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HARD DRIVES: Transition game hard to Swallow

by John E. Gibson (Jul 30, 2008)

For fielders, making the glove-to-hand transfer is one of the most natural yet risky transitions demanded on the field.

But players do it without thinking.

For foreign players in Japan, being asked to make on-field and off-field adjustments demands more attention.

And those demands can make players think twice.

Tokyo Yakult Swallows in-season pickup Wilson Valdez is a recent case in point.

The strong-armed shortstop started the season in South Korea with the Kia Tigers and was in the midst of getting into the swing there when a monkey wrench entered the system and fouled things up beyond repair.

"It was kind of crazy," Valdez said. "I made some kind of play and they said that we don't play that kind of baseball," Valdez told Hard Drives on Saturday, describing a showy-but-necessary bare-handed grab and throw to first.

"I got this ground ball, I caught it with my hand and threw it to first base," Valdez said of a play infielders routinely have to make.

After making the out, he got yanked from the game and wasn't at all happy about it.

"They said you have to follow the rules. I said, 'What rules?'

"It's something you never expect. I just made the play and they took me out of the game."

The 30-year-old Valdez said he took matters into both hands, going straight to the top to discuss things.

"I went face-to-face with the manager and I said, "You know what? You don't want me here, just release me and [I'll] go home!'"

Valdez, born in the Dominican Republic, said it took four days, but the team granted him his wish, and he was released at the end of May.

The infielder ended up with the Swallows on June 9. That move was going well, until recently.

Valdez has made some spectacular plays at a position where highly regarded Shinya Miyamoto has been a fixture for much of his 14-year career.

But Valdez committed five errors in just 28 games and that led the team brass to give offseason pickup Keizo Kawashima some time at short.

Valdez said he will be professional about yet another transition in his Asian baseball experience.

After being happy as a lark to be a Swallow, he is singing a different tune. In fact, he hinted that he might be having Kia flashbacks.

"There's no big difference," Valdez said of the way Korean and Japanese teams view and handle foreign players. "It's kind of different here and in Korea, too. As long as you do your job, you know you're going to play.

"The way we play in America is different, but I just have to try to enjoy, do my best and see what's going to happen."

Just like the transition from glove to hand, Valdez said thinking only gets in the way.

"I was enjoying it, but now it's like, I don't know. I don't what they're thinking; I don't know what they're doing," said Valdez, hitting a respectable .270--mostly from the lower third of the order.

"But I try to not to think too much. I try to be patient and wait for my time," said Valdez, batting .364 with runners in scoring position.

On the defensive side, he has made some sparkling plays from deep in the hole at short, but said even that facet of his game has been scrutinized by the Swallows.

"I know I made a few throws on one hop and a couple of throws wild, but nothing that's too [bad].

"They say my defense is OK," said Valdez, who remains confident even though the team has hinted that his play could be better.

"They have to wait and see. A few games--that's nothing. I've been playing this game for a long time and I know I can play, but they don't think I can play."

The Swallows, who have been pecking their way into the CL playoff picture in fourth place, have had issues with their foreign players this season, eventually dumping infielder Adam Riggs on July 14.

And now it seems the transition game is a tough pill for this Swallow to take.


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