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Sledge happy to be playing a child's game

by Jim Allen (Jun 2, 2010)

Terrmel Sledge never wants to forget he's paid to play a kid's game.

In a country where the expectations for foreign players, especially veteran major leaguers, are sky high, learning to cope is essential.

"Focus on the simplicity of the game," The Yokohama BayStars outfielder told The Daily Yomiuri on Tuesday at Saitama Seibu Dome.

"It's simple. It's competition. I [want to] get into an emotional situation where it's just me and the pitcher competing; in the outfield, me and the batter."

While his surroundings have changed, the game and its essence have not.

In two seasons in Sapporo, Sledge hit .277 with 43 homers and drew more than his share of walks. Before Tuesday's game, he was batting just .229 but was leading the BayStars in home runs, RBIs and walks.

"I never thought I'd leave Sapporo," Sledge said. "They gave me the chance to restart my career."

When the BayStars played their interleague series at Sapporo Dome, the Fighters fans welcomed Sledge, a key contributor to their 2009 Pacific League pennant.

"There's no better feeling," he said of his reception. "All [the Japanese fans] are really into the game. They love the game."

It's hard to feel any other way when one has witnessed the "Inaba jump."

When Atsunori Inaba comes to the plate at a crucial juncture, jumping Fighters fans literally rock Sapporo Dome. One's initiation to the ritual is memorable.

"[The first time] I was in the on-deck circle, and I wasn't watching Inaba. I was watching the fans," Sledge said.

His first love growing up in Southern California was basketball, but his ability to hit a baseball was a marketable skill.

"I knew where my talent was," the former guard said. "I was 6 feet (1.83 meters) tall and couldn't jump out of the gym."

After his senior year at Long Beach State, Sledge was taken in the eighth round by the Seattle Mariners in June 1999, but he says his draft position didn't matter to him.

"You're so young, you're really not thinking," he said. "You just want to get better and get to the major leagues."

Sledge, however, was thinking. He held out for a couple of days until the Mariners agreed to pay for the courses needed to complete his degree in liberal studies.

Sledge was traded three times. A .247 hitter over four seasons in the majors, Sledge hit .229 in limited playing time for the Padres in 2006. He batted .210 the next season in 200 at-bats and was sold to the Fighters after the 2007 season.

Asked if he would have done anything differently, Sledge said he would have learned sooner to ignore things beyond his control.

"When I was playing in the States, I didn't understand, that all the business and politics...doesn't matter," he said. "What matters is between the white lines."

What's between the white lines is a children's game that is both simple and maddeningly difficult. Yet it also provides for his family.

"My family inspires me," he said. "To try and teach them [my children] to not do the things I did, that's the most gratifying thing. Because children really grow up to be exactly like their parents."

In other baseball news:

--Chunichi Dragons' right-hander Maximo Nelson returned to action for the first time since being caught with a bullet in his luggage at Naha airport on Feb. 26.

Nelson was not charged by police, but the team suspended him for three months.

He threw three scoreless innings in a Western League game at Nagoya Stadium, hitting 150 kph with his fastball.


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