A 41-year-old boxer’s professional debut

This feature appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on June 25, 2003.

The bell is calling …

By Ed Odeven

“The older the fiddler, the sweeter the tune,” — old English proverb.

In music, that analogy might be true. But it’s not necessarily the prevailing wisdom in boxing. Pundits of the Sweet Science whine when a boxer continues fighting past his prime (Roberto Duran is a classic example). Age tends to take away a fighter’s quick hands, instincts and ability to handle himself in the ring.

Dean Guthery didn’t get the message. The 41-year-old Flagstaff resident is making his pro debut in a four-round heavyweight bout Saturday evening against Phoenician Jason Adkinson, 27, at Celebrity Theater in Phoenix. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Adkinson is also fighting for the first time as a pro. He was 8-2 as an amateur.

For Guthery, age is just a number. Boxing, however, is something that gets the 6-5, 225-pounder’s heart beating faster.

“It’s a thrill,” Guthery said. “I have to say now because of my age I feel that … I don’t feel old, so I feel like in a sense that I may be out to prove something, maybe just to myself, maybe to everybody else. But boxing is also something that I enjoy doing.”

Guthery’s trainer, Daniel Hudson, says it’s his job to prepare his pupil for this fight, not to ponder why he wants to fight.

“I don’t even ask why,” Hudson said. “I just tell him what he’s got to have inside to make it work — be it family or pride or that they come from the school of hard knocks, just some guys have it in them.”

BOXING BACKGROUND

Guthery has always been an avid boxing fan.

“I watch it all the time,” he said, smiling. “I’m really into boxing, maybe not all the weight classes, but the heavyweights I really enjoy. What really got me started was years ago watching (Muhammad) Ali and, later, Mike Tyson kind of spurred me back on, and that’s when I got back into amateur fighting.”

Many fighters begin hitting punching bags and skipping rope as skinny pre-teens. Guthery got his start much later — in his mid-30s.

“I had a family fairly early. At the age of 20, I started my family, and I really just couldn’t find the time to start (boxing) when they were young,” he explained, speaking about his wife, Colleen and their children: Jamie, 21; Shanna, 18; and Chad, 17.

“So I waited ’til they were older and I had a little more time to spend training and what have you.”

Guthery began to box in 1988, when he first competed, and won, a Rough Man contest in New Mexico. The next year, he moved to Flagstaff and won a Rough Man contest in the Valley.

Guthery had a successful amateur career in the mid-1990s. He was Arizona’s Golden Gloves heavyweight champion in 1993, ’94 and ’95, and was a USA Boxing champ in ’95. In one Golden Gloves bout in Las Vegas, he fought Charles Shufford, the man who played George Foreman in the 2001 motion picture “Ali.” Shufford beat Guthery, but lost a WBO title fight against Wladimir Klitschko in April 2001.

In 1995, Guthery developed an inner-ear infection and had trouble maintaining his equilibrium. After being put on antibiotics, the condition cleared up. He returned to the ring and continued fighting until early the next year. When he turned 35 in May 1996, Guthery’s amateur fighting days were over because the Arizona Boxing Commission does not issue licenses to amateur fighters 35 or older.

He did not fight again until 2002, in another Tough Man competition.

“When I was fighting (as an) amateur, I did it as a hobby,” he said. “I wasn’t doing it all the time, so I wasn’t staying in perfect shape, and I knew once I turned 35 I’d have to turn pro. I wasn’t ready to do that, but now I’ve got the time. I’ve spent the time getting into shape. My son Chad, a cross country runner for Coconino (High School), and I would run and I got into pretty good shape. I thought, ‘If I’m going to do this, it’s now or never.’ I can’t wait any longer.”

Last summer, he stopped waiting and started training with John Pertuit, who runs KIKS American Karate. Then he had to lobby on his own behalf before the Arizona Boxing Commission to obtain a boxing license.

It wasn’t an easy, ho-hum task. Guthery had to undergo extensive medical tests in Flagstaff. He had Pertuit send a letter to the Arizona Boxing Commission stating that he was training regularly.

“They looked at me really hard because of my age,” Guthery recalled. “They wanted to make sure I was capable of doing this; and because I had a pretty successful amateur background, the commissioner gave the vote for me to go ahead and get my license and they gave it to me.”

