Jerry Blevins heads to Japan for MLB All-Star Series

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by Amanda Comak

Jerry Blevins had been to Japan before. Back in 2012, when he was a member of the Oakland Athletics, the lefty traveled to the country as part of their season-opening series vs. the Seattle Mariners. He’d seen some of the iconic sights and had some unique experiences – like putting on a clinic for soldiers’ children at an army base and getting a chance to fly around that base in a helicopter.

He soaked in as much as he could in the week or so that the A’s were there.

And when the Major League Baseball Players Association put out an inquiry during the 2014 season for players interested in participating in the 2014 Japan All-Star Series, Blevins didn’t hesitate to throw his name into the ring.

Then he waited, and hoped.

“I put my name in a long time ago,” Blevins said last week as he packed for the trip that would take him to Los Angeles for two days, and then to Japan through Nov. 20. “As you can tell from the talent on the roster, there are a lot of guys who wanted to do this. I’m just so honored my name was picked.”

Team Photo  Ben Platt/MLB.comThe Nationals’ versatile lefty spoke excitedly of what was ahead of him: a chance to play with former teammates again and an opportunity to meet new ones, to soak in another international experience and sightsee while representing MLB, and to go through it all with his fiancée, Whitney.

“For the most part, I’m just excited to be in Japan and experience that culture from a different standpoint,” Blevins said. “(Whitney) has never been, and we’re really excited to go. I’ve been almost more excited for her to go over there, and have her share that experience with me, than I am for myself, really.”

The Japan All-Star Series will begin Wednesday and run through Nov. 18, but the MLB All-Stars will play an exhibition game on Tuesday (4 a.m. ET), and on Nov. 20. MLBNetwork will broadcast all seven games.

Here’s a breakdown of the schedule:

  • Tuesday:Exhibition game vs. Hanshin Tigers/Yomiuri Giants at Koshien Stadium, Osaka (6 p.m. JT/4 a.m. ET)
    • Wednesday: Game No. 1 at Kyocera Dome, Osaka (6 p.m. JT/4 a.m. ET)
    • Thursday: Travel day
    • Friday, Nov. 14: Game No. 2 at Tokyo Dome, Tokyo (6 p.m. JT/4 a.m. ET)
    • Saturday, Nov. 15: Game No. 3 at Tokyo Dome, Tokyo (6 p.m. JT/4 a.m. ET)
    • Sunday, Nov. 16: Game No. 4 at Tokyo Dome, Tokyo (6 p.m. JT/4 a.m. ET)
    • Monday, Nov. 17: Travel day
    • Tuesday, Nov. 18: Game No. 5 at Sapporo Dome, Sapporo (7 p.m. JT/5 a.m. ET)
    • Wednesday, Nov. 19: Travel day
    • Thursday, Nov. 20: Exhibition game vs. Samurai Japan, Okinawa Cellular Stadium, Okinawa (6 p.m. JT/4 a.m. ET)

Before Blevins left for Japan, we caught up with him about a host of topics. Here’s some of what the affable lefty had to say:

What do you know about the Japanese style of baseball?

They’re very business-like, in a good sense of the phrase. They go about batting practice and make sure they’re trying to get better with every swing. They take the game very seriously, but they also have fun playing it and they play it in a positive manner. You can see that with a lot of the Japanese players who come over.

Their hitters put the ball in play. They put pressure on the defense. They’re not always trying to swing for power. There’s a lot of finesse in their game. Facing Ichiro Suzuki, like I have a lot in my career, that guy can put the ball in play from any different angle. He basically could, where I could throw a ball and hit a spot in the outfield right behind shortstop, he could do that with a bat. It’s just something that they take pride in, being able to have that kind of control.

Do you know any Japanese?

No, not really. I know ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye.’ In 2011, Hideki Matsui was on my team and whenever we were on the road our lockers would be really close.  His translator, Roger, had the locker right next to mine so I talked to him all the time.

I consider myself a fairly intelligent person who learns well – but the Japanese language did not come easily to me. I got frustrated and gave up early, even with him trying to help me out. It’s very complex. There’s a lot of pitch and tone and inflection. If there was an alphabet for me to learn off of, that would be easier but they don’t have that.

What has the process been like to get ready to pitch in a competitive situation in November? Did you have to look at your shut down period after the season differently? What have you been doing to prepare your body for that and are you concerned it will affect your offseason routine?

I’m not worried at all that it’s going to affect my preparation for next season, but I did have to make some adjustments because after our season ended — prematurely, in my eyes — there was a gap between when I knew I was going to be on this team or whether I was still in limbo because they were finalizing the roster. So I had to keep throwing just in case. Nothing super intense, but if I had to ramp it up, I could.

When they decided I was going to be on the team I talked to the pitching coach about what my role was going to be and what I need to be prepared for. So, because I had planned on pitching through October with the Nationals, that was easy for me. My body was in shape to do that and my arm is pretty resilient just throwing year round. Being from a cold-weather place, I throw more in the offseason than most guys do anyway, I’ve come to find out. So, this will not affect me for next year in my preparation, but I did have to adjust and be ready for this.

Is there anyone going who you’re excited to play with again or get to play with?

I played with Evan Longoria with Team USA after the season in 2007, we went to Taiwan. I’m excited to be his teammate again. There’s just a full roster of guys who I’ve admired in baseball who I get to play with. It should be fun.

Are you bringing the amazing CATS sweater (purchased at the Mall of America) to Japan with you?

I will not be bringing it to Japan… It’s a purchase that I’m proud of and I break it out probably once a year. The back of it has little paw prints so it’s pretty nice. I don’t know if you can tell, there are yarn balls the little cats are playing it. The string that connects that is an actual string.

Was it cool for you to find yourself listed on Sports Illustrated’s Twitter 100?

Yeah, so cool! Completely shocked by that because I do tweet, but I don’t tweet a ton. But I admire the Twitter world,and to be mentioned by Sports Illustrated was very cool. I think there were only three ballplayers on there, so I’m pretty honored to be a part of that.

A little pressure going forward. But, no, that’s what I love about Twitter. There’s no pressure to perform. It’s just your personality. If people don’t like it they can unfollow me. That’s what’s great. That’s what I love about it. I’m glad the people over at SI understood my sense of humor and get what I do with it.

Blevins will be sharing glimpses of his trip on that very Twitter account so be sure to give it a follow. You won’t want to miss out. Here’s a sampling of @JerryBlevins_13‘s previous tweets:

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