Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Japanese Experience

     Since February 9th, I have been in Okinawa, Japan along with the rest of my teammates participating in daily workouts. Spring training is officially in full gear as the season is approaching quickly. That may seem a little exaggerated, but with March 29 being our opener, it gives pitchers like myself only a limited amount of outings to fine tune everything. This means every day is very crucial to ensure you are ready to go, ready for when it counts. Two days ago I got my first game-action and it went relatively well considering it's been almost 6 months since my last outing. It always brings upon a few nerves, but they quickly fade away as soon as you throw your first pitch. Our team is very talented and I cannot stress how excited I am to compete with this group.
     As each day goes by, I will say that I get more and more comfortable. I think that getting placed on a new team with new teammates requires a lot of observation and patience as well. Every year, a baseball player meets new guys and has to bond as best as he can with these new acquaintances. It is no different here, only with a culture and language barrier to complicate the process. The first couple weeks I was as friendly as possible while trying to feel things out along the way. Now, I can say that I am developing relationships with a lot of guys and it makes everything that much more enjoyable. My teammates are awesome and couldn't be more helpful to someone who is 9,000 miles from home. This team is now my family.
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     All baseball aside, Okinawa has been quite the experience thus far. Today was an off day for us so about 15 of us players and coaches took the 75 minute ride to Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, the second biggest in the world. I can't imagine how much upkeep has to go into this place because it covers so much ground. Besides the actual indoor aquarium, there are gardens, outdoor tanks, and other exhibits covering acres and acres. My personal favorite was the dolphin show although I couldn't understand a word of what the trainers were saying. I took a video on my phone of jumping dolphins, pretty impressive. I'm a big fan of Sea World in the United States and this show was similar to those put on there. They had manatees, sea turtles and 3 giant Whale Sharks which were swimming around inside a massive tank indoors. There also were some Yellowfin Tuna swimming around in there and I would love nothing more to be able to cast a nice line out there and reel one of them in!
     We've also had two more off days up until this point. The first day consisted of a trip to Naha, the biggest city here to walk around and check out the scene. Some guys shopped a little bit, but I was busy looking at the bottles of liquor they have here with Pit Vipers in the liquid. So inside of the bottle is a fierce looking snake, dead as can be. I'm still debating on whether or not I need to bring a bottle back with me to the USA. I also had a fantastic crepe in Naha stuffed with bananas, chocolate and caramel ice cream. I've never been afraid to sample the dessert menu when ice cream is involved. I only purchased some batteries and an external hard drive at the local "Best Buy". I can't get over how nice the workers are in these stores always bowing to me and smiling, immediately putting you in a more pleasant mood.
     The other day was spent relaxing at the hotel and walking into town for dinner with just Josh Bell, my other American teammate. It started to rain on the walk there of course so we were soaked by time we got to the restaurant. As we walked in, we sat down and didn't get served for 15-20 minutes. I don't know why it took so long but it ended with me stuffing my face with tuna sushi and chicken teriyaki. Our last off day is this coming Wednesday and Josh and I plan on getting our snorkels ready. We want to get wet somewhere in the East China Sea. The lobby of the hotel has several small excursions to pick from and the middle of town has no shortage of dive shops so we should be fine. Maybe I'll get lucky enough to find one that offers spear fishing. That way I can open my own sushi restaurant here in town where we take people's orders in less than 20 minutes. Pictures are sure to follow if we do go.
     While I am in Japan, I've brought my little piece of the USA with me, Netflix. I watch several episodes of Always Sunny in Philadelphia daily, quoting from every one. Between that and the country music I have pumping at 7:30 AM, I'd say I'm getting by just fine. Nothing like some Eric Paslay in the morning (he's a new favorite). Last night, we had our best dinner yet, Korean BBQ. For those unfamiliar with it, its a bunch of raw meat put out into separate bowls or plates to choose from. We had the choice of 3 different types of beef, chicken, lamb, pork, hot dogs, and scallops. I was a sucker for scallops and a lot of them at that. You bring the meat back and cook it yourself at a grill located in the table. I've attached a picture of my view from the table. Also attached is a picture of Josh and I outside the massive aquarium. Tomorrow is another opportunity to get better and get myself ready to go. Until next time...


Sunday, February 9, 2014

This is it, don't get scared now.

