Aaron Fischman, "A Baseball Gaijin: Chasing a Dream to Japan and Back" (Sports Publishing, 2024)

Summary

Like many American boys, Tony Barnette yearned to one day make it to “The Show,” playing baseball professionally. The Arizona State pitcher was drafted in 2006 by the in-state Diamondbacks. Gradually ascending the minor-league ladder, it looked like this was the beginning of a blessed life, where he could play the game he loved on the grandest of stages in front of family and friends.

But things don’t always work out the way we want.

On the verge of achieving his lifelong dream after notching a league-high 14 wins in Triple A, Tony looked ahead to 2010 with optimism. That’s when Japan came calling, offering a significant salary hike in exchange for forgoing a likely forthcoming big-league debut.

The Diamondbacks agreed to release Tony so he could play for Tokyo’s Yakult Swallows, the renowned Yomiuri Giants’ intra-city rivals.

At the time, the only thing he had in common with the country was a love for baseball. He did not know the language and was unfamiliar with Nippon Professional Baseball and essentially everything else. On his own in a strange land, the burning desire to one day make the major leagues never subsided. He knew the odds were against him, as less than one quarter of gaijin (Japanese for “foreigner”) ballplayers who go to Japan appear in the majors at any point thereafter.

First-year struggles led to multiple demotions and his end-of-year release. But when you’re chasing a dream, you expect to encounter several obstacles. Tony refused to be deterred. Over six seasons in Japan, the starter became a reliever and then a closer. After a strong 2015 season, in which he guided his long-suffering Swallows to the Japan Series, he finally got the call he had been waiting for. Signing with the Texas Rangers in December, Tony would make his first major-league appearance on April 5, 2016, at age thirty-two. He’d go on to pitch four seasons with the Rangers and Chicago Cubs, fulfilling a lifelong dream.

In A Baseball Gaijin: Chasing a Dream to Japan and Back (Sports Publishing, 2024), Aaron Fischman tells Tony's story of perseverance, determination, and never giving up on your dream.

Paul Knepper covered the New York Knicks for Bleacher Report. His first book, The Knicks of the Nineties: Ewing, Oakley, Starks and the Brawlers That Almost Won It All was published in 2020. You can reach Paul at paulknepper@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @paulieknep.

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Paul Knepper

Paul Knepper used to cover the Knicks for Bleacher Report. His first book, The Knicks of the Nineties: Ewing, Oakley, Starks and the Brawlers That Almost Won It All was published in September 2020. You can reach Paul at paulknepper@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @paulieknep.

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