PREPARATION

These days, Guthery puts in daily workouts at a gym in the Sunnyside section of town. It’s the home of the Flagstaff Impact Center and KIKS.

He arrives around 5:30 p.m. and stays for a couple hours. He routinely spars against lighter, quicker guys, like Rob Christie, an ex-Marine, Anthony Garcia and Angel Baca. During a recent workout, Guthery sparred against the three of them in succession for one round each.

Watching the fighting intently from just beyond the ropes, Hudson blurts out encouraging words.

“Keep that jab up,” he shouts as Guthery exchanges punches with Christie. “Just like that, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.”

Moments later, Guthery takes quick break outside the ring, and Hudson reminds him of their strategy for Saturday:

“No matter what he does, jab.”

For Guthery, the key is stamina in a four-round fight.

Said Hudson: “For a four-round fight, everything is based on intensity. It’s not a marathon we’re running, it’s a sprint. So his training mimics that.”

After his evening workouts at the gym, Guthery heads to Coconino High to run. Here’s how his routine is set up: Guthery sprints for 100 meters, takes one long breath and does three more of these repetitions in a row. Then he takes a one-minute break and repeats the process until he’s exhausted.

REALISTIC OUTLOOK

Hudson knows there are no guarantees in boxing. A Louisiana native who used to be one of Evander Holyfield’s sparring partners, he has worked in the corner for 20-25 pro fights. Hudson has seen the good, the bad and the ugly in boxing.

“I guess it allows you to view it through a very realistic prism — you see things the way they are,” said Hudson, who’s making his head coaching debut Saturday. “I know the reality of the sport very well, and what’s needed to win, you know not having any fantasies about what can happen and what will happen.”

Guthery has not made any outlandish predictions for Saturday. Thus it’s probably safe to assume the only tune Guthery hopes to be humming late Saturday evening is Kool and the Gang’s “Celebrate.” Or maybe he’d like to hear LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” over and over again.

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Jockey’s tale of frightening injuries, love of racing

This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on July 2, 2004.

Sorrells knows dangers of horse racing all too well

By Ed Odeven

Saying horse racing isn’t a dangerous sport is like saying Lieutenant Stitchie is the most popular Jamaican musician of all time.

Neither statement is true.

But the following statement is 100 percent accurate: Jockeys are a special breed.

Only a select group of individuals possess the athleticism, not to mention the diminutive size and weight, needed to be a professional jockey. In addition, they need intense mental focus to guide a horse that generally weighs about 1,000 pounds at speeds up to 40 mph.

Some say it’s the hardest activity in sports. Or as Flagstaff resident Jim Miller, taking a break Friday morning from reading the Fort Tuthill racing program put it: “It’s much more difficult than it appears. … You have a lot of dependence on the guys you are riding with. If somebody screws up (you’re in trouble).”

Janna Sorrells won’t dispute the fact that her job is difficult. She has the scars to prove it.

On Jan. 23 at Turf Paradise in Phoenix, Sorrells sustained a serious injury, breaking her neck in two places.

How frightening was that experience? I asked her.

“I don’t remember none of it, but they say it was pretty bad,” said Sorrells, who’s competing in the Fourth of July weekend races at Fort Tuthill Downs. “I lost all the skin on my face. I mean, yeah, it was bad. Anytime you go down it’s bad, but at least with mine it was minor.”

Here’s what she does recall:

“It wasn’t a collision,” Sorrells said. “It was a distance trial race. I remember being behind Bill Campbell, who was next to me, and there was about six (horses) in front of us and four behind us.”

Sorrells made her move toward the front of the pack. The rest of the details are a bit foggy. She sustained a concussion.

“My horse broke his neck and broke his leg, and I remember waking up in the ER,” she said.

Sorrells, 34, wore a neck brace for three months and had physical rehab (mostly massages and electrotherapy) for six weeks. But let’s back up a minute. While still wearing the neck brace, Sorrells began going to a Valley gym. She walked on a treadmill and swam.

“The doctor told me not to do much, but I did do stuff like that,” she said of the exercises.

