HIROSHIMA – Brad Eldred wants to savor every moment of this trip to the Japan Series. From every crack of the bat, every ouendan song and the thwack heard when the ball hits a glove, he wants to remember all of it. It’s Eldred’s first time here, and he’s not taking it for granted.
“It’s hard to get here,” he said with a smile in the Hiroshima Carp dugout at Mazda Stadium on Sunday. “You never know if you’re gonna get back.”
That’s something Carp fans know all too well.
The Carp haven’t been to the Japan Series since 1991, and Eldred was one of the many newcomers who got their first experience in the Japanese Fall Classic off to a positive start with a 5-1 Carp victory over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in Game 1 on Saturday.
Eldred hit a home run and finished with a pair of RBIs for the Carp in the victory.
“It was great,” Eldred said. “There was some serious buildup coming up to the game, had a lot of days off and we knew we were facing a good team. We had a tough pitcher yesterday and we came out and swung the bats well and we pitched well and it was a great game to get the first win.”
Eldred said he hasn’t had any problems dealing with the increased attention from fans and media that comes with being in the Japan Series. He actually feels all the hoopla can be a positive thing.
“I think it brings a little bit more focus, at least for me,” he said. “I feel like it makes you concentrate a little bit more, get a little more focus, because the stakes are a lot higher and you’re trying so hard. Of course during the regular season, you want to win every game, but during this kind of series, a short series, you’re fighting for every out. So I think you’re more into it, you’re more focused and there’s just a lot more excitement involved.”
Eldred tried to keep his routine as normal as possible in the days leading up to the series and stuck to his normal gameday regimen before the opener.
“Just did the same batting practice, the same routines, nothing different,” he said. “As far as the mental approach, it was just the opposite of what you would think, instead of being overly ready or overly aggressive for a good fastball, I just wanted to see it really well and wait to see it before swinging.
“(Being too aggressive) kind of works to the advantage of a guy who throws harder, because guys are more ready to swing and they end up swinging at a lot of bad pitches. So I kept to that (being patient) pretty well yesterday.”
Few players in Japan throw as hard as the Fighters’ Shohei Otani, who threw the fastest pitch in NPB history, 165 kph, during the final stage of the Pacific League Climax Series. Otani hit 158 with his first pitch on Saturday.
Eldred went 1-for-3 against the Fighters star, though his one hit was a pretty big one. He said he wasn’t surprised by the way Otani approached their matchups.
“The one at-bat he struck me out (in the sixth) is the one time he caught me off guard,” Eldred said. “Because I worked to get to 3-2 and was able to get away from some sliders, take some tough sliders. And I was like, ‘there’s no way he’s throwing slider here 3-2,’ and he threw me a 3-2 slider. He’s smart, he knows what he’s doing.”
Being in the Japan Series is a new experience for many of the players, but it’s also been a long time for their fans, and the excitement around Hiroshima has been hard to miss.
“The fans are everywhere,” Eldred said. “They see you on the street and they’re all over you. They want to say hello. It’s good. It’s great that there’s this much excitement. It’s been a long time since we’ve been in this position. They’re having a great time. We were able to get the Central League pennant, so they’re real excited about that. Now we’re here and were fighting for this.”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5