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How Mr. Baseball became a reference for players traveling to Japan


Martinez admitted a similar doubt before accepting the way things were done there.

“They had some really unique balance transfer exercises where you use a barbell or a stick on your shoulders and move side to side and land on one leg, putting your glute in a kind of position of power,” Martinez recalled. “When you first do it, it looks really silly, so you half do it because it feels like eyewash. But when you take the time to learn it and get into a rhythm doing it, you’re like, ‘Man, I can feel my butt.’ It makes you more aware of your balance and where your power comes from. It’s really cool.”

Rex Hudler is probably the first player to have been able to use the film as a resource. He signed with the Yakult Swallows after the 1992 season, right after the movie was released. His introduction was the in-flight entertainment on the plane that took him to Tokyo to become a real-life version of Jack Elliot.

“I used it as a reference for the most part,” Hudler said. “Nobody else on the plane was going there to play Japanese baseball, so they were all laughing. I was being watched and soaked everything like a sponge.

In eight major league seasons up to that point, Hudler had played for Hall of Fame managers Yogi Berra, Earl Weaver, Whitey Herzog and Joe Torre. That didn’t prepare him for Katsuya Nomura, his manager in Japan and a Hall of Fame wide receiver known for his biting candor and distrust of foreign players.

Hudler recalled being stunned when Nomura sent the performer to the circle on the bridge with ill-timed reminders to strike. Hudler relied on the kind of ingenuity and diplomacy needed to save face in Japan.

“I said to the interpreter, ‘Hey, listen, I’m a little offended by this here,'” Hudler said. “’I’m a professional baseball player, I’ve been for 15 years, so the next time he sends you here, don’t you dare tell me what he’s saying. Just say, ‘Hey, Hud, take a big hit. He will never know what you told me. From then on, every time he went out, that’s what he said and everyone was happy.


nytimes sport

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