Orioles' Olson pitches in to help all-stars in Japan U.S. players want to win on 'vacation'

October 30, 1992|By Carrie Muskat | Carrie Muskat,Contributing Writer

TOKYO -- If this were a normal off-season, Gregg Olson would have a full-grown beard and his right arm would be doing absolutely nothing.

But this is not a normal off-season. Gregg Olson is in Japan.

The Orioles relief ace is part of a major-league all-star tour, which opens an eight-game series against Japan tonight at the 56,000-seat Tokyo Dome. The U.S. team will play the Yomiuri Giants and new manager Shigeo Nagashima, a baseball legend here who has won six batting titles and was named Japan World Series MVP four times.

Boston's Roger Clemens, who has been trailed by Japanese television crews and photographers since the team arrived Wednesday, is to start the first game for the team, managed by Minnesota's Tom Kelly.

Clemens' fastball seems to fascinate the Japanese, whose pitchers rarely throw 95 mph. Just wait until they see Olson's curve.

"I had to keep my arm going the past couple of weeks so I could come in here and at least be effective," said Olson, who saved 36 games for the Orioles. "Normally, the arm would've been on ice for three months. Now I've got a month off my time. We'll see how it works out.

"This is a vacation to a point," he said, "but I still want to come over here and pitch well. We're not over here to lose."

That sentiment is shared by Detroit's Cecil Fielder, who played for the Hanshin Tigers in 1989, and was on the 1990 major-league team that finished a disappointing 3-4-1 against the Japanese. After all, baseball is America's game.

"I told them, I'd been over here, I'd played here," Fielder said. "They [the Japanese teams] have some good pitchers. They just don't throw breaking balls. They throw gas."

Since 1908, 29 professional baseball teams have traveled to Japan, compiling a 328-69-21 record. Only twice has a U.S. team lost a series.

Olson, 26, said he prepared himself for the trip by watching the movie "Mr. Baseball," which profiles Japanese baseball, and by talking to former Orioles players Larry Sheets and Jim Traber, as well as Cal Ripken Jr., who was on the '90 traveling squad. Sheets also gave him the names of some Japanese players who speak English.

But nothing could've prepared him for some of the little nuances that make Japan so unique.

"There's a basic honesty of the people here," Olson said. "We went down to dinner and we came back and the bellman had dropped our luggage outside our room. He did the same for Ruben Sierra and Dennis Martinez. You do that in some places in America, and I wouldn't have any clothes."

Olson also learned quickly he's got to develop new communications skills, especially if he wants to eat.

"I had trouble ordering [dinner] last night," he said. "I was a little surprised there is a lot more English language on the signs. I've seen more than I expected. You take it [communicating] for granted."

After Game 1, the U.S. team will play against selected Japanese all-stars, who will vary from site to site. Five of the games will be played in the Tokyo Dome, with stops in Osaka, Fukuoka and Tokorozawa.

The tour is sponsored by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, and organized by Major League Baseball International Partners and the players association. This marks the fourth time in six years a team of major-league all-stars has traveled to Japan.

And this could be the most important trip. Welcome to Japan bashing, baseball style.

"We came all the way over here," Detroit's Mickey Tettleton said. "We might as well win."

nTC

Japaan roster

NB

The roster for the 1992 major-league all-star trip to Japan:

Pitchers

Player.. ................ ..... . ......ML team .

Norm Charlton......................... Cincinnati

Roger Clemens.. .......................... Boston

Mark Langston......................... California

Dennis Martinez......................... Montreal

Jack McDowell............................ Chicago

Gregg Olson...... ....................... Orioles

Bob Patterson...................... .. Pittsburgh

Greg Swindell......................... Cincinnati

Bob Tewksbury.......................... St. Louis

Duane Ward............................... Toronto

Catchers

Darren Daulton........... ............ Philadelphia

Mickey Tettleton........................... Detroit

Infielders

Carlos Baerga...... ...................... Cleveland

Wade Boggs................................... Boston

Craig Biggio................................ Houston

Cecil Fielder............................... Detroit

Travis Fryman............................... Detroit

Mark Grace................................ Chicago-N

Eric Karros............................. Los Angeles

Dave Hollins........................... Philadelphia

Ozzie Smith............................... St. Louis

Outfielders

Ron Gant. .................................. Atlanta

Ken Griffey Jr.............................. Seattle

Shane Mack................................ Minnesota

Ruben Sierra................................ Oakland

Larry Walker............................... Montreal

Manager 6Tom Kelly.................................. Minnesota

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