Sorrells was asked if she ever thought she wouldn’t ride again.

“No,” she said, “as long as I can walk. No. … Bones heal pretty quick. It was just a matter of making sure it was healed enough that if I go down again it doesn’t re-break quick.”

For Sorrells, the medical bills piled up pretty quickly. She said she’s lost track of how much they are, but estimated they are at least $60,000. “And I’m still going. I’m still in therapy right now,” she added.

But since the accident occurred at Turf Paradise, the racetrack’s insurance covers the cost of her bills.

That’s the good news.

The bad news? Disability pay is $200 per week from The Jockeys’ Guild, plus another $200 from the track. Sorrells was accustomed to earning $1,000 to $2,000 a week riding at Turf Paradise. She said she doesn’t have an extravagant lifestyle, though.

Comparing the amount of money professional ballplayers make while serving stints on the disabled list to what jockeys get, Sorrells said “it’s crazy.”

She’s right.

Even with a union, injured jockeys struggle to pay the bills. Which is why the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund is such a vital resource for so many jockeys. It has provided financial assistance to more than 1,500 riders since 1987. “When you get hurt, you call them and tell them you need help, and they help you,” Sorrells said.

Talking to her, one senses she loves her job and the excitement of it. But I pressed her for more details about the euphoria of winning.

Sorrells said, “I win stakes races, I win for big trainers, but probably the ones for the little guy that’s got one horse that hasn’t won a race, those are the ones that are really cool.”

So, too, is Sorrells’ focus. She says she doesn’t want to be a jockey forever. She went to real estate school while spending those five months away from racing.

And how’d her return to the track go?

On her first official day back, May 29 at Yavapai Downs, Sorrells placed first, second, third and fourth.

“I’ve done well,” she said, modestly.

Today is Riders Helping Riders Jockey Across American XVI, a day in which more than 40 regular tracks — but not Fort Tuthill — around the country host events, such as bake sales, autograph sessions and jockey foot races, to help in the fundraising endeavors.

Amateur baseball in England

This featured appeared in the April 20, 2004, issue of The Rafu Shimpo, Los Angeles’ English-Japanese newspaper.

YE OLDE AMERICAN PASTIME

The Sidewinders are enjoying the increasing popularity of baseball — in Great Britain.

By Ed M. Odeven
Rafu Correspondent

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Professional baseball players don’t really have off-seasons anymore. Well, at least that’s the case with most players nowadays; year-round conditioning has become the norm.

Travel across the Atlantic Ocean and there’s a slightly different identity: baseball, a minor sport.

A drawn-out spring training is not realistic for all ballplayers in the British Baseball Federation, as it is made up of amateurs, many of whom also hold full-time jobs.

“Yes, it is always an issue with us,” said Yuzo Saito, a player/head coach for the London Sidewinders. “We are an amateur club and we have to rely on people’s commitments. However, we have to make sure that players have their priorities right and make sure that their careers do not go off the line

“I am excited and cannot wait for the new season to start, but at the same time I am extremely worried for some of the players as they will not be as fit as the rest, as they are not able to train week in and week out.”

Saito, a pitcher/catcher, and the Sidewinders began the 2004 season last Sunday against the Richmond Knights. The Sidewinders, who play in the Premier Division’s Southern Conference (the Rawlings National League, one tier higher, is the British equivalent of Major League Baseball), are coming off a successful 2003 season in which they finished second in the league and advanced to the playoffs.

Naturally, the team is hoping to replicate last season’s success and that it has created a buzz entering this season.

“It appears that more people are willing to have a go at baseball than before,” Saito said.

Perhaps the league’s increased stability will help, too. Like a blackjack dealer at an Atlantic City casino shuffling a deck of cards on a frequent basis, it appeared that that was what league officials were doing with the divisions, i.e., they never stayed the same year after year.

Now, that could be changing. And, Saito said, that’s a good thing.

“The game has improved and the standard has risen as a result of this stability in the game,” he continued. “Though the northern league went through another overhaul to match what we have down in the south, it will be interesting to see how well they cope to the adjustments.”

As any baseball manager will tell you, pitching is the key ingredient to consistent winning. Adding new pitchers to the mix always adds and element of intrigue for any skipper.

