Buddy Carlyle is one of three pitchers the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters acquired during the off-season. But he’s not entirely new to Nippon Professional Baseball.
Carlyle played for the Hanshin Tigers during the 2001 and 2002 campaigns, posting a 7-10 record as a starter.
After playing for several years in the majors, as well as in South Korea, he has returned to Japan as a veteran hurler, and he’s looking forward to his second stint in the NPB while playing for one of the Pacific League’s best teams.
“I like it,” the 32-year-old right-hander said before a preseason game against the Yokohama BayStars last week at Yokohama Stadium.
“From what I’ve seen, we have a very good defense and a big stadium in Sapporo. So it’s a good place to use your defense and I’m excited for that.”
Hanshin is known for its fanatical fans at Koshien Stadium. But over the last five years since Nippon Ham made the move to Japan’s northern island, the Fighters have been famous for their enthusiastic fans, too.
Knowing the franchise was based in Tokyo when he played for the Tigers, Carlyle seemed a bit surprised the team has garnered so many supporters now.
“I think that they’ve acquired a new fan base up in Sapporo,” said Carlyle, who had given up just one run in nine innings in two preseason games as of Tuesday.
“The Sapporo people feel like they have their team, instead of sharing a team,” Carlyle said. “So the fans are very passionate. They are very warm people and welcoming. Hopefully, we can produce some good games for them.”
Just as the Fighters are a different team compared to eight years ago, Carlyle, who was 8-7 with the Atlanta Braves in 2007, is a different pitcher. He thinks he has gotten better since then — although he feels it’s natural that any ballplayer is different from the past.
“Anybody changes a lot in 10 years,” Carlyle said. “It’s hard to remember who you were 10 years ago. (But) as a baseball player, definitely I’ve gotten better.
“I’m still 32 and definitely not old. I feel good and stronger. So hopefully, I can produce.”
Carlyle also emphasized that mental maturation has helped him become a better pitcher just as much as learning more techniques did.
“I think the biggest thing is not to be hard-headed,” said Carlyle, a native of Omaha, Neb. “Sometimes you think you should do something. But some days when you are pitching and it doesn’t work, you can’t keep throwing it if it’s not working that day.
“Some days you may have to switch and throw stuff you are a little more uncomfortable with. But I think having different options is the blessing with getting older.”
Meanwhile, Carlyle has another motivational factor pushing him to play to his best ability: He’s been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which caused him to miss much of last season while playing for the Braves.
He said that he has already found diabetic children in Japan and received letters from some of them.
Carlyle said he wants to encourage them by showing them his performance on the field.
“Since it’s not a very prevalent disease here, the kids that have it may feel they are different,” said Carlyle, who has to inject himself with insulin a few times a day. “But maybe with me, showing how to pitch at the highest level, it’s not that bad.”