The beard adorning Jason Standridge’s face gives the Trussville, Alabama, native the look of a grizzled veteran.
He smiled wide as he ran his fingers across it and noted, almost wistfully, that a date with a razor was forthcoming, meaning the look wouldn’t be around for much longer.
The 37-year-old Standridge has been around for quite a while himself, and he’s not planning on going anywhere just yet. He’s on a new team this year, having signed with the Chiba Lotte Marines, but the eight-year NPB veteran doesn’t view it as fresh start, just a new challenge.
“I think it’s just more of a different opportunity,” Standridge told The Japan Times. “I’m still in the same league (the Pacific League) I’ve been in the past couple of years. I feel pretty comfortable in this league and I feel pretty comfortable about how to throw to the hitters and stuff like that. I’m excited about this new opportunity and excited about being with a different team.”
Standridge, expected to be part of the Marines’ rotation this year, is preparing for his 21st professional season. He spent the first 12 in the United States, a period that also saw him play with four clubs over seven seasons in MLB, where he saw the most action with the Cincinnati Reds. He’s spent his last eight seasons in Japan with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks (two stints) and Hanshin Tigers.
He was a double-digit winner for SoftBank in each of the past two years. In 2014, Standridge pitched in the opening game of the Japan Series, against the Tigers, and last year he earned the victory in the fifth and final game of the 2015 Japanese Fall Classic.
After having achieved so much and played for so long, coming back for another year was not a given.
The right-hander may be a baseball lifer, but he’s also a family man who says he’s looking forward to getting more chances to “just be a dad,” in the future. After talking it over with his family during the offseason, Standridge decided to keep playing, well aware retirement will come sooner rather than later.
“Being 37, I’ve thought about it more the past couple of years than I have ever,” he said. “So I just wasn’t sure. After the season I had last year, I threw the ball well, I felt like I could still get guys out. I won 10 games, so I’m like, ‘I can still help a team out if they need me.’
“I feel like I still have a lot to offer. I don’t necessarily know after this year what’s going to happen, if this is my last year or not. I’m just kind of taking it one year at a time and just enjoying the last bit of my career.”
Standridge has pitched in a pair of open-sen contests this spring, allowing a run on five hits with four strikeouts in 6⅔ innings. As a veteran, he knows most of the tricks of the trade when it comes to preparation during the spring and between outings, even if it doesn’t come as easily as it once did.
“I would say each year adjustment-wise has been different, because I’ve gotten older,” Standridge said. “Just realizing how my body is, it takes a little bit longer to prepare, a little bit longer to get ready. So it’s just the adjustment of trying to listen to my body, but also pushing harder when I need to push harder.
“Mechanically, there were some things I made adjustments with during spring training. I made some adjustments I felt really good about. Hopefully it carries over into the season.”
One thing Standridge looks forward to when the season begins is a chance to take on his former SoftBank teammates. He’s seen what the Hawks’ powerful lineup can do to pitchers, but a challenge is a challenge, and Standridge isn’t one to back down.
“It’s something that I definitely look forward to, absolutely,” he said. “Because it’s a good challenge. It’s a great lineup, but many times we were shut out when I was with them. If you make your pitches and you do what you’re supposed to do and execute, then you’re going to get them out just like anybody.”