The Sidewinders’ new pitchers are Mamoru Kageyama and Takeshi Tomita.

In other words, it remains to be seen how the 2004 Sidewinders’ pitching staff will perform, but Saito said he expects good things from his new hurlers.

“We were fortunate to find two new pitchers this season,” said Saito, who has made ends meet in the U.K. by working in the advertising department of the Asahi Shimbun and coaching at an American baseball school.

“It will be difficult to say how good they will be compared to the pitchers we had last year, but they played at a very high standard in the past and it will be interesting to see how they will do this year.”

MEET THE SIDEWINDERS

Like last year’s squad, the 2004 Sidewinders feature a strong blend of British and international talent, including nine Japanese players.

Here’s a brief rundown on each of them, with insight provided by Skipper Saito, who also serves as catcher and pitcher.

*Pitchers: Mamoru Kageyama, Takeshi Tomita and Hiroyuki Hoshino.

Kageyama, a veteran ballplayer, is expected to pitch a few innings each week. He played for Keio University and is a journalist by trade. In fact, he covered Ichiro Suzuki day in and day out during his magnificent 2001 rookie season with the Seattle Mariners. He should also see time in the outfield.

Tomita is a submarine-style pitcher who should get playing time at the middle infield positions.

Hoshino, a third-year Sidewinder, is not expected to play a lot this year due to family commitments. He is a valuable team leader and a strong outfielder.

*Infielders: Masa Saito, Toshio Watanabe, Kazuwa Doi and Takeshi Torimoto.

Saito, another third-year player, is a first baseman with a clutch bat.

Watanabe, meanwhile, appears ready for a breakthrough season after emerging as the “revelation of the year” in 2003.

The versatile Doi likely will begin the season sidelined with an injury.

Torimoto was one of the team’s top starting pitchers last year. But he broke his right arm while pitching in Germany. This year he is making a comeback as a left-handed throwing infielder.

*Outfielder: Tomoyoshi Wakamatsu.

The steady Wakamatsu has a knack for the big hit. “(He was) invaluable to our success last year,” Saito concluded.

On Sportswriting

I came across this memorable passage in an excellent interview with John Schulian, who has worn many hats in a distinguished career (news reporter, sports columnist, magazine writer, book editor, TV writer).

“These are games they’re writing about, not the end of the world. If you miss one, don’t worry—there will be another tomorrow. The same with heroes—there’s a bus pulling into town with a new batch every day. Life is going to go on. Enjoy it, examine it, try to understand it, and try to write about it in a way that will stand up for more than a day. When you have the chance and the clock is on your side, try to put something on paper that years later will help someone stumbling across your words understand the time in which you lived and wrote.”

Full interview: http://www.bibliobuffet.com/archive-index-athletic-supporter/1680-we-write-and-take-our-chances-an-interview-with-john-schulian-012212%5D

“Water sustains all life. … When water is threatened, all living things are threatened.”

This article appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on March 2, 2006.

EPIC JOURNEY KEEPS TRADITION ALIVE

By Ed Odeven

“Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds,” someone once said.

For the Hopi Tribe, running is a sacred tradition, a link from the past to the present. It’s an activity that’s been proudly passed on from generation to generation.

Nowadays, Richard Dawavendewa, 39, is one of many individuals committed to preserving the significance of running for Hopis.

“I think at this point and age all we can do is try to carry on the knowledge and the traditions that we do know and make sure that they are being continued and practiced in the right way — how it was meant to be,” Dawavendewa said.

“(Running) should be a habit, a constant, not just an off-and-on approach.”

The Tuba City High School art teacher and cross country coach, is one of more than two dozen Hopis ranging in age from 12 to 74 — Krystyne Sumatzkuku is the youngest, Bob Mac Harris is the elder of the group — who are taking a 2,000-mile trek called the 2006 H2opi To Mexico City Run.

Some New Mexico Pueblo tribes and Ivan Gamble, a Navajo man from LeChee, are also taking part. They will arrive in Mexico on March 15 for the 4th World Water Forum. (See the related story on A2.)

The 14-day journey began Thursday at Coyotes Springs in the Moencopi Village. There was a water-blessing ceremony at sunrise.

