March 2008

Fun not lost in translation

I’m knocking this out before our second game of the Red Sox because I won’t have any time later. We have to hustle to the airport right
after the game, but since I didn’t give you anything after last night’s game,
I’ll just kind of wrap the trip up for you from my perspective right now.I felt like I threw pretty well last night. My control
wasn’t exactly what I wanted it to be; it’s not that I was throwing a lot of
balls, but some of my strikes weren’t the kind of quality pitches I’m looking
for.

Once I got to the park, there was a little jitters, but not
too bad. It was like consciously, I was fine, but subconsciously, I had a lot of
nerves — if that makes any sense. I had a lot of energy warming up and had a lot
of adrenaline when I first took the mound, but the biggest thing for me was
that first pitch of the game. Once I threw that, got a strike, I was just
locked in like I am for any other game. That first one was big, though.After our workout on the day before the game, me and
LeeAndra went to this big electronics district. It was probably three blocks,
and every building on both sides of the street was six floors of nothing but
gadgets and every kind of electronics you can think of. It was pretty cool to
check out, but I didn’t buy anything. I think I got overwhelmed by it all. Before that, we went to the concierge at hotel and told them
we wanted to go to a really good, authentic sushi place, so that’s where we
went after the electronics place, to get some dinner. It was about as authentic as you can get. I mean, it smelled like fish in that place, so you knew everything was
as fresh as you can get it. They just started bringing out stuff and we went to
work on it, but there were a couple of things that I couldn’t bring myself to
try. I’m a huge sushi and sashimi fan, and I consider myself pretty brave when
it comes to trying things, but I just wasn’t comfortable with a couple things
they brought out. One of them was a big piece of raw eel on rice, and the other
one was this giant clam-type thing. I just couldn’t do it. The restaurant was in this little neighborhood right near
the hotel, so after dinner we just walked around a little bit, down this one
street that was all lit up, checking everything out. It was a good night –
exactly what we were looking for.Now I’m looking forward to the ceremony before tonight’s
game. Rumor is that it’s going to be a samurai kind of deal, and I really want to
check that out and get some pictures to make up for missing most of the
ceremony last night. I’m pretty pumped about it, because I’ll actually get to
kick back and enjoy it. Before the trip over here, I knew it was going to be
important to balance all the cultural experiences we were going to get with this
also being a business trip for us, with games that count, and I think I did a
pretty decent job. When we first got here, I just got a lot of R&R so my
body could get used to the time zone, but these past few days, we’ve gotten out
and seen all the things you want to see when you travel. Blanton_2
LeeAndra’s had a good time, too. She likes to travel just
like I do, and I think the highlight of her trip — and mine, too — was that
dinner I told you about at the teppanyaki grill with Huston Street and his
wife. We had an awesome time that night.As a team, being over here and opening earlier than everyone
else, I think we got a jump on coming together. During Spring Training, a lot
of times, you’ve got a lot more than 25, 30 guys, and a lot of them are guys who
aren’t going to be on the team, and you’re never going to see them again that
year. But here, this is pretty much the core group that’s going to be here all
year.At Spring Training, you show up to the park and the hitters
and pitchers kind of split up into their own groups, and when the team goes on
the road, not everyone will travel. So you actually spend a lot of time
separated from your teammates. But here, we were all together all the time, we
were all in the same hotel, and I think we just got a chance to see each other
more, and that’s good for a team. A lot of guys have gotten to experience a lot of different
things here, and I’m pretty sure everyone’s had as good a time as I’ve had. I do miss home, though, and probably the thing I’m most
looking forward to getting back to is the simplicity of communication. The
whole language thing is part of the experience here, but when you can’t really
express exactly what you want or where you want to go, it does get a little
frustrating sometimes. It’ll be nice to get back home, and I’m already looking
forward to pitching again when we play our first regular-season game in the U.S. on April
1. Thanks for checking this out, and I’ll talk to y’all in a week or so.

Seeing Tokyo

Doing a TV interview before Monday’s workout at Tokyo Dome. (Shizuo Kambayashi/AP)

Hey everyone. We just got back from our last workout at the Tokyo Dome before tomorrow’s opener against the Red Sox, and I had to go to a press conference with all the Japanese media for the first time. Mychael, our A’s beat writer for MLB.com, wrote a story about it yesterday, and it’s pretty dead-on. The press conferences here are definitely an interesting experience.

