Nathanel Mateo: Help On The Way

SAN ANTONIO, TX - Last Sunday afternoon was the trading deadline for Major League Baseball, but in the Missions clubhouse it was really no different than any other day. Nate Espy was sitting in solitude in the batting tunnel listening to music, quietly getting motivated. Gary Harris and Adam Jones were cracking jokes at one another. Then, all of the sudden, the door to the clubhouse swung open and all the attention became focused on the stranger residing in the doorway.

"Hey guys, I'm your new pitcher," exclaimed the stranger. After a second or two the card games resumed, and all the disinterested eyes went back to what they had been doing.

The stranger turned out to be a much-needed piece to a disassembled and rearranged pitching staff. Nathanel Mateo was the stranger's name, and was right-handed pitching prospect that San Diego shipped over in return for Miguel Olivo. Upon hearing news of the trade, Mateo immediately jumped on a plane and left his former Mobile teammates. Mateo arrived way ahead of schedule, and has already proven himself to be very valuable to his new club.

Mateo started his professional career in 1999, when he was signed out of his homeland, the Dominican Republic. He spent that year in the Philadelphia Phillies' organization learning professional baseball in the States. The next season he played across the Pacific Ocean in Japan, for the Hiroshima Carp. This proved to be a very trying experience for the young fireballer.

"I don't think that it is a good thing for young players to go over there and play, because there bodies are not built for that kind of strain," insisted Mateo.

Everyone probably remembers the Tom Selic movie Mr. Baseball, where the aging big leaguer goes over to Japan to play, after he'd run out of options in the United States. Selic's character in the movie was introduced to a game he has never known before coming to Japan. The differences are not subtle, in the sense that almost every aspect of the Japanese game is different than the one that we know here. They may play the same rules as Americans, but that is where the similarities stop.

"If a game is tied after the 10th inning, they just stop the game," said Mateo. "You are expected to pitch through injuries, and are expected to throw bullpens almost everyday."

It is said that ballplayers are coddled here, compared to the work schedules demanded of them over in Japan.

"Every morning they would have us up early in the morning doing different things, and at ten o'clock at night I would still be doing something related to baseball," said Mateo.

Training is done to the point of exhaustion on a daily basis.

"Bullpens are thrown everyday there, and you have a much more extensive running schedule," Mateo continued.

If you walk through the dugout at any ballpark in the Texas League, or any league over here, you will find an assortment of sunflower seeds, tobacco puddles and cups laying all over the ground. Players and coaches alike walk right through the mess without giving it a second thought, but in the Japanese game the field is considered sacred and anything that tarnishes the field is blasphemy.

Mateo indicated that players bow to the umpire before stepping foot in the batters box, and arguments are rare. This is in direct contrast to the American game, where every night a manager or player is in an umpire's face, or is throwing bats and helmets on to the field in protest.

Mateo is glad to be back over on this side of the Pacific Ocean, playing the way he feels the game is intended to be played. In fact, hasn't allowed a run in three of the four games he's appeared in since joining the Missions on July 31. That's why the Mariners got him.

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