Mr. Brown comes to town
Outfielder Roosevelt Brown only played in Japan for two seasons, and it didn’t provide a spring board to a longer career in the States, but the experience, he said recently, wasn’t wasted on him.
Brown joined the Orix Blue Wave in 2003, roughly three years before he went 0-for-1 as a pinch hitter at Tokyo Dome for the Chicago Cubs against the New York Mets. In Las Vegas last December at the baseball winter meetings, Brown spoke about his experiences and impressions of Japan’s game.
“Guys here now really want to go over there. They’re starting to hear how good the baseball is over there,” said Brown, who upon his retirement built homes and still owns that construction company, while working as an advisor with sports training business, Vizual Edge.
The stories and the reality
“All the nightmares that I heard about, I did not seen none of those. The Japanese people took care of me and I really appreciate the hospitality of the people of Japan.”
After an excellent debut season at the age of 27, Brown could see himself finishing his career in Nippon Professional Baseball, but it didn’t happen.
Players are now turning to Japan not for their final playing paychecks from an inferior league, but as an opportunity to realize more of their potential than they had shown in the States. Often, the time spent in Japan makes them better players.
“And better people, too. You learn a lot and you improve your game,” Brown said.
“The difference with Japanese baseball is the strength. You have more stronger guys at the big league level than you do in Japan. That’s the only difference. The command of the fastball, offspeed stuff, they can command all three pitches. The players here are a lot bigger, but they just don’t have the body control that most Japanese have.”
“They (Japanese) do a lot of body weight stuff. When they take their shirts off, they look like they’ve been lifting weights. The body tissue, because of the diet with a lot of seafood, their tendons are softer so their muscles expand more than an American player who eats a lot of beef. They eat a lot of protein but with lots of seafood, so the flexibility of Japanese players is ahead of a lot of American players.”
A new approach
A frequent passenger on the Triple-A, major league shuttle, Brown began studying martial arts, to increase his flexibility and fitness. The process opened his eyes to some of the things about Japan’s game that are not readily apparent in the numbers.
“It started in 1999,” Brown said. “I wanted to increase my flexibility, because I found out that flexibility creates strength. The longer the muscles are, the more agile you can be. When I got into martial arts, I just started liking it. I put my kids in it. I took private lessons. Before I worked out I would go in about 5 am and train with my master, and after that I would go to the gym and work out with my trainer.”
“It helped me tie in the biomechanics of the swing and how to tie in my energy and put the most energy into one area. I noticed a lot of the Japanese guys at the plate had the same ability. They got the most out of their bodies.”
An audience with the king
And in Japan he had the chance to meet with a man whose practice of aikido and other martial arts had helped turn him into one of the greatest power hitters the world has ever seen.
“I had a conversation with Sadaharu Oh,” Brown said. “I was trying to figure out what was his secret to hit so many home runs because he’s so small.”
“He used his body probably better than anybody in the history of the game. He was small. The only other hitter who had that power and that size when I played was Michihiro Ogasawara. Those guys’ weight transformation through the baseball was probably better than some guys in the States. I learned a lot. It was an awesome experience.”
Two years provides just an introduction to Japan’s whys and wherefores. Although Brown gained insight into swings, training and diet, some mysteries remained unsolved. Keen to earn the respect of his teammates, he tried to be the best at whatever the BlueWave players were doing, but when it came to Japan’s training grist mill, he had to raise his hand and take a time out.
“They were overworking and I had to talk to the team and say, ‘Look, if you want me to be 100 percent in August, we need to find a better way to buffer the work,’” he said. “Because I was accustomed to training hard in the offseason and maintaining during the regular season, but those guys train in season and offseason.”
“That amazed me how well those guys stayed in shape, because they were heavy smokers. Those guys would run forever despite the fact that they smoked. I saw myself as not being able to do something like that.”
A way of life
What he could relate to were elements of the culture that meshed with his own values, the importance of craftsmanship in Japanese society that is manifested in the discipline and respect the players are nurtured in. To some Latin players, Japanese baseball can at times seem joyless, but Brown discovered learning points on and off the field.
“I learned a lot about discipline,” he said. “The culture of Japan is built on discipline and respect. I knew about respect. I was raised that way, but Japan made me take it to the next level.”
“You’ve got to embrace change when you go there. It’s their way of living and you’re going over there, and you’ve got to make those adjustments to succeed. If I hadn’t got injured, I probably would have played the rest of my career over there.”
After he got hurt in 2004, his career ended all too quickly following a good 2005 season in Triple A with the White Sox.
Endings and beginnings
“It was tough because I had to leave the game earlier than I anticipated because of injury,” he said. “It was tough, but I dealt with it. It’s part of life, and I live not through my kids, but my kids all play baseball, my family members all play baseball. It’s something I won’t ever be able to get away from. I understand that. I thought about if I would be a bitter guy, but I look back on my career and I hit .300 nine years straight. Most people don’t do that. Instead of being bitter about it, I decided I was going to take the time God gave me to better my knowledge for my kids. So I know that’s starting to translate with my kids and the people I train. I talked to a couple of people here at the winter meetings about jobs. I didn’t realize how much respect I had earned as a player.”
“Hitting a baseball is something I had a gift at. I broke my wrist in 1997 and that was the most miserable season that I had. I had a bad season. That was the first bad season I had, and I didn’t understand how to deal with failure at the plate. It helped me grow into a better hitter. Never experiencing a failure like that was difficult.”
“I had a gift and I couldn’t use it. Now I want to pass it on. What’s a gift if you can’t pass it on? That’s why I understand gifts. That’s where my heart and conviction are now.”