Surviving the first few days of spring training is the initial step for most first-year foreign players in their adjustment to life in NPB. Japanese clubs don’t pull many punches during camp early on, and feature a much heavier workload than teams in MLB and other western leagues.
Jamie Romak, a new infielder for the Yokohama BayStars, got his crash course on Day 1.
“I remember my very first day, I hit for pretty much an hour and a half straight,” he told The Japan Times at Yokohama Stadium earlier this week. “My hands were just destroyed, and I was exhausted. I’d never done anything like that before. In the (United) States, we take four rounds of six swings. Here, we hit for 10 minutes straight, and then more off the tee. I think physically adjusting to the amount of work was huge.”
Not used to going so hard this early, it took him a few days to get adjusted.
“It was four days in, and our first four days of camp were really, really tough,” Romak said. “Really long and a ton of running. I remember thinking after the fourth day, I was like ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this for another month, let alone be here through October.’ But it slowed down. The workload cut back a little bit, and between that and my body just adapting to what we do, I think it just got a little bit easier.”
Everything is an adjustment for the 30-year old London, Ontario, native these days. Romak had never been to Japan before arriving in late January, so nearly everything he’s done has been a new experience. He’s enjoying trying out new food and communicating with people off the field, while working to get used to everything on the diamond.
“If I’m leading off an inning, and a new pitcher comes in, I’ve never faced these guys,” he said. “I have a guy walk up to me with a sheet that says he throws seven different pitches and here’s all the speeds, and I have to find a way to beat this guy. The wheels start spinning real quick.
“That will slow down. Getting to see these pitchers firsthand will slow things down and then I think it’ll be all good.”
Romak has played in four official preseason games and is 5-for-13 with a double, two home runs and three RBIs. These games, like the practice contests that came before, give him a chance to adjust to the Japanese style of pitching. He’s also getting advice from first-year BayStars manager Alex Ramirez, who had 2,017 hits and a .301 average during his 13 seasons as an NPB player.
“Alex and I have made mechanical adjustments to my swing,” Romak said. “He just thought that the style of the game in the States, as hard as they throw, the swing I was using there might not be as effective here, because they throw a little slower. We worked on some mechanical stuff to help me just stay back a little longer and see the slower stuff a little bit longer.
“Putting that into the game has been an adjustment in itself, as well as just the style of pitching: the slower breaking balls, really good command, zones a little bit wider than what I’m used to. Just a lot of different stuff.”
Romak was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 2003 and had brief stints with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he made his MLB debut, and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
He spent most of 2015 with the Triple-A Reno Aces, the Diamondbacks affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. Romak led the PCL with 27 home runs, tied for the league lead with 42 doubles and drove in 100 runs. As he began to draw attention from NPB clubs, Romak did some research of his own, reaching out to fellow Canadian Scott Mathieson, who is currently preparing for his fifth year with the Yomiuri Giants.
“He’s been great,” Romak said. “He was really helpful. Aaron Guiel, who played for the Swallows back in the day, he was awesome. I talked to him a bunch.”
Advice is good, but as Romak is learning, experience is often the best teacher.
“Every day, I’m trying to take something in and learn and also trying to be productive during the games,” he said. “It can be kind of overwhelming, but I think it’s going better and better each day.”