its culture [and] its people? 

Well, for me Japan is a unique country in the world, I believe in whatever area you want to talk about. The Japanese are very disciplined, organized and respectful people whose main quality is work. They only care about giving their best every day and always respect themselves no matter what happens. It is a country that has what it has thanks to its people."


From a 2016 interview with Mejia, Béisbol Japonés asked a similar question at the very end. 

Leaving baseball aside, what does Japan generally look like? How was the country, its food and its culture?

"For me Japan has to be the best country in the world. This is something else. The respect that people have, the way things are handled here and the discipline they have are incredible. The Japanese are what they are for their discipline. The food here is very good. There are things that someone does not like because they are not part of their culture and have a very different flavor, but most of the food is very good and always fresh, here you are never going to eat something stale or old. Overall, I love Japan."


In recent news, Mejia has been deactivated from the ichi-gun before the game on August 5. In his last 11 plate appearances, he failed to register a hit. Since July 1, he was 10-69 (.144) and had 28 strikeouts.

Manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji said that the team will need him to perform at ni-gun in order to return to the ichi-gun again. Shotaro Tashiro was called up in his place.

Special thanks to Claudio Rodriguez of Béisbol Japonés for making this interview possible. 

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