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By Alexis Brudnicki MIYAZAKI, Japan - One of the beauties of baseball is that the game remains the same across the globe. It is an international language spoken with little subtleties changing its inflection or baseball accent from country to country.
Before the Canadian Women’s National Team arrived in Miyazaki for the Women’s Baseball World Cup on Sunday, the squad got a chance to take in a Yomiuri Giants game at the Tokyo Dome, meeting up with Giants closer and Canadian hurler Scott Mathieson (Aldergrove, BC). In his third season with the club, the right-hander has learned the different nuances of the Japanese game.
“Baseball is still baseball,” Mathieson said. “You just have to get used to playing a different style and you have to be willing to work really, really hard. We practice a lot and there is a ton of running. It’s a lot different than playing in the major leagues or even in Triple-A at home.
“There is a lot of small ball here; lots of bunting. There’s a lot that can frustrate you if you’re not ready for it and open-minded.”
As the women’s squad prepares to open the second round of play in the World Cup tournament against Team Japan, those characteristics of the game in the country are exactly what they’re prepared for. With an emphasis on the team’s bunt defence and protecting against slap singles in addition to their regular field work, the women from north of the border are ready to take it on.
Having played against Japan in five previous World Cup events, plus taking on four different Japanese teams during a pre-tournament exhibition series in Kazo, the Canadian squad is more prepared for their next matchup than Canadian Chris Leroux (Mississauga, Ont.) was when he travelled across the world last year to pitch for the Yakult Swallows.
“I loved Japan,” Leroux said. “It was great, the food was good, the living conditions were good; the baseball was different. They’re very talented there, don’t get me wrong, but they just hit single after single after single and I was pulling my hair out on the mound. I would look at the scoreboard and I had given up eight hits and four runs in two innings and I’m thinking, how did that even happen?
The hardest part for Mathieson has been the gruelling length of the season. Even longer than it is in North America, the 30-year-old barely gets a two-month off-season to head back to his home in Florida over the winter months.
“The last two seasons I’ve left Jan. 26 for spring training and gotten home on Nov. 8 after the playoffs,” he said. “My team has been to the Japan World Series the last two years.
“The best part is the travel. We travel by bullet train mostly and that’s a great way to travel. We also don’t travel all that far because Japan isn’t that large of a country, so I get to spend a lot more time with my wife and son then I would if I were playing at home.”
The most recent opportunity Mathieson had to play at home was with Team Canada at the World Baseball Classic in Phoenix, Arizona in March of last year. Taking incredible pride in playing for his country and wearing the red-and-white jersey, his moments with Baseball Canada continue to be ones the hurler cherishes.
“Words can’t describe what Baseball Canada has meant to me,” Mathieson said. “They are a big reason I am where I am today. They’ve given me so many great opportunities and memories, as well as lifelong friends.”
From the beginning of his career to now, Mathieson is grateful for what the national organization has done for him.
“I’ll start with my first experience with Baseball Canada,” he said. “It was the Junior National Team camp in Orlando and it was the first time I got the opportunity to wear a Canada jersey. I will never forget that feeling. We also got to play against a bunch of minor league teams and it was the first time I realized I had what it takes to play pro baseball.”
Even though Mathieson is in an incredibly different time zone and region than many of the friends he’s made throughout his time with the national team, he still feels a part of the tight-knit Canadian baseball community all the way from Japan.
“Even though I’m halfway around the world, I still stay in contact with a lot of Canadian players, all of whom I met while playing for Team C. I check the web site and Twitter page almost daily to try and stay in the loop.”
Mathieson was happy to hear that the Women’s National Team would be heading to Tokyo, even if only for a short time, and generously offered his time to the team after the Giants walked off the Hanshin Tigers. He shared stories of his time with Baseball Canada and expressed his gratitude for the opportunities baseball has given him.
“It’s a sport that can take you all over the world,” he said to the team. “Look where we are.”
The righty was excited to have a number of fellow Canadians in the country, and only disappointed that he didn’t have more time to spend with the team from north of the border.
“With it being such a long year and being the only English-speaker on my team, it was awesome,” Mathieson said of seeing the women’s team. “Plus I had a few players asking me about all the hot Canadian women in the stands. I wish the team had more time in Tokyo.”
Team Canada faces Japan on Friday at 5:30AM EST in World Cup action. For all games featuring the Japanese team, live streaming and it can be found at http://internetv.tv/browse.php.
Stay up to date with the Women’s National Team by following @baseballcanada on Twitter.