By coming to Japan and signing with the Hiroshima Carp, Jason Pridie hopes to have found the one thing he’s searched for throughout his career: an opportunity.
Pridie, currently preparing for his first year in NPB, spent time on a major league roster in seven of the last eight years. But each of those stints amounted to little more than a cup of coffee. The exception was in 2011, when he appeared in 101 games for the New York Mets.
“That was real frustrating,” Pridie told The Japan Times. “You never think that’s going to happen. I’m not the only story, there are so many guys. I’m fortunate enough to be able to get this opportunity in Japan. I know some guys back home who have never gotten this opportunity to come and continue their career or play at this level.”
Pridie played for six clubs (the Twins, Mets, Rockies, Phillies, Orioles and Athletics) in the majors. This past offseason, he accessed his options and jumped at the chance to play in Japan when the Carp came calling.
Now, instead of worrying about things that are outside his control, the 32-year-old native of Phoenix, Arizona, is simply trying to get acclimated to his new environment while preparing for the season. He’s played in 12 preseason games through Sunday, hitting .250 with a home run, four RBIs and a stolen base.
“The big thing, as far as me at the plate hitting, is just the different way they pitch me, offspeed in different counts, fastballs in different counts,” he said. “It’s all the same as far as pitches, just my mentality coming from the States is different. You get 2-0 fastballs, 3-1, 3-2 fastballs (in the U.S.). You get here, 3-2, I’ve seen split-fingers, I’ve seen all this crazy stuff. So trying to adjust to that mentally has been the biggest thing as far as that.
“The other thing is how long some of these guys work, the everyday infield. I like it now. When I first got here I was like, ‘my arm is gonna fall off.’ I’ve taken more infield here than I took in 15 years of my life. But it’s good. You can see why these guys are so fundamentally sound, make all these plays and do so well.”
Pridie is one of the new additions, along with former Chunichi Dragons infielder Hector Luna, the Carp will pair with slugger Brad Eldred and veteran Takahiro Arai in their lineup. Despite not spending much time in the majors, Pridie was a productive player in the U.S., hitting .278 with a .762 on-base plus slugging percentage, 134 home runs and 223 stolen bases across 14 seasons in various levels of the minor leagues.
He believes he was good enough to have earned more of a chance in MLB with his numbers. Opportunity just never knocked.
“There were times where I just thought, ‘is it worth it?’ he said. “You know, you do everything you can do, and put up numbers and just be a big league player and not get a shot. Whether it be because of the roster, whether it be because someone’s making money, whether it be because there’s a name on somebody, there are so many different factors.
“You never think that when you sign. You think, ‘If I play well, I’m going to get there.’ Then as you start playing, you realize that’s not always the case.”
Pridie isn’t dwelling on the past. He’s taking in and enjoying life in Japan as much as possible off the field and getting used to everything on the diamond. He’s come across many people with NPB experience during his career, and received a lot of background about what he was getting himself into before arriving.
“I called Eldred and talked to him for a little bit,” Pridie said. “I played for (Mets manager) Terry Collins, he managed here for awhile, Matt Clark (a former Dragons player), I played against for years. There are just so many people I’ve been around throughout the years. So I kind of had an idea.”
Pridie says he’s coming along at about the same rate he does every spring. He said the major adjustments have been more about how the Japanese approach baseball stylistically, rather than the game itself.
“Still gotta see the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball, all that stuff,” he said. “There are no big secrets to what’s going on.”
One thing that hasn’t really been comparable to the majors is the atmosphere of NPB games, where cheering sections sing songs, play instruments, and wave flags throughout each contest.
“The atmosphere is like college football, that’s how I explain it,” Pridie said. “It’s unbelievable. It’s such a cool feeling to hear that, and have everyone into the game and hear all the fans, the cheers and everything. When you do something good the whole place goes nuts.
“Back home there’s a couple of places, more once you get into the playoffs. That’s when it starts to be bigger crowds and stuff. Just regular-season games . . . I mean, this is spring training and this is more intense than anything I’ve ever played in. I love it.”