     For those of you who don't recognize the title, shame on you! It's from a personal favorite and one of the best American movies ever made, Home Alone. Well, it's official. I will be off American soil for the next 9 months and I couldn't be happier to call parts of Asia my home. A majority of that time will be spent in South Korea, but for now, Okinawa will be my spot of residence. I'm writing this blog from my hotel room listening to the waves crash on the beach about 50 yards from the building. It's beautiful, yet the weather hasn't been particularly desirable. I guess I should be patient as we haven't even been here for 24 hours yet. It rained last night in what seemed to be a fitting ending to a very long 36 hours of travel.
     Let's backtrack a bit and recount the exact happenings of the long journey to get here. We left Arizona at approximately 1 PM on Friday afternoon. Before we left, I walked about a half mile both ways to make a key purchase, an XBox One. I might have seemed like a fool to some walking back with the XBox in one hand and a carry-on piece of luggage wheeled in the other. The carry-on was filled with vitamins, shampoo, deodorant and anything else I could get my hands on at Target. Better to be safe than sorry. I was feeling prepared. I packed my bags onto a truck that would meet us at the airport and changed into a suit to travel. We would then take a bus 5 hours to Las Vegas to eat, kill some time and then board the Korean Air flight non-stop to Seoul.
     The flight to Seoul left at 11:40 PM Pacific Coast time on Friday. Both Josh Bell and I had tickets in business class, which was clutch. The seats fully reclined into beds and provided much needed comfort for a 12 hour and 50 minute flight. Two meals were served and I managed to watch three movies: All is Lost, Last Vegas, and About Time. For those of you critiquing the last choice of movie, I am no stranger to chick flicks or anything close to it. I enjoy a good Rachel McAdams movie as much as anyone. We arrived in Seoul on Sunday at 6:30 AM. This means that I never set foot on the ground for Saturday, February 8th. I can now make up stories about what happened on that day and no one will ever know. Our day was not done yet however.
     The rest of the team would get their baggage and leave the airport to go sleep at home and enjoy their families. Not us. Josh and I don't have family within 7,000 miles so we were boarding another plane to Japan that would leave at 9:30 AM( actually 10:30 with the delay). I got a nice Burger King breakfast sandwich at the airport, which by the way was the nicest airport I've ever been in, and waited for the flight. At this point, I have to imagine people looking at me, and smelling me for that matter, have to be disgusted. I look like I've just crawled through the sewers with the Ninja Turtles and need money for a meal. After a 2 hour flight, we landed in Okinawa at their beachside airport. You would think that the workers as Asiana Airlines would know how long of a trip I've had and how desperate I was for a shower. Not these workers. Another half hour spent at the baggage claim and we had our stuff ready to rock.
     On the way out, we loaded our bags into 2 vans and I was taken for a surprise when the driver got into the right side of the car. Where are we, London? I guess they drive on that side in Japan too! We ate lunch and then went to the Sunmarina hotel. This place reminds me of a Dominican Republic resort. My goal is to befriend a fisherman and maybe haul in a few big boys before we leave in the beginning of March. I would be able to check that off my bucket list. The water is blue but choppy because it is very windy. I'm not complaining.
     I went upstairs to my room and was exhausted. We had finally made it, but it had been quite the journey. I unpacked a little bit, before I showered. I set up the Xbox and even made myself a cup of Green Tea in the room, which I don't even like but hey, "when in Rome". I went to go take a shower and almost broke my toe doing so. There is a ledge right before the shower for some reason and I whacked my toe pretty hard. I learned my lesson there. Josh and I went downstairs for dinner and afterwards, wanted to have a beer. We went to the convenience store in the hotel, but they didn't take American dollars. Oh boy. Luckily, the front desk exchanged money and we got some Japanese Yen. I was rich. 10,000 Yen for 100 dollars!!! Not really, but it made me feel that way. Then comes the coolest thing I have ever seen in my entire life. A beer vending machine on our floor. I was able to purchase an Asahi beer from a machine. Take note USA.
     I slept for 9 hours last night and feel fantastic. Zero jet lag because the times worked out so perfectly.  We start workouts here tomorrow and I'm excited. Roughly two weeks before exhibition games start and I get to go at some hitters. Below are some pictures I've taken to share. There is my own private movie theater on the plane, which was awesome. The guy in one of the pictures is of my translator Jay smoking a cigarette while I took a paparazzi photo. Jay is the man and I lean on him for everything, take note ladies. There is a picture of a toilet seat, but its not just any toilet seat. It's heated!! And you thought heated seats in your car was cool. And lastly, there's a picture of me with all my Japanese riches. Hope you enjoy and I look forward to catching up soon. Until next time...