Back in 2006, right handed pitcher Tony Barnette was taken in the 10th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He played in the Diamondbacks system for 4 seasons, then signed with Japan’s Yakult Swallows. He’s now finishing his 5th season in Japan.
Tony, who is a great follow on Twitter (@HeyBarn) was nice enough to answer a few questions about life, baseball and being stranded without an interpreter.
Q: Years ago, I worked in Japan for 3 weeks, covering the 1998 Olympics. It’s very different than the United States. Any stories about getting used to living in Japan?
A: Nothing crazy, it’s a big lifestyle adjustment and it’s best served to sit back and observe for awhile. 5 years in, and I’m still making adjustments.
Q: The most amazing thing I remember from my trip is the heated toilet. Big question- do you have a heated toilet?
A: Even bigger question- while on said toilet, did you push any of the buttons? The heated seat is that thing while growing up in The cold northwest I wished I’d had. I do have a heated toilet seat in my apartment. I’m actually buying one for my house back home.
Q: I remember it was hard to find good breakfast in Japan. What else is it hard to find?
A: A good “American style” breakfast is a tough find, no doubt. The beauty of the internet makes it easy to get anything. I can’t recall needing something here that I haven’t been able to find or buy on the internet.
Q: What’s the best meal you’ve had in Japan?
A: That’s tough, I love food and Japan comes at you with a ton of great food from every corner of the map. After 10 minutes of thinking, I can’t pin down one favorite. Sorry. But my “go to” road trip meal is find a ramen shop, order a bowl of spicy miso ramen, a bowl of fried rice and a plate of gyoza (dumplings)
Q: What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen sold in a vending machine?
A: Umbrellas. They aren’t common but they are out there. Rain can be sneaky here.
Q: Ever need a translator and not have one?
A: Story of my life over here. There have been plenty of moments I’ll be out on the town and I run into a situation where I don’t speak enough Japanese and they don’t speak enough English. It usually ends with us staring at each other awkwardly for a few minutes, I then apologize, and move onto the next place. Sometimes over here you just have to cut your losses. Can’t win em all. My wife took Japanese language classes a few years back, which has helped in this area since. I’ve also become a professional charades player.
Q: In your 5 years playing in Japan, who is the best pitcher and hitter you have seen?
A: I’m leaving foreign players and the Japanese players already in the states off this list. Best pitcher- Chihiro Kaneko.
You may see his name come stateside soon, he’s a lot like Iwakuma of the Mariners in my opinion. The best hitter is Yosio Itoi,
I think he’s the best all round player right now in the NPB. (Honorable mention- Shohei Otani, thie kid’s talents are ridiculous)
Q: What advice would you give an American player who was thinking of playing in Japan?
A: Best advice I could give a guy is be open minded, prepare to be frustrated, just play hard. I can’t tell you how many guys come over with the same song and dances about the way it’s done in America. The Japanese have been playing their type of baseball for a long time, you aren’t going to change it. Adapt or die.
Q: How is a crowd different at a Japanese baseball game? Is it true they don’t boo?
A: They don’t give the traditional boo sound. BUT if you aren’t playing to their standard, they will inform you. The crowds are really fun to watch. They get loud from the first pitch and it doesn’t stop until the game is over. They have different songs for different players. It’s a treat to see live.
Q: My brother Justin and I are on an quest to throw out a first pitch in Japan. Is it true that word has gotten around about it in Japan and it’s all people are talking about?
A: I think you guys are just behind the iPhone 6 release on the nightly news reports. Ok, that’s a lie, I’m sorry. I’ve heard about your quest, but I honestly have no idea how you can accomplish it. Maybe learn Japanese, and start a hashtag campaign? There was a girl who wore a bikini last year and a girl broke a bunch of bricks with her head this year. Got anything to top that?
Q: We will consider any option.
A: Thanks for reaching out, I always enjoy sharing my views from the other side of the world. Take care and best of luck on that first pitch.