I promised you I’d share a little bit about getting out and seeing Tokyo, which I hadn’t really done before last night, so let’s start there. LeeAndra and I didn’t really do much last night other than go out to dinner, but it was nice to get out of the hotel and kind of feel the city a little bit, and the place we went to was perfect as far as that goes.

We went to a tabanyaki grill that’s kind of like a Hibachi or a Benihana back home, but it was super nice — and expensive — and felt really authentic. It was perfect for what we were looking for. We didn’t have to take our shoes off and sit on the ground or anything, but pretty much nobody there spoke English there, so it was awesome. It wasn’t touristy at all.

We went with Huston Street and his wife, and just as we were getting there, Jack Cust and his wife and Mike Sweeney and his wife had just got done eating. So obviously this place was highly recommended. LeeAndra’s the one who made the reservation, and she got it by calling the concierge at the hotel. I told you she was the planner.

The meal was unbelievable. Great scallops and lobster, and we had Kobe beef. I’ve heard so much about Kobe beef, but this was the first time I’ve ever had it. I thought it was delicious. I don’t know that is was noticeably better than the really good steaks I’ve had in the U.S., but I think I was just so pumped up to be eating it for the first time, I thought it was great.

They prepare the food right there, like at Benihana, and that’s a show all by itself. It was really cool to watch, and that’s a big part of the whole experience going to a place like that.

It was definitely pricey, though. I don’t know what it was in Yen, but it was basically $200 a person. A little steep, but everything’s more expensive here, and everyone really enjoyed it and the food was incredible, so it was worth it.

Before we went out to dinner, LeeAndra and I went to this place called “The Sky Bar” in the hotel. It’s basically like the Space Needle for anyone who’s been to Seattle and checked that out. That’s a good way to compare it. You’re all the way at the top of the building looking out over everything, and it gives you a real nice view of Tokyo.

We had a drink up there before we hopped in a cab for the restaurant, and the meal took a long time, so we didn’t get back to the hotel until 10 or 10:30 p.m., and I basically crashed out once we got back.

Taking a break during the Monday’s workout. (Shizuo Kambayashi/AP)

It’s about 4 p.m. on Monday here now, and we’re going to hit the city tonight. We’ll probably get an early start so we’re not out too late, but today’s when we’re going to hit all the shops and do that whole deal. The weather’s gone back to being cold and rainy like it was when we first got here, so we’ll definitely need to bring jackets. We just want to see as much as we can, grab another bite to eat, then get back to the hotel at a decent hour so I can rest up for the Red Sox.

The fact that we’re actually opening the season tomorrow didn’t really hit me until today, with the press conference and all. That’s when you know it’s about to go down. It’s a little bit like the playoffs, and it’ll be more like that tomorrow. I’ve never really been someone who gets real caught up in the lead-up to things like this. My excitement usually comes more within the game, once it starts.

It seems like the team’s really relaxed and going into it with a lot of confidence. We’re coming off a couple good games here in the exhibitions, and everyone threw well and hit the ball well, so I really like the way we look right now. We’re loose and relaxed, and that’s the way I like the teams I’ve been on to be.

My individual preparation hasn’t been really been affected by the trip. It’s just been business as usual. I didn’t really get knocked off balance at all. We lost a day flying here, so on the calendar looks like I’ll be going on five full days of rest since I made my last start in Arizona, but because we lost that day it’s actually four, which is what I’m used to.

I’ve had my normal bullpens, my normal rest, my normal conditioning. Everything baseball-wise is familiar. The only difference is that we’re in Japan, and the mound here’s the same distance and the balls are the same that we always use, so I feel really good about tomorrow.

It’s going to be really exciting. I hope everyone back home checks it out. Y’all might have to get up early or stay up late, but it should be a great game.

Time to do some exploring

I?m finally going to get out and explore Tokyo with my wife, LeeAndra, tonight. I’m knocking this blog out before our second exhibition game, a day game on Sunday here, and we just have a little quick workout tomorrow, because this is our chance to explore — tonight and tomorrow.

I?m not sure what we?re going to do, but I am sure that LeeAndra has a plan. She?s the planner of the two of us. I met her in July of 2006 and we got married in November 2007. I kinda knew right away, obviously, that she was right for me.
   Fffff

She?s a trooper, for sure. She pretty much goes on every trip with me — even though she?s not crazy about flying. Just having her around to support me is awesome. Having her to go home to, no matter where I am, makes everything feel kind of homey, and that?s the way I like it.

