NISHINOMIYA, HYOGO PREF. - Jason Standridge draped a towel around his neck, gathered his cleats under his left arm, and descended down the stairs in the dugout on the third base side on his way toward the visitor’s locker room on Friday night at Koshien Stadium, the day before the Japan Series.
For four seasons, from 2010 to 2013, Standridge made this walk on the other side of the field as a member of the Hanshin Tigers. Back then he’d disappear into the home dugout after practice. During games, he’d leave the field more times than not to the adoration of the Hanshin faithful, who filled the stands night after night.
If they’re cheering when he leaves on Saturday night, then things won’t have gone well for the Alabama native or the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks team he suits up for now. When he takes the hill at Koshien this time, in Game 1 of the Japan Series, instead of giving the crowd something to cheer about, Standridge will be trying to silence them. The right-hander said it doesn’t feel weird to face his former teammates in the Japanese Fall Classic. He’s looking forward to it, actually.
“This is pretty cool, being able to play these guys in the Japan Series,” he said during the Hawks’ practice on Friday. “It worked out for both of us. I’m pretty excited about it. It’ll be fun. It’ll be fun to pitch against these guys again. I enjoyed it last time I was here, pitching earlier in the season. Hopefully I’ll have the same outcome.”
The last time Standridge was in Koshien Stadium, he threw a three-hit shutout in a 6-0 Softbank win. That, however, was during the regular season. Now he’s pitching in the Japan Series in what he says will be the most important game of his career.
“I’ve never pitched in the playoffs in the big leagues,” Standridge said. “In the minor leagues, yeah, but I feel this is the biggest game I’ve pitched in probably.”
Because of the years he spent with the Tigers, Standridge will be familiar with most of the players he’ll face in Game 1. On the flip side, the Tigers will know what to expect from him as well.
“He was one of the main pitchers on the team until last year,” Tigers manager Yutaka Wada said. “By some twist of fate, we’ll have to face him here.”
Standridge remains fond of his time in a Hanshin uniform. He’s happy for his former teammates, but at the same time, wants to keep them from wrapping their paws around the ultimate prize. This year at least.
“We had some good times,” Standridge said. “It’s stuff like that you won’t ever forget. You won’t ever forget certain teammates. I’m really happy for them to be here. I’ve got a lot of friends over there. You play with those guys for four years, so you get to know them, they’re buddies. I look forward to competing against them, but I also congratulate them on having a great season and being here.”
Standridge is a native of Birmingham, Alabama, and played baseball for Hewitt-Trussville High School in Trussville, Alabama, a Birmingham suburb. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays took him in the first round of the 1997 amateur draft, with the 31st pick, and he made his MLB debut for the team in 2001. He remained with Tampa until 2004 and later had stints with the Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds and Kansas City Royals.
Standridge was signed by the Hawks in the middle of the 2007 season in Japan and debuted as a reliever on June 23 of that year. Standridge and his family liked their life in Fukuoka, and though he carved out a niche for himself there, he signed with the Tigers in 2010.
He went 11-5 with a 3.49 ERA for Hanshin in 2010. The Tigers fielded a strong team that season, finishing in second place, one game behind the Central League champion Chunichi Dragons. Standridge produced more solid seasons over the ensuing three years, but he wasn’t retained by the team after the 2013 campaign, leading to his return to Fukuoka.
“He was such a large part of this team for four seasons,” said Tigers outfielder Matt Murton. He did an amazing job. It’s just too bad the year he leaves, we’re able to make it. But then he’s here also.”
Standridge went 11-8 for Softbank this season, tying for the team lead in wins, and posted a team-best 3.30 ERA with a 1.24 WHIP.
He’s toiled in Japan for seven seasons to this point. Most of that time was spent pitching on the mound he’ll stand on as the enemy in Game 1.
“It’s actually a pretty surreal thing,” Standridge said. “I started with these guys (the Hawks), then go over to the Tigers. I have some really good friends over there. To be able to see those guys have a successful season and be able to be in the Japan Series, just like myself, it’s a lot of fun. It’s just a cool experience. I’m definitely going to take every moment in for sure.”