Lars Anderson Discovers Japan, Part 5

In the previous installment of this series, Lars Anderson told us about his friend Gary Malec — the founder of Birdman Bats — visiting him in Japan. It was there that Malec met, and was befriended by, Anderson’s Kochi Fighting Dogs teammate Manny Ramirez. The installment ended with mention of the “Gary-Manny bromance,” and we’ll continue the story here in Part 5.

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Lars Anderson: “We embarked in the now Manny-filled Manny Van on a road trip to play the Tokushima Indigo Socks in Tokushima Prefecture. Zak was in the front, with Gary and Manny sitting side by side in the middle row’s captain’s chairs. I was sprawled across the back. Aside from the bizarre and wonderful conversation, the drive itself was harrowing. It was raining for the first time in weeks, and our driver was flying. I said to Zak, ‘Hey, can we get this guy to slow down a bit?’ Zak said, ‘What do you mean slow down? He’s only going 150 KPH.’ I responded, ‘Yeah, man, that’s like 93 mph.’ ‘Oh,’ said Zak.

“To take our minds off our impending doom, we started watching Josh Donaldson batting highlights, which turned into watching Manny highlights, which turned into a hitting-mechanics summit. The ever-curious Manny began asking Gary his opinion on hitting, and Gary stepped right up to the plate (I’m funny) and delivered his pitch (I really am). Manny took a great liking to his pontification and remained glued to Gary’s side for the rest of the day.

“He had Gary analyze his setup and stance in the bullpen, and flip him balls on the field before the game. Gary was sitting in Manny’s personal locker room during the game — a space right behind home plate — and Manny would report to him after each at-bat for Gary’s own in-game take. Gary relayed to me, ‘Dude, I’d hear his cleats come pattering down the hall and he’d come straight to the room, and we’d talk about his last at-bat. It was so funny!’

“So, Manny has become Gary’s latest — and only — hitting pupil, further weaving himself into the Birdman fabric. We lost that game (again) and shared the ride back to Kochi in the Manny Van. Again, high speeds in a high-center-of-gravity van was on the menu. To take make it bearable, Gary and I sipped from a bottle of sake in the back of the car. Manny abstained. He doesn’t drink or curse, although he does have one vice — he is seemingly is the only guy in Japan who chews tobacco. Apparently, chew is hard to come by. (Spitting is a non-existent practice here, rendering chewing tobacco obsolete. They replace the chew-then-spit habit by smoking like the Marlboro Man.) We witnessed Manny take his tobacco from from his mouth and wrap it in a bag, stating, ‘I gotta save my tobacco… we in Japan!’

“During the ensuing days, I witnessed Manny and Gary’s relationship grow from blossoming puppy love to blooming infatuation. The morning after the white-knuckle car ride (I feel like I talk about scary driving a lot), Manny continued with his Gary obsession by remaining glued to him during our indoor practice. He asked Gary questions about his swing, picked on me with Gary by saying things like, “Birdman, you so much more handsome than Anderson,’ and he even coaxed Gary into joining the team stretch.

“The doubleheader the day after was more of the same — in-game at-bat analysis with Gary, spending all batting practice talking with Gary, and telling Gary how much better looking he is than me. I started to get jealous.

“This was on Friday, and Gary was planning on leaving Saturday evening. But no plans are safe while Manny is being Manny. He demanded that Gary at least come have breakfast and hit with him before catching his train, so as I said goodbye to Gary before leaving for my own away game (Manny stayed in Kochi. He didn’t want to play a day game after a doubleheader… neither did I, really), Gary said, ‘I’m sorry, man, but I’m going to ditch you for a man-date with Manny. I kinda think I have to.’ Whatever, bro.

“As I arrived at the field for our away game — a gorgeous spot that I thought of as the Japanese Alps — I received a text from Gary saying, ‘Manny just convinced me to stay one more day. He wants me to stay with him the in the hotel tonight. Sleepover – LOL!’ I was invited for the sleepover, too, but we got home too late from the game, so I instead made plans to meet them the next day for lunch before going to the field.
  
“I arrived at Manny’s penthouse suite and it was, without a doubt, the largest/messiest hotel space I’ve been in. It consisted of two separate bathrooms, an enormous living room, and a master bedroom. It was not messy in a sense of boxes of half-eaten pizza lying on the couch, but rather just free stuff that people send him, piling up. I doubt he’s had to pay for much in his adult life. It seems that companies send him shoes, shirts, etc., in hopes of Manny being a walking advertisement for them. Gary estimated that he had 50 pairs of shoes in his hotel room alone.

“The game that night was the final game of the first half. Manny and the Fighting Dogs did not disappoint. Manny and I had arguably our best games of the year and the crowd was relatively large. Manny homered in his third at-bat to left center. During the fifth-inning smoke break, Gary relayed the moments following the Manny-bomb: ‘I came down the tunnel to talk to him about the at-bat, and he did a little shimmy and chest bumped bumped me like I was David Ortiz!’

“The game ended in a victory for the Fighting Dogs, and Manny was selected as the game’s MVP. He usually doesn’t stick around after the game for interviews and autographs but he did this time, being that it was the final game of the first half. While he was doing his interview in front of all the fans and media, he looked around and said, ‘Where’s the Birdman? Gary, get up here!’ He freaking brought Gary up in front of everyone — probably around 1,500 fans and 30 members of the media — and started talking about how much Gary has helped him with his swing and his performance. I don’t know how it keeps getting more surreal, but it keeps getting more surreal. I’m almost expecting to see clocks melting off tables and long-legged elephants lumbering around Kochi Castle.

“The team went outside the stadium to brave the postgame autograph madness, and I think it was as close as I’ll ever feel to being in the Beatles. People were even putting their babies in my arms for pictures. I almost signed a couple. Gary helped escort Manny into the Manny Van and took off with him without even saying goodbye to me. His excuse was that it was too crazy to get to me, and he was going to miss his overnight bus departing at 10:30, but I think he just let the recent fame go to his head. Staying with the Beatles theme, I became Pete Best.

“Afterwards, I went to dinner with my Japanese agents and then stayed in the city, partying through the night with my teammates. Rich and I walked out of a Jamaican bar to the warmth of the morning sun and we stumbled to the train station. I fell asleep on the ride back to Sakawa. Rich tapped me on my leg to wake me up at our stop, but I fell back asleep as he exited the train. I awoke one stop later, with children dressed in their school uniforms to my left and right, looking up at me with perplexed expressions. I smiled at them and walked off the train, a zombie trying to find his way home.”

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Editor’s Note: Part 6 will appear next week.

We hoped you liked reading Lars Anderson Discovers Japan, Part 5 by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Mario Mendoza
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Mario Mendoza

Sorry if I missed it, but how was this written/recorded? Is this a written transcript of Lars talking? Is this Lars’ own writing? I’m confused because of all the things in parentheses throughout the series — usually a trick of writing; people don’t normally talk that way.

Mario Mendoza
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Mario Mendoza

Oh and… this is incredible. THANK YOU.

THANK YOU.
THANK YOU.