Today, the group ran to Zuni, N.M. Saturday’s journey extends from Zuni to Isleta, N.M. Sunday’s trek: Isleta to Truth or Consequence, N.M.

Each of the group’s runners will cover about 15 to 30 miles per day by foot. Support personnel will follow them in vehicles, and after one portion of the group finishes its run for the day another will begin its stage. All in all, they’ll run from dawn till dusk during this grueling journey. Think of it as two-week relay race.

So why are they going to Mexico City?

In short, Dawavendewa’s own experience underscores what’s happened on the Southwest’s native lands.

“I live in an area where we have a lot of local springs that were alive back in my grandfather’s day that are getting used up from the water that was being slurried out of Black Mesa for coal,” said Dawavendewa, who’s from the village of Lower Mungapi. “The (water) table level’s dropped significantly, so a lot of the local springs have dried up.”

As an official press release posted on its Web site, put it: The 4th World Water Forum seeks to raise “the awareness on water issues all over the world. As the main international event on water, it seeks to enable multi-stakeholder participation and dialogue to influence water policy making at a global level, thus assuring better living standards for people all over the world and a more responsible social behavior towards water issues in-line with the pursuit of sustainable development.”

Dawavendewa found out about the H2opi To Mexico City Run in December 2004. It piqued his interest, and then he attended a meeting in his village.

Since then, he’s been actively involved in the group.

“We’ve been helping out with various activities like fundraising, helping with the runs, donating bikes for the runs,” he said at a Flagstaff restaurant over lunch with his wife, Miranda, and their two young children, SiKuyva, 1, and Jacob, 5.

The celebrated artist also created the H2opi group’s official logo. (To help raise money for the H2Opi trip to Mexico, Black Mesa Trust and the H2opi Committee had commemorative T-shirts and sweatshirts made with the following words of wisdom:

“Water sustains all life. Her songs begin in the tiniest of raindrops into flowing rivers, travel to majestic oceans and thundering clouds and back to earth to begin again. When water is threatened, all living things are threatened.”

To prepare for the demanding physical rigors of this trip, Dawavendewa has increased his workouts and competitions in recent months. Last March, he ran in the Valley of the Sun Marathon. In January, he completed in the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half-Marathon with his oldest son, 16-year-old Lance. Dawavendewa completed the race in 1 hour, 57 minutes, 49 seconds. Also, he recently ran the 90 or so miles from Lower Mungapi to Dilkon in one day, he said.

“All those races were part of my preparation, in mileage and in different distances,” said Dawavendewa, who averages about 7 minutes per mile for shorter races but slows down his pace for longer treks.

The 1984 TCHS graduate points to his upbringing as a major factor as to why he still runs.

“I’ve been running for a long time just for the enjoyment of it,” he said.

In eighth grade, he began racing competitively and was a member of Tuba City’s junior varsity team in his first three years of high school.

After graduation, he moved to Phoenix and began racing on a regular basis.

In those days, he ran a race “at least one every weekend,” Dawavendewa said with a hint of pride in his voice.

“(I ran) mainly for me, for my enjoyment, challenging myself, different mileage, different road races, (including) marathons and half-marathons.”

These days, the NAU and University of North Dakota graduate (he earned two undergraduate degrees at the former, and a master’s in fine arts at the latter) actively embraces the way running keeps young and old physically fit.

He spoke about Sumatzkuku, the 12-year-old runner, and Harris, the 74-year-old, with equal admiration, detailing the youngster’s dedication and Harris’ legendary status on the Hopi Reservation.

“During the basket dance at lunchtime, they have these races that are footraces, … Bob Mac is always a constant presence in running those. Because of his stature, he just gets more recognition that way.

“He’s always beating somebody,” Dawavendewa said of Harris, laughing.

Basket-dance races are held in the autumn as part of the harvest celebration at various villages, including Shungopavi.

“They can be pretty challenging,” he said. “Not only the terrain, but the distance as well. For example in the village of Shungopavi, they go up that back side of the mesa, and that mesa is steep. You just literally stop and try to get up that hill.

“It’s all in dirt. It’s all literally cross country, running through the bushes. Literally climbing up the back side of the mesa.”