When you?re single, you go out more, and that can wear you out. I?m kind of a homebody, and I just love having someone to go home and chill out with. We?ll talk about baseball a little bit, but not much. A nice little balance, I?d say. She obviously knows when I pitch well and when I don?t, but none of that matters to her, and it?s nice to go home — especially after a bad game — and have someone there who won?t critique your performance and just loves you for who you are. It keeps me relaxed and in a good frame of mind.

I?ve heard people say that the sign of a good couple is when one person?s strengths make up for the other person?s weaknesses, and vice-versa. That?s definitely the case with me; she makes up for some of my weaknesses. Like the planning thing. I kind of just shoot from the hip, and whatever happens, happens. She?s the one who has to have everything planned out on paper to a T, making sure we know how everything?s going to go, and that?s definitely a better approach to most things as opposed to being a gunslinger and just letting it fly.

So I?m looking forward to seeing what she?s got workin? tonight. I?m not sure what it is, but I do know I want to check out this eight-story electronics store I?ve heard about. I?ll have to make sure that gets into the schedule.

Basically, we just want to get out of the hotel and feel the city a little bit. I?ll just roll with whatever LeeAndra has in store for us.

I?m still feeling pretty good as far as jet-lag goes, by the way. I think it?s because I?ve spent so much time in my room. I haven?t had any trouble sleeping, and I feel great. I guess a few of the guys are dragging, but I still feel like I?m adjusted.

Let?s just hope it stays that way, right? Talk to y?all tomorrow after the workout.

First exhibition game in the books

We just got done playing our first exhibition game here, against the Yomiuri Giants, and it was pretty crazy. The fans here are awesome.

It was weird because you could hear a pin drop when we were batting, but when they were up, the place was going nuts. Chants and songs and horns and everything. But only for them. For us, it was so quiet, and I didn’t expect that because I cheated today and watched some games on TV at the hotel.

In the games I saw, there was noise for both teams, but I guess that’s because when two Japanese teams play, both teams have fans there. We have a few fans here, but obviously not many. I heard a couple “Let’s go, Oakland!” chants behind the dugout, but that was it. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s the same — or more lopsided — when we play the Red Sox.

Batting practice was pretty wild, too. They had two batting cages going at once and a big screen set up in center field for the pitchers to work behind. Never seen anything like that before, for sure.

I’m glad I get to see all this now, before I pitch. Just knowing that there’s going to be a lot of different kinds of noise than I’m used to hearing should help. I’m not sure how much, because I’ve never really been much for paying attention to what’s going on in the stands when I’m pitching anyway, but it has to help somehow, right?

I wish I had some great story to tell you about what I did with my day before the game, but I don’t. I stayed in the hotel and slept as much as I could. I just didn’t want to get out from under the covers.

Sorry about that. I promise I’ll have better stories later in the week.

In Japan … finally

Blantonjapan

Now that we’re finally in Japan, it feels like everything’s slowing down a little bit. Wednesday was kind of crazy, and we lost pretty much all of Thursday flying over here, but now everything’s starting to feel a little more normal. Almost like a regular road trip, really, but I know it won’t feel like that once the games start. 

When I woke up Wednesday, I started doing some last-minute packing, and while I was packing my mother-in-law called and said she heard something about the Red Sox maybe boycotting their last Spring Training game and not going to Japan. So I turned the TV and checked it out a little, but I just kept on with my day like normal because I had to pitch in a Cactus League game in Mesa against the Cubs either way.

When I got over to our place, Phoenix Municipal Stadium, to get ready to go to Mesa, I got caught up on everything that was going on. That helped, because once I got caught up on stuff I hadn’t heard, I pretty much figured the trip was going to happen. There was never a time when I felt like it was on the brink of getting cancelled.

So I went over to Mesa to just focus on getting my work in, and it was probably the best outing I’ve had all spring. Mechanically I had a nice, smooth rhythm, and everything I had worked on in my previous outing, which was in a Minor League game, seemed to be paying off. So that’s a nice little confidence boost, to feel that good in my last start before coming here.

The trip itself basically started with the ride from Mesa pack to Phoenix Muni, where I got the rest of my stuff together. They told us our charter plane was going to be late, so me and my wife, LeeAndra, went upstairs to get a bit to eat and just hung out before the security line started.

