MESA, Ariz. – Several of the A’s have very specific things they’d like to do in Japan in the next week. Reliever Ryan Dull is hoping to meet up with former Double-A Midland teammate Hiro Nakajima. Reliever Liam Hendriks wants to check out the anime scene.
And Beau Taylor might have the best reason of all to look forward to the trip: The catcher’s longtime girlfriend, Tiarsa McDowell, lives in Japan, where she’s taught English for the past two years.
“She’s so excited,” Taylor said. “We would never have thought two or three years ago that I’d be coming to Japan and she’d be able to see me play at the Tokyo Dome.”
The A’s arrive in Tokyo on Friday afternoon and play exhibition games Sunday and Monday against the Nippon-Ham Fighters and then regular-season games Wednesday and Thursday against the Seattle Mariners. The traveling party is 160 – there are numerous team execs going, and players can bring plus-ones.
“I’m looking forward to just getting on the plane, going through customs and getting to our hotel and trying to enjoy the city,” said Mickey Morabito, the team’s travel director, who had to sort out visas for all the players. “It’s all coming together now.”
Several A’s players have been to Tokyo before – in fact, reliever Jerry Blevins and Cliff Pennington were on Oakland’s last trip to open the season in Japan, in 2012. Catcher Nick Hundley spent two weeks in Japan when he was 12 and his father, longtime college football coach Tim Hundley, was coaching in a collegiate all-star game. “It’s beautiful there,” he said. “I loved it. I can’t wait to go back.”
Second baseman Jurickson Profar and third baseman Matt Chapman also have been to the country. Profar played for Team Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, while Chapman took part in a 10-day college baseball tour to Japan six years ago.
“I was just a dumb 19-year-old kid, I had no idea where to go or what to do. I just thought it was cool running around in a completely different country, laughing, being dumb,” Chapman said. “This time, I’m more excited. I want to go see a temple.
“Last time, we didn’t get to venture out much in Tokyo, and back then, I was kind of a picky eater. I was super happy they had an Outback and McDonald’s. Now, I’m so excited to go eat sushi and to go try ramen. I really want to experience the culture.”
Designated hitter Khris Davis is all about the food. Seriously. “I like eating a good bowl of ramen,” he said. “I will be at ramen shops and just eating for lunch and dinner.”
Manager Bob Melvin noted that Tokyo has more three-star Michelin restaurants than anywhere else in the world, and Morabito said he plans to stick close to Melvin, who might go out to dinner with his close friend Ichiro Suzuki one night. Suzuki, a sure-fire Hall of Famer in both countries, is now back with the Mariners and will be the star of the show throughout the teams’ stay.
Photo: Shizuo Kambayashi / Associated Press
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Each of the players, even those such as Taylor who are not on the roster, will be able to buy plenty of souvenirs: They’ll each receive $60,000 for the trip, a fee negotiated by the Players Association for appearing in international games, while the coaching staff and support staff will make $5,000.
Hendriks already knows he’ll be looking for anime-related products to go along with the “Dragon Ball” Adidas sneakers he’s bringing along. “Tokyo is the home of anime, so I had to bring my anime shoes!” he said. He said he’s been to the AnimeIowa convention while he was at Triple-A, and he’s been to two gamer conventions in Seattle, so he and his wife, Kristi, might shop for costumes for a future Con of some sort.
Nakajima signed a three-year deal with the A’s in 2013, and Dull became friends with him when the infielder was demoted from Triple-A Sacramento to Midland the following year. Now Nakajima is playing for the storied Yomiuri Giants, who face the Mariners in two exhibition games next week.
Though his stay with the A’s didn’t work out, Nakajima never complained, Dull said.
“He was an awesome teammate, awesome,” Dull said. “We had a blast playing with him. I think he might have been the first-ever Japanese player in Midland and it was probably a little different getting used to the bus rides, but he adapted really well and just embraced being part of that team.”
As much fun as the A’s plan to have during their week, they are well aware that the regular season starts Wednesday.
“It’s not as much of a vacation as everyone thinks,” Chapman said. “You’re still working.”
“It’s just an experience, business first, that’s it – go out and get the job done,” Davis said. “It counts. Expectations are real.”
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/athletics/article/Anime-ramen-and-friends-A-s-players-look-13688459.php.