Just like it was centuries ago for Hopi runners.

In those days, “running was actually a means of carrying messages to other villages at that time,” Dawavendewa said. “We didn’t have any cars or roads or anything like that. So you needed to get your strongest runners out there to carry a message from one village to the next.”

Today, he said, an equally important message is this:

“…As you grow up, you do see the changes that have been made and you try to preserve what you can.”

The same is true about water.

BREAKOUT BOX

In an article posted on Ultrarunning.com, Dan Brannen details some of the most significant milestones that were recorded by Hopi runners. He writes:

“The Hopi Indians particularly have many stories told of their running prowess. Walter Hough described a Hopi Indian running 65 miles in eight hours, from Oraibi Pueblo (Oraivi) to Winslow, before turning around and running home. George Wharton James wrote in 1903 that on several occasions he had employed a young man to take a message to (Oraivi) to Keams Canyon, a distance of 72 miles, and that he had run the entire way and back within 36 hours. Another Hopi, Letayu, carried a note from Keams Canyon to Fort Wingate and returned, covering over 200 miles in three days. …

“The most famous of the Hopi Indians was Louis Tewanima, who won the silver medal in the 10,000 meters in the 1912 Olympics, and finished ninth in the 1908 Olympic Marathon. In his younger days he would reputedly run from his home to Winslow and back, some 120 miles, just to watch the trains pass.”

Profile of then-Hiroshima Carp (and former MLB) player Chad Tracy a few weeks after 3/11/2011

This feature appeared in the Kinston (North Carolina) Free Press on April 17, 2011

Chad-O
Former Pirate Tracy making an impact in Japan on and off field

By Ed Odeven
Special to The Free Press

TOKYO — While pro baseball is under way in Japan after the catastrophic natural disasters on March 11 forcefully and unexpectedly created a number of unique challenges for an entire nation, former East Carolina baseball standout Chad Tracy is eager to make an impact for the Hiroshima Carp this season.

The red-and-white clad Carp hope to improve on their 58-84-2 record and climb into playoff contention in Japan’s Central League. On the other hand, Tracy won’t set targets for home runs, RBIs, batting average, etc. To him, that’s not the proper approach.

“I usually don’t set number goals,” Tracy said by phone from Hiroshima as he geared up for the Carp’s season-opening series against the Hanshin Tigers. “For me it’s about trying to help the team win baseball games. If I drive in runs and I’m out there getting on base and scoring runs, it gives us a better chance to win every night. It’s about getting hits with runners in scoring position and being out there scoring runs.”

The Carp had expected to begin their regular season on March 25 against the CL rival Chunichi Dragons in Nagoya, but plans changed after the events of March 11. Players had spent months preparing for the coming season and then everything came to a crashing halt.

“I think we’ll quickly fall back in a routine,” said Tracy, whose team lost two of three games against the Tigers at Koshen Stadium, Japan’s most beloved ballpark, in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.

As for the team’s offense, the West Mecklenberg High graduate believes the Carp will need to utilize their speed (119 steals in 2010) to put runs on the board. The numbers support that perspective; the Carp hit the fewest home runs (104) in the six-team CL last season.

“We don’t have big power guys,” said Tracy, a career .278 hitter in the majors, “so we’ll need to manufacture runs and (utilize) small ball. We do have some pretty good players.”

At the plate, the left-handed-batting Tracy, who broke into the big leagues with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004 and played for the club until becoming a free agent after the 2009 season, expects to be served a healthy dose of curveballs, perhaps more than he’d usually see in the majors. But he considers preparation will be the key to hitting successfully in Japan.

“They tend to throw more breaking balls in fastball counts, kind of keep you guessing,” Tracy observed, speaking about the prototypical Japanese pitcher. “I’m just trying to be patient and get something to hit,” he added.

“I had a good spring training, swung the bat very well, so as long as I can stay healthy it should be a good season.”

Meanwhile, Tracy is still adjusting to Japanese cuisine and blending his own workouts and on-field competition to keep a comfortable playing weight. He noted that large helpings of noodles and rice have made it “tougher to keep (weight) off than on around here.”

