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Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Colin Rea throws during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Oct. 2, in Los Angeles. The Cascade native plans a return to Japan in 2022.

After a year that saw him pitch in the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan and for the Milwaukee Brewers’ Triple-A Nashville Sounds, Colin Rea will return to the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Japan for 2022.

If Rea’s season last year had a soundtrack, the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin,” with the line, “What a long strange trip it’s been,” might have been appropriate.

First, the start of Rea’s season was delayed when Japan shut down the country to foreigners due to COVID-19, meaning Rea missed spring training and didn’t arrive until mid-April.

He returned home in July after the league shut down for a month due to the summer Olympics in Japan. While back in Cascade with his wife, Megan, their daughter, Everly, was born prematurely at University Hospitals in Iowa City.

Rea didn’t return to Japan after Everly’s birth, instead he finished the year with the Sounds.

“’Everly was still in the hospital when the league started back up in Japan,” he explained. “I basically told them there was no way I was going back to Japan with her in the hospital.”

Rea was able to obtain his release from the Softbank Hawks and sign with the Brewers, with the stipulation Fukuoka would have his option for the 2022 season.

“I told them I didn’t think it would be beneficial for me not to play anywhere the rest of last season, so the deal with the Brewers is what we were able to come up with.”

Despite last year’s uncertainty, Rea put up solid numbers for both teams, going 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA for the Softbank Hawks, and finishing 4-2 with a 2.27 ERA for the Sounds.

“I felt good about the year I had,” he said. “Physically, I felt the best I’ve ever felt between starts. My routine used to be four or five days between starts for the full season. In Japan, they asked me if I would play the role where they would pitch me on five days rest, then seven days rest and maybe eight. I was totally fine with that.”

Rea said there are differences between hitters in the United States and Japan. “There are bigger swings in the United States. Approaches in Japan are more small ball. Get the guy on, then move him over to second some way. They run a lot more in Japan.”

He said those differences changed his pitching approach. “Pitching over here, hitters might see something over the plate and foul it off or swing and miss because it’s too big of a swing. That doesn’t happen too often in Japan. They are more about finding the barrel of the bat and driving it to the gaps. Pitching east and west — to both sides of the plate — is a better approach over there. Things like a two-seam fastball running into a righty or a cut fastball going away from a righty or into a lefty play better over there. Here it’s more up and down.”

Rea plans to be in Japan in time for spring training in February and hopes that Megan and their three children can join him in March. But Japan is once again closed due to COVID-19, meaning another potential delay to his arrival.

“The team did give us the choice about coming, even though they technically have my rights for the year, because of the virus. We took some time to make a decision that is right for our family.”

Rea, who wasn’t at liberty to discuss contract details, is looking forward to a full season.

“I haven’t had a full season since 2019, so will be nice to get back to a regular schedule of games.”