Nate Minchey hovered near the home dugout at Tokyo Dome as the Yomiuri Giants practiced, but there was no missing him. Being conspicuous isn’t exactly a trait of many 203 cm and above.
Not that Minchey was trying to hide. He greeted every player with a smile, some with a handshake and hearty laugh. Giants catcher Shinnosuke Abe had to look skyward to offer a quick “good morning,” and new Giant Josh Fields stopped to exchange pleasantries.
Minchey, a former NPB pitcher and now an international scout for the Giants, is in Japan for a visit and happy to be back. He seems even more delighted to still be a part of the game.
“I enjoy what I do,” Minchey said. “I enjoy being back in baseball and being around the game.”
Enough to slip on the uniform again?
“We always in our minds think, ‘I’ve still got it,’ ” Minchey said. “All it takes is just to get out on the field and throw and see how it feels the next day,” he joked. “Then you know, the train’s left the station.”
“But I miss being on the field. I miss the competition. Competing against another guy, a hitter, and seeing who’s better.
He scouted Asia for the Cleveland Indians for awhile after his playing days before eventually finding his current position.
Minchey spent seven years in Japan as a player, first with the Hiroshima Carp (1998-2000) then with the Chiba Lotte Marines (2001-2004).
He has a career 74-70 record, 3.64 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in Japan. Twice he was a 15-game winner and in 2001, he won the Pacific League ERA title, posting a 3.26 ERA despite a 12-14 record.
“It was a great experience,” Minchey said of playing in Japan. “There have been a whole lot of guys come over who don’t come back. I take great pride in the fact that I was able to come over and make the needed adjustments and have a successful career over here.
“That’s what I tell these guys that I bring over. That more guys go home than stay. So if you can make the adjustments and be successful over here, you’ve done something pretty special.”
Minchey was in a difficult spot from the moment he stepped off the plane back in 1998, separated from friends and family by an ocean and from his new teammates by the language barrier.
“My first year on the Carp, I was the only foreign player on the team,” Minchey said. “That may have helped me. I didn’t have another American to sit and complain to.
“I came over with the mind-set I was going to do what they asked me to, and it worked out for me.”
He’s still friendly with members from that Carp team, including good friend Kenjiro Nomura, a former star who is now the team’s manager.
“I had some good teammates, the Japanese guys,” Minchey said. “I had Nomura at shortstop, who was the team captain and kind of took me under his wing, helped me out and helped me make adjustments. On days off if I needed a dinner or that sort of thing. It was great to have somebody like that and to feel like the team wanted me there.”
Minchey has a wealth of experience to draw upon if the players he brings over need advice. He also has a keen insight on the struggles Japanese players go through when they head stateside.
“It’s the same going both ways,” Minchey said. “You’re in a new environment that you’re expected to perform in. Something maybe the fans don’t understand is that sometimes the smallest things can make a big difference.
“The food (for instance). If you’re in a place where you can’t get the food that you like and day in and day out you’re having to eat something that you don’t like. Even something as small as that, something you don’t realize, can make a big difference. Or you don’t like where you live or there’s a coach on the team that you don’t like. Some of those things can be very distracting.”
Minchey enjoys his current status, but don’t expect to see the big Texan slipping on a uniform again to manage anytime soon.
“I don’t think I’d ever like to manage,” he said. “I might explore being a pitching coach. I think I would enjoy that at the right level. In the right circumstances, I think I’d like to be a coach.”