But after a season of uncertainty, when he bounced around the Cubs, Yankees and Marlins organizations, including 69 combined games in the bigs for Chicago and Florida, Tracy is keeping an open mind about his new team and playing baseball in the Far East.

“I’ll have to wait and see,” he said. “I’m not going to commit to anything longer than this year. I’ll see how it goes. You don’t know where your mind will be at end of year.”

He added: “I could end up playing five years here or one, you just never know.”

A pleasant relationships with second-year Carp manager Kenjiro Nomura can help make Tracy’s adjustment to Japanese baseball a smooth transition. Since arriving in Japan on Jan. 25, the Charlotte native has felt comfortable with the team’s management.

“He’s made it easy on all the foreigners here,” Tracy said of Nomura. “He’s very personable, easy to talk to and he understands where we are coming from and some of the things we are not accustomed to doing.

“He’s made himself very available.”

Asked to give an example, Tracy mentioned this: “He’s taken us out to dinner; we went to Outback. We’ve done that a couple times. He’s tried to make us feel comfortable here.”

“For him to do that, it says a lot for him,” Tracy continued. “We all respect him as a person, as a manager and as a former player. He likes to work hard, which is always fun. We are all used to working hard and he made sure we are all on the same page and understand what’s going on.”

To avoid having his words and expressions, simple or complex, lost in translation, Tracy and the team’s fellow foreigners will rely on interpreters throughout the season.

That two-way communication won’t simply be “yes” or “no” questions and answers. Instead, Nomura has clearly made a point of requesting feedback from Tracy and other ballplayers.

“When the tsunami hit, he made sure our families were OK,” Tracy recalled. “We had meetings and he asked us our opinions.”

This included the uncertainty over the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant crisis, as there were — and still are — natural fears in the immediate aftermath of the environmental disaster.

“With the nuclear reactor and stuff, he wanted to know our concerns about how we felt going to Tokyo,” Tracy said of Nomura. “We all agree we felt safe, but didn’t go up there for spring games.”

***

Every sector of Japanese society is pitching in to help Japan’s recovery from last month’s catastrophic events. All-time home run king Sadaharu Oh, for example, greeted fans at a public event in March, held out a jar to collect donations and asked for their support in raising funds. Emperor Akihito has also appeared on television and at refugee shelters to speak about the situation and give comfort to those who have been affected the most.

So it’s only natural for sports teams to lend a hand, too. Tracy and his Carp teammates use some of their off time before the regular season’s delayed opener to do their part. At Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium Hiroshima, which is often referred to as Mazda Stadium by the English mass media, Tracy participated in fundraising events, greeting fans and asking them to donate money to aid the earthquake and tsunami victims. (Many of Japans’s sports teams, leagues and individual athletes have pledged financial support for the Japanese Red Cross.)

Similar team-organized events took place at Hiroshima train stations, while other players have set aside funds for those in need affected by the March 11 disasters.

Tracy is eager to help in any way he can.

“It’s one of those things if you have something to give and they need it, they probably need a lot more than we can give, and hopefully anything they get will help,” he said, without needing to cite the heartbreaking statistics that tell only a small part of the story — thousands have died and several thousand remain missing.

Given the enormity of the suffering that Japan has experienced since mid-March, Tracy believes this baseball-crazed nation can find some semblance of normalcy in its daily routine by staging a baseball season now.

“At this point, given the delay, it was the right thing to do and people are now to the point where they are ready to watch baseball,” he said. “I think the delay was necessary just so the country could kind of get its bearing, but definitely baseball can help be a little bit of comfort to people who are looking for normalcy in their lives.

“It’s going to be a little bit of a mix-and-match this season, but as long as the players are willing to kind of go through a little bit of sacrifice to get some games in, it should be normal and give fans out here something to watch everyday and hopefully take their minds off some of the things that are going on in Japan right now.”

***

Showing up to work at Mazda Stadium, which opened in 2009, is exciting, Tracy said, noting the park has an “American-style” feel to it, with a grass infield, unlike other Japanese parks that have dirt infields. He already knows that the team’s fans are loud and described the atmosphere as “exciting.”

When he steps into the batter’s box in Hiroshima, the fans roar with delight, voicing support for the slugger they affectionately call “Chad-o.”

