Former Cubs and Rangers righthander Spencer Patton was sold by the Cubs to the Yokohama BayStars in November and is preparing for his first season in Nippon Professional Baseball, which begins its season on Friday. Patton is writing a diary for Baseball America on his experience playing pro ball in Japan and his writing will appear here on occasion.
How did I get here? I look around and see streets illuminated with signs written in a language that I don't speak or understand, cars driving on the opposite side of the road, and faces that don't look like the ones with which I'm familiar.
Is this real? How did my path lead to this place?
I suppose it all started with a little boy's dream in a backyard on Main Street in small town southern Illinois. At that sanctuary that resembled Busch Stadium, but only in our minds. The place where every swing of the bat was detrimental to the survival of our neighbors' window panes. Where rules such as "ghost runners" and the "Johnny Bench Rule" were a part of everyday life. Back when the game of baseball was as simple as it could be. All we had was a ball, a bat, and a glove. We just played the game for the sheer and absolute love of the sport. That little boy had no idea that this "simple" game could take him so far.
I grew up loving to play baseball. My youth was filled with spending summers at the baseball field practicing and playing "Home Run Derby" for hours with my friends. If the field's switch box hadn't been locked, we would have stayed there all night playing under the lights. By the time we were in high school, some of us improved our baseball skill sets and some of us didn't. I was fortunate enough to be one of the ones who's baseball development improved, allowing me to pursue my passion for the game of baseball into college at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.
Without the persistence of my late grandfather, who nagged a summer collegiate team in the Coastal Plains League near his home to allow me to play, I'm not sure I would have ever thought about a professional career in baseball. It was in the CPL that I received my first taste of the possibility of pro ball. [Editor's Note: Patton ranked as the No. 10 prospect in the CPL that summer.]
Seeing players around me being drafted, and watching scouts consistently attending games in droves gave me the realization that a career in professional baseball was something that could really happen. Although things didn't end up going quite accordingly to plan because I sustained a season-ending knee injury, I was still part of a summer collegiate national championship, and I was drafted by the Royals in the 24th round of the 2011 draft.
After spending what seemed like two life sentences in Rookie ball, I managed to claw my way onto the high Class A team out of spring training in 2013. I finished that season in Triple-A, where we ended up winning the National Championship. In 2014, I nearly broke spring training with the big league team as a non-roster invitee. Later that summer, on the day I was to appear in the Triple-A All-Star Game as a member of the Royals organization, I was traded to the Rangers. I actually pitched in the game wearing a Royals uniform, although I was officially a member of the Rangers.
I made my major league debut on Sept. 4, 2014. This small town boy had made that backyard fantasy a reality, making great memories and forming a brotherhood along the way. But something was different. The game wasn't so simple anymore. Not the game between the lines—that was always the same—but the business side of baseball was now showing its face. And it's not always a pretty face.
After a long, up-and-down 2015 season, I was once again traded during the offseason, this time to my childhood nemesis—the Chicago Cubs! So 2016 started with what was the best spring training of my life to date. I had a lot of fun playing with the Cubs, and certainly enjoyed being a part of history, but the offseason would bring with it a very difficult decision for me to make.
However, this time I was able to choose my own path—remain with the Cubs, or take a chance and sign with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars of Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league. Was this really to be my next step? It all happened very quickly. From the time my agent presented me with the idea, to the time the Cubs and BayStars worked out a