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Don’t be fooled by the menacing fu-manchu and the pitcher’s glare. Hanshin Tigers left-hander Trey Moore is actually a friendly, down-to-earth family man from Texas, but don’t tell opposing hitters that.

Moore, a 29-year-old pitcher in his first season in Japan who spent the previous four years in the Montreal Expos and Atlanta Braves organizations, is a key contributor to Hanshin’s hot start this year. Through his last start on April 20 — a 10-2 home win over the Yomiuri Giants — Moore was 3-0 with a stingy 1.29 ERA.

Almost as impressive is Moore’s batting average. The 1994 second-round pick of the Seattle Mariners is hitting a lofty .454 (5-for-11).

I caught up with Moore recently at the Tigers’ home ground, venerable Koshien Stadium in Osaka.

You guys are off to a great start this season. Have you ever experienced anything like the atmosphere here at Koshien Stadium?

It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve started the year strong and I thinks it’s a good sign. As far as the atmosphere, I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life. I’ve been to a lot of venues and I’ve pitched in front of a lot of people and I’ve been to a lot of college football games where there’s been 80,000 people on hand, and I’ve still never seen anything like this.

My parents were here last night and they agreed. I tried to describe it over the Internet but you can’t put it in words. They agreed and now they’re going to have a hard time trying to explain it when they go home.

So the fanatic oendan cheering sections kind of took you by surprise?

You hear about it but you kind of take it with a grain of salt and think, “Well OK, I imagine they’re a little bit crazy.” But once you see it, you’re like “Wow!” They love this team, there’s no doubt about it.

What kind of adjustments have you had to make as a pitcher here in Japan?

Stuff-wise, I haven’t had to make that big of a change. I’ve had to make an adjustment as far as in between innings you get five pitches, so you’ve got to get accustomed to throwing in front of the dugout with two outs, that was kind of strange.

A lot of times the surface of the mound is different, where they don’t have a lot of clay here, so that was an adjustment.

How does facing Japanese hitters compare to your experience against major-league batters?

The similarities are that if you make mistakes here in Japan, you’re going to pay for it just like you do in the big leagues. The difference is that when you pay for it, it’s not as drastic. You’ve got the big sluggers in America and if you miss there you’re going to give up a home run, where here you might give up a single or a double or something like that. It seems like more consistently the power hitters in America tend to capitalize on your mistakes a lot more.

Not that they don’t here, by any means. (Yomiuri Giants slugger Hideki) Matsui proved that last night. I threw a terrible pitch to him and the rest is history. (Matsui homered in the 10-2 loss to Hanshin.)

You’ve been very successful here so far. What level of pro ball would you compare the Japan league to back home?

It’s hard to say. I’m throwing well right now. My career ERA in the big leagues was around a 6.00, and because where I’m at right now I don’t want to say that this is any easier. I have the luxury of being a new guy, where teams haven’t seen me.

I think as we progress, I’ll have a better idea of what’s in store for me and what the league has to offer. We play the same teams 27 times or something like that, so it’ll change as the year goes on and I’m sure it’ll become more difficult.

I was only kidding earlier about using you as a pinch hitter, but you really have been swinging the bat well.

(Laughing) I led the big leagues in hitting last year and slugging percentage, I think. I hit 1.000 with a 2.000 slugging percentage, those are pretty tough numbers, he said jokingly. (Moore doubled in his only at-bat for the Braves in 2001.)

But I hit a lot in college (at Texas A&M) where I was a left-handed DH and I’ve always loved to hit and I take it real serious. It’s another way to keep me in the ballgame and help myself out, to contribute to the team’s success.

Unlike some pitchers, you look like an all-around athlete. What kind of sports did you play as a kid?

Growing up I played a lot of baseball and I played a little football in high school. I think it’s just a luxury of good genes. Having the experience of playing every day, regardless of the level, you get a knack for it and I’ve just tried to stick with it and get my hacks and make them count.

Japanese ballclubs often have their own rather unique training methods, which can lead to problems with foreign players. Have you had any negative experiences in that regard?

I think (Tigers manager Senichi) Hoshino had a big hand in that, as far as dealing with the foreign pitchers and knowing that we can’t approach the game like these guys do. We can’t go and throw back-to-back days 150 pitches in the bullpen. We haven’t been doing that since we were 10 years old like these guys have and they’re used to it, their bodies have grown accustomed to it where we would break down quick.

Hoshino told us “Take your time, go at your own pace.” I had surgery in ’98 and it took me 18 months to get back, so I have my routine and I’m not about to change from that. It’s worked for the last year and a half and I’ve made it perfectly clear through everybody I’ve talked to that this is what works for me, I know it works and I don’t want to take any chances because I’ve been down that road and it’s a bumpy one.

What’s your initial impression of Japan in general?

I’m really intrigued by the whole Japanese culture. I think traditionally it’s just a wake-up call, the respect of the elders and the greetings and stuff like that, and the people here are so nice.

Just wait until you guys lose a few games.

Yeah, I said that yesterday in the paper. They love us now, but if they’re this excited when we win, I’d hate to see it when we get 50,000 fans mad at us. There’s no telling what will happen.

But it really hasn’t been as big of a culture shock as I thought it would have been, coming from Texas, a smalltown country boy. When I went to Tokyo and my wife and two children came with me it was a little overwhelming, because when we’re on Rokko Island (where the Moores live in Osaka) you get spoiled thinking this is what Japan’s like, quiet. And then when we were in Tokyo with all the people moving it looked like you kicked over a fire ants’ nest, there were just people going everywhere. You’d just grab a hold of each kid and pray. (Laughs)

The fast pace and people driving on the wrong side of the road, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to drive here.

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