During Hanshin Tigers first baseman Craig Brazell’s recent stint with the independent league St. Paul (Min.) Saints, he got used to teaching and doling out advice to the team’s younger players.
More importantly, he learned a little bit about the game himself.
Back in Japan with a new team, after a missing the 2008 postseason with a head injury, Brazell is playing like he’s got a new lease on life and reaping the benefits at the plate.
“I’m thanking my lucky stars every day for this second opportunity,” Brazell said. “That’s why I’m putting every bit of extra effort that I can in every day. I don’t take anything for granted. I want to perform and I feel like this is a team I can spend a good bit of time with.”
He’s made a great first impression with Tigers fans, batting .313 with seven home runs and 24 RBIs in 33 games for the Tigers.
“It made it easier for me, having the experience I had last year,” Brazell said, referring to his first season in Japan with the Seibu Lions. “That was the big thing for me. I knew what to expect, I knew what I was about to go through.
“The only feeling I had was ‘I want to go over there and prove something. I got to get back and I’ve got to prove to these guys that I want to play here and I can play here.’ That’s my whole mentality. I’m going to have fun, I’m going to go out and play hard.”
Before making his return to Japan, Brazell had to deal with the after effects of being hit in the head with a pitch during an Oct. 4, 2008, game against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
He missed the entire postseason due to the injury, after batting .234 with 27 home runs and 87 RBIs for the Lions last season. Seibu went on to win the Japan Series in his absence.
Despite waking up one morning to blood “all over my pillow,” because of the injury, Brazell was determined to recover and get back out on the field.
“It was, definitely get this taken care of and comeback,” Brazell said. “Because I knew I wasn’t done. I didn’t have a great year last year, but the productivity numbers were there, the home runs and the RBIs.”
His comeback began in the Baltimore Orioles’ camp during the spring, where he joined former Yomiuri Giants pitcher and MLB rookie Koji Uehara.
“First thing, he gives me a bear hug and says, ‘You hit a home run off me,’ Brazell said.
“It was a lot of fun. Every morning we would have a little pow-wow session. He was ecstatic about major league spring training.”
After being cut two days before the end of spring training, Brazell made his way to the Saints in the American Association, where he said he got back to the basics of the game.
“In pro ball, you get more of a mixture of older guys at the higher levels,” Brazell said. “In independent ball, you have a lot of guys trying to get to affiliated baseball. I think the position players kind of looked toward me on the way I carried myself, the way I acted.”
It kind of gave me a new look at the game, in my approach to it. Like, maybe if I just get back and have a little fun again, it’ll come back and go easier for me.”
While things have gone well for Brazell since his return, the Tigers’ season is in dire straits. At the All-Star break, Hanshin is fifth in the Central League standings with a 32-46-4 mark.
“We’ve had our struggles,” Brazell said. “But we’ve shown life here and there. It’s one of those things. There are a lot of games we’re losing by one or two runs. It’s a good team, but it may just be one of those years where we need to play hard and prove to everybody that we’re not giving up.”