Colin Rea admits he doesn’t know the Japanese word for strike. But it’s a sure bet he’s going to learn it.
Rea has signed a contract with the Fukuoka Soft Bank Hawks of the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization for 2021. Fukuoka is a city of 2.5 million people located on the Japanese island of Kyushu.
While Rea has had conversations about playing in Japan the last couple of years, those discussions got more serious after this past season that saw Rea split time between the Chicago Cubs and their training facility in South Bend, Ind.
A trip to Arizona in November led to Rea meeting with the international scout for the Soft Bank Hawks.
“He told me the team had watched me in spring training in 2020 and in Des Moines in 2019. When the Cubs gave me a contract for this coming year, that’s when the SoftHawks went to the Cubs and asked if they could buy out my contract. The Cubs agreed for $700,000. After that, we were able to negotiate a contract with the SoftHawks.”
Rea’s contract is a one-year guaranteed contract for $1.1 million, with a second-year option with guaranteed money of $1.7 million if the Soft Bank Hawks pick up the option. In addition, there are incentive bonuses each year.
“There is a wide range of bonuses,” Rea explained. “They use a point system with each point being worth $1,000. Every inning pitched is a point. Every win is 10 points, every quality start is 10 points. It’s a wide range.”
The Soft Bank Hawks are the team Rea had wanted to sign within the league. “This opportunity just happened to be with the team we would want to play for over there. They have won the championship six of the last seven years. I’ve heard good things about the team from other players who have played over there. It was just too good an opportunity to pass up.”
The team’s chairman is Japanese baseball legend Sadaharu Oh.
While spring training begins Feb. 1, Rea’s arrival in Japan may be delayed. The Japanese government has banned travel into the country due to COVID-19. Rea said he will need to wait until the country reopens to join his team.
Rea said his wife Megan and their two children will join him following spring training. The team has arranged for a three-bedroom condo near the stadium for Rea and his family. Rea will be provided a translator at the ballpark.
The regular season begins March 26 and lasts into November. “It’s a longer season than Major League Baseball here, but it’s less games. There are more off days,” Rea explained.
Rea was 1-1 with a 5.79 ERA for the Cubs last season, pitching 14 innings in nine appearances.
Rea said his pitching style is suited for the Japanese game. “That’s one of the reasons they had been scouting me the last couple of years. My style is similar to what they see over there. They like my pitching motion and mechanics.”
He also knows something about the game in Japan. “They are pesky hitters. They don’t swing and miss a lot and they like to run when they get on base. They will give you a tough at-bat. Also, the fans and games get pretty rowdy and pretty crazy. That will be interesting.”
Japanese teams in the 12-team league are limited to four foreign players on their rosters. While Rea doesn’t know any other foreigners on his team, he will know some of his former teammates from when he was with the San Diego Padres. “A few of the guys I played with are on teams in the same division.”
At 6-foot-5 Rea is taller than many of his Japanese counterparts. That has created some equipment issues. “They wear Mizuno gear over there. I had to order some pairs of spikes and they told me to order them over here, that they don’t make them that big over there.”
Rea is ready to get to Japan. “Growing up and playing baseball I didn’t envision this. Baseball has taken us all over. It’s crazy to think these opportunities are actually becoming real. Obviously, we are excited about this opportunity.”
And the Japanese word for strike? Sutoraiku.