They did the security screening in the parking lot behind the stadium, doing the wand thing before we got on the busses for the airport, and the line was pretty long and it was pretty hot outside while we were waiting, so I worked up a little sweat there. Then we had to sit on the bus for a while once we got to the airport and do a little more waiting around, but once we actually got onto the plane, the rest of it actually seemed to go by real quick.

My wife’s kind of a nervous flyer, I guess you could say, but the plane was super comfortable and she was fine. Our seats had little TVs that popped up from the side with movies and games and stuff, so I played some games on those for a little while, went upstairs and played some cards, ate and watched a couple of movies. That makes 12 hours go by pretty quick, believe it or not.

I can’t remember what the first movie was for some reason, but that’s the movie I saw the whole way through. The other one was that "Bee Movie," and I fell asleep at the end of it. But I only slept about 30 minutes or so, and that was great, because once we got to the hotel here, I sacked out real easy and got my seven, eight hours.

So now I think my body’s on the way to being adjusted to the time change, and that’s important for getting ready to pitch Tuesday. I didn’t want to sleep on the plane, and I don’t feel jet-lagged at all.

This morning when I woke up, we ordered breakfast, and I have to say it was the best seasonal fruit plate I’ve ever had. Not sure how interesting that is to anyone, but I figured I’d mention it. It was unbelievable.

I didn’t do much this morning before taking the bus to the workout at Tokyo Dome. I’d never seen the stadium before, but it’s about what I expected. Like I said in my last blog, the movie "Mr. Baseball" is kind of what I’m going off as far as expectations, and it’s been pretty close so far.

 

Stretching out the arm at the Tokyo Dome on Friday. (Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)

The showers in the clubhouse are straight "Mr. Baseball." You have to sit down, the shower heads are so low. So you sit on a little stool. It’s like a little bath. The clubhouse, I’d say, is kinda like something you’d see in Double-A ball. It’s not the big leagues, but it’s not that bad.

I haven’t been out to the mound yet, but I’ve heard they had guys over here from the U.S. to make sure it’s up to big league standards, so I’m not worried about it. Now I’m just looking forward to our first exhibition game tomorrow. I heard they have swordfights on the field and all kinds of crazy stuff before the game, so that should be fun.

Oh, and I watched a little sumo wrestling this morning on TV. I’ve gotta go to see that live. We have a day off between the two exhibition games and the opener, so maybe I can go then.

I’ll try to check in with y’all again tomorrow after the game.

 

Ready for an Opening Day start

I went to Europe during the offseason before last for a tour of Navy bases in Spain, Italy and Greece, and I?ve been to Mexico, Canada and the U.S. Virgin Islands, too, and this offseason I went to Tahiti. Traveling wasn?t something I used to be really into, but now I think it?s pretty cool to go around the world and experience a lot of different things, and I?ve never been to the Far East, so I think Japan?s going to be pretty different for a Kentucky boy.

It?s exciting, but it?ll probably be a little bit difficult to balance enjoying the culture and the experience of being over there with staying focused on getting prepared for my start, getting my rest and getting used to the time change. Luckily, we?re over there for a few days before my start, so that should help. We have some team things lined up, so I?ll get to enjoy those, and we have those two exhibition games before mine, so it?s not like I?ll be walking into that stadium for the first time on Opening Day. I?ll have a couple days to get used to everything.

Fastball

I was pretty excited when we first heard the trip over there was official. Everyone says the fans over there go crazy for the game, but all I really know is what I?ve seen in that movie ?Mr. Baseball? with Tom Selleck playing over there, so it should be exciting to see how they approach the game. I?ve heard about how the game?s played a little differently over there, and they train different, and it?ll be nice to see that first-hand.

I know we?re going to kind of be at the center of the baseball universe because we?re opening the season before all the other teams, but I won?t spend a lot of time thinking about that kind of thing, especially as we get closer and closer to Opening Day. It?s my first Opening Day start, so there might be some nerves, but I?m just going to go out try to just treat it like a regular game and pitch the way I pitch and not get too pumped up or affected by the Opening Day jitters.

Today was the first time I?ve really thought about whether it?ll feel any different for me to make my first Opening Day start in Japan as opposed to Oakland or somewhere on the road back in the United States, and I think it might actually help me. I really don?t know. But I do know that I?m kind of pitching two Opening Days, because I?m pitching our home opener April 1, too, and that?s against the Red Sox, too, and that?s where I think the Japan experience will definitely help.

I?ll already have a start under my belt, against the same lineup, so it should just feel a lot more like any other game.

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