Giants’ Scott Mathieson, Tigers’ Craig Brazell discuss careers on “Chatter Up!”
“Chatter Up!” is no stranger to former Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) players, as former guests have included stars Matt Winters, Carlos Mirabal and even ‘92 Pacific League MVP Jack Howell. On October 22, two more stars joined this list, although from a more recent era: former Yomiuri Giants’ relief pitcher Scott Mathieson, who played between 2012 and 2019, and former slugger Craig Brazell, who played seven seasons with the Saitama Seibu Lions, Hanshin Tigers and Chiba Lotte Marines.
Mathieson and Brazell took to “Chatter Up” to discuss their playing careers in Japan, with each taking turns answering questions from fans on a wide variety of topics, including training regimens, the crazy fanbases and the beloved Giants-Tigers rivalry. Although Mathieson only pitched to Brazell once, both remembered the matchup well, though for maybe the wrong reasons.
“I think I only faced Scott one time, and that was, I think, my last year with the Tigers,” Brazell said. “It was towards the end of the game, and he came in for some ungodly reason, because they were beating our brains out. And I think I was already on my way to the taxi to the hotel, and they told me to come hit. But I mean, after facing him, I knew he was gonna be a success in Japan, you could just see that.”
“I was always out there for the strikeout,” Mathieson added. “So I appreciate him coming up in shower shoes.”
Mathieson began his career as a top pitching prospect for the Phillies, and made progress in their minor league system before battling arm injuries, going through two Tommy John surgeries and additional elbow work; the Phillies told Mathieson that he could either be sold to San Diego or get a fresh start in Japan. After he chose the latter, Mathieson was told by the Giants to go through a new process and regimen to help rejuvenate his arm; a regimen, he believes, that helped restart his career.
“My first season over there… every time I threw, my arm would swell up and it was always painful, but I could throw and I had success doing it. So I didn’t think much of it, I just thought that was my new norm,” Mathieson said. “Halfway through my first season, they wanted to shut me down before the All-Star break, and for me to get a stem cell injection in my elbow, which I hadn’t ever heard of at that time. So I did that, and they promised me that they would re-sign me for the second year if I do that, and I had to do the stem cell injection, and get on their throwing program. And so I ended up doing that, and I came back in the second half of the season, and I did everything they told me and I ended up throwing a bullpen, every single game of the season for the next seven and a half years. So in the sixth inning of every game, I’d get hot, throw 15 pitches at 80% in the sixth inning, and then sit down and wait for my turn… at first it was hard, but you know, it was just the norm at the end, and my arm feels like I’m 19 years old again, to this day. I threw a bullpen the other day, I was 94 [MPH]; my arm feels great.”
On the other side Brazell was a less renowned prospect who worked his way through the Mets and Royals organizations, seeing little playing time as a September callup. With Kansas City, he got attention for leading all of the minor leagues in home runs, and was signed by the Saitama Seibu Lions in 2007. Once there, he said that he had to pick up a whole new batting process, beginning to hit for contact instead of power, including practice to just foul off pitches:
“It goes down to a mindset. You can look at a guy that’s been over there, and realize that he’s accepted the culture. He wants to learn the game… I can even say, I saw guys work on hitting foul balls, and they were barreling balls up. So I mean, it’s things like that, that you got to learn. I can remember going in, like my first spring training, even with a Tigers, I had foul ball practice. And I’m going “What in the hell am I doing?” But it made me a better hitter. And there was a couple other foreign players that went over there and said, “I’m not doing this stupid stuff.” They were gone by halfway through the year.”
Both Brazell and Mathieson looked back fondly on their times with two of the most passionate fan bases in baseball, with Brazell with the Tigers and Mathieson with the Giants. Brazell said that he remembered playoff games with similar atmospheres to Georgia-Auburn football games, and that he still gets messages from fans every year on his oldest son’s birthday; when his son was born, Brazell hit two home runs against Yokohama for a clutch victory. He also gave his youngest son the middle name “Koshien” in homage to his time with the Tigers and in Japan in general. Mathieson also remembered the fans well, including one interaction he had with the father of a young teen:
“I always tried to be polite and interact with people,” Mathieson said. “I don’t remember the actual interaction, but I guess I ended up telling some girl, a 15 year old girl or something, that she had pretty hair, nice dress or something like that, at some point when I was with my kids, and a few years, actually my last year over there, her dad came up and gave me a hug. I had no idea who this guy was, but I guess she had a lot of depression and a lot of issues like that, and by me doing that and introducing her to [Hayato] Sakamoto who was with me at the same time, he said [it] changed her life around… it’s something that I don’t even remember, just smiling and saying hi to someone was able to change their day and change their life, and making the superstar like Sakamoto say hi to them. So that meant a lot and that really stood out.”
Among other topics, Brazell and Mathieson also discussed international baseball, how they perceived the NPB talent level, Japanese players they thought would have thrived in MLB and their interactions with other gaijin, including two-time Central League MVP Alex Ramirez.
Lions, Tigers and Giants- oh my! “Chatter Up!” continues to be a hotspot for former NPB players; who could be next?
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