Lewis enriched by time in Japan

Lewis enriched by time in Japan

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Colby Lewis took visiting relatives to the Peace Memorial Park and his family on outings to the island of Itsukushima.

He and his wife, Jenny, learned to ride everywhere on bicycles with son Cade -- now 3 years old -- riding along in his own private seat. Remember, cab rides start at $7 in Japan.

Lewis ate rice once a day and sampled the renowned local cuisine known as okonomiyaki, which is cooked right in front of the customer: egg, cabbage, moyashi, sliced pork and maybe some fried squid on the side.

"My dad loved barbecued squid," said Lewis, who can handle chopsticks as deftly as he can throw a changeup.

He returned from Japan a better pitcher. He has better command and better stuff to work with on the mound. He also returned with a tattoo written in Japanese on his torso.

"It says 'Love God Wife and Child,'" Lewis explained.

Lewis, after a six-year failed struggle to establish himself as a Major League pitcher, spent the past two seasons pitching for the Hiroshima Carp in Japan. He was outstanding on the mound, going 26-17 with a 2.82 ERA in 55 games, including 54 starts. In 354 1/3 innings, he walked 46 and struck out 369.

He is back in the United States. The Rangers have given him a two-year contract in the hopes that he can continue the success he discovered in Japan.

But Lewis, as the tattoo shows, has not forgotten Japan.

Lewis went over there to pitch but he and his wife were not afraid to immerse themselves in the Japanese culture. Some American players have trouble with that part of playing in Japan. Colby and Jenny embraced it, whether just riding their bicycles down to the grocery store or taking a trip to the historic Hiroshima Castle.

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"The biggest thing was the language barrier," Lewis said. "But once we adapted to that, just living the life over there was easy. Traveling was awesome. The biggest thing was being able to communicate. After that we really enjoyed ourselves. It just seemed more down to earth over there, more time for the family.

"The thing that really impressed me was the cleanliness of it. The streets everywhere are so clean and they recycle everything. Now when I catch myself throwing a plastic cup in the trash, I recycle it. I never realized how much trash we throw away. They just don't have anywhere to put it."

He pitched in one of the most famous cities in history. On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

"It was such a long time ago but it was still in the back of my mind how embracing they would be of Americans," Lewis said. "But they were very embracing."

The city was completely wiped out. Only one building was left standing, known then as the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. It was preserved as is now known as the Atomic Bomb Dome or the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. While the city was rebuilt, the Atomic Bomb Dome serves as a memorial and museum of the event.

"I went there maybe three times with friends who came to visit," Lewis said. "It was definitely sad to see the devastation from just one bomb going off. You can see the actual shadow of one guy who was sitting on some steps. He was completely vaporized. That's what was left was his shadow. They have the actual steps in the memorial.

"Now the city has been completely rebuilt and it's just like New York with buildings everywhere. The A-Bomb Dome is all that's left and every Aug. 6 they have a candlelight vigil. People light candles and let them float down the canal. There is a huge long line of people waiting to do that."

Perhaps one of the reasons why Lewis was so successful as a pitcher in Japan was he was able to assimilate himself to the culture. He was also determined to assimilate himself into the concept of team that is so important in Japanese baseball.

There is a movie called "Mister Baseball," starring Tom Selleck. It's the story of a great American slugger who is forced to go play in Japan and is totally resistant to their way of training and playing baseball. He is the cinematic Ugly American.

"Yeah, I saw that movie," Lewis said. "I didn't want to be like that. They told me I could do whatever I wanted, just go out and pitch. But I didn't want to be the American guy who showed up and didn't do anything. I wanted them to feel I was doing the same things they were doing, not standing on the sidelines while they were taking ground balls."

The result was a great two-year experience for Colby and Jenny Lewis, both on the mound and in a famous city across the sea.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.