“It’s really fun listening to the fans and the drum beating and the horns going on, chanting your name when you go out on defense,” Tracy said.

“…It keeps you pumped up in the game and the adrenaline going. It’s nice to have fans like that. With the fans the way they are, it helps get you through the night.”

Preparing for a new season and life in a new country, Tracy has had a busy past few months, including long training camp stints in Okinawa and Kyushu, islands south of Japan’s biggest island, Honshu, which includes the Western port city of Hiroshima.

He hasn’t had a great deal of free time to explore many of Hiroshima’s well-known sites, based on the city’s cultural and historic significance. He did visit Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and famous Shukkei-en Garden (originally constructed in the 1620s) during the Edo Period and rebuilt in the 1950s after the city was destroyed by the atomic bomb by the U.S. military in 1945 near the end of World War II) with his parents, Thelma and Roger Wilson, who reside in Charlotte, during their recent trip to Japan.

As the months progress, Tracy plans to pick his spots to soak up the city’s culture and explore the region.

But, he admitted, that “after a long day at the park you are not feeling like going to a sightseeing event.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that he hasn’t already found time to enjoy life in Japan as a new Carp player.

“Everybody has been polite and nice, but at the same time (the language barrier) is a challenge,” Tracy said, but he realizes it’s easy to be embraced by the locals.

“I spend most of my time at the ballpark, but as soon as they know you play for the Carp, they roll out the red carpet,” he added.

“The fans are very passionate. You can tell just by looking around the city and seeing the billboards … you can tell the Carp mean a lot to them.”

Tracy’s wife, Katie, and two children are staying with him in Hiroshima this season. His daughters are enrolled at a YMCA school and will have opportunities to study Japanese.

Tracy, meanwhile, can point to useful lessons he learned growing up in North Carolina, recalling Mother Nature’s genuine danger as something to help keep things in perspective while he’s in Japan.

“I’ve been through similar situations like that,” he said, speaking of hurricanes on the East Coast but far different than what took place on March 11 in Japan’s Tohoku region.

“I’ve seen the devastation firsthand, nothing to the extend of the tsunami,but knowing how dangerous water can be and how much damage it can have on people and lives, I would definitely say that being in that region in the United States it helped a little.

“Being through hurricane season every year, you learn to cope with tragedy.”

As a pro ballplayer for a decade, including his time in the minors, Tracy has seen his fair share of wins and losses. Now he hopes to help the Carp make a dramatic turnaround, and as part of Japan’s national pastime, play a small part in the nation’s recovery as well.

***

TRACY HIGHLIGHTS (related sidebar)

*Asked to reflect on his top career highlights to date, Chad Tracy responded by saying, “There’s a lot of memories. A few big home runs I hit, there’s the perfect game from Randy Johnson my rookie year (May 18,2004). But there’s none that really stand out really more than the others. Winning is the most important thing, and going to the playoffs is really cool, even though I was hurt and had surgery when we went to the playoffs (in 2007, a four-game sweep against the Rockies in the NLCS) it was pretty cool. … But winning games that season to be able to help the team get to the playoffs (was memorable).”

Though he’s seen action in 773 major-league games — a dream for millions of young boys — Tracy is humble enough to not put his own success before the team’s ultimate goal.

Or as he put it: “There are individual moments that stand out, too. But those are all in basically losing seasons. They are not as important to you.”

*In the majors, Tracy hit 79 home runs — including a career-high 27 in 2005. He racked up 690 hits, 333 RBIs and 161 doubles.

*Japanese baseball teams each come up with a new slogan each season. The Carp’s 2011 slogan is “Strikin’ Back!”

*Tracy did say without hesitation that the Hiroshima ballclub has longer meetings, more frequent strategy sessions, than he experienced in the big leagues, noting team preparation meetings here can exceed one hour, whereas the same meeting might only last 15 minutes in the major leagues. But, to him, it’s all about rolling with the punches.

“When it Rome, do what the Romans do,” he said with a laugh. “You get used to it, though it’s not one of your favorite things to do.”

Perhaps there’s a silver lining, though, by having a seemingly never-ending commitment to meetings in Japan.

“You can never say you are not prepared,” Tracy said.