Fred Lewis’ first season with the Hiroshima Carp will be mostly spent getting used to Japanese, ouendans and games that can end in ties. Luckily, the 32-year old is already used to playing baseball at a high level, and for now that’s enough.
“It feels good,” Lewis said of his experience in Japan thus far. “I get a chance to continue my career and show my talent. I just love to play the game of baseball. Just happy to showcase it here in Japan. It feels good to be wanted in such a great game that I’ve played my whole life. I’m just happy to be here.”
If everything goes as planned, Carp fans will be just as happy by the end of the season, because Lewis could give the team another offensive threat in an offense that’s been among the more pedestrian in Japan in recent years.
“We picked up another bat,” infielder Brad Eldred said, “that never hurts.”
Lewis spent the 2012 season in the New York Mets organization. He only appeared in 18 games on the top team, but had a strong year for the Buffalo Bisons (then the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate), hitting .294 with 13 home runs, 45 RBIs, 25 stolen bases and an .862 on-base plus slugging percentage in 108 games.
He’s played part of seven seasons in the majors for the San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays, Cincinnati Reds and the Mets. He saw his most time in the big leagues over a three-year stretch from 2008-10, during which he played 365 games and hit .269 with 21 home runs, 96 RBIs and 46 stolen bases.
Lewis had heard in passing about opportunities in Japan in the past, and this year decided to go ahead and take the leap after gathering information from other foreign NPB players.
“I had a teammate last year, Bobby Scales, he came over,” Lewis said. “He gave me a little insight. I talked to quite a few people about coming over here. Matt Murton, I talked to him and some others who I’m forgetting right now. I made the decision on my own. I talked it over with my family, and I just didn’t want to make a mistake.”
A number of hurdles await first-time foreign players in Japan, and the language barrier is among the most daunting. Something Lewis is finding out everyday.
“These guys, they took me in,” Lewis said of his Carp teammates. “The bad part about it is, I just can’t speak Japanese. I want to learn to speak it, because that’s the most uncomfortable part. I can’t speak Japanese and I like to communicate with my teammates and other people who are around me.”
Lewis got off to a slow start in his first weekend in Japan, finishing 2-for-12 with a double in the Carp’s opening series against the Yomiuri Giants, which resulted in two close losses and a tie. Still, the Carp’s new addition has come to Japan full of confidence and hoping to show the world what he can still do on the diamond.
“There’s a lot of personal goals that I’ve set,” Lewis said. “I’d just like to play the game of baseball. I’m a winner. I just like to win. That’s the main thing about me. I’m a competitor, I like to fight. That’s one thing that you’re going to see out of me throughout my success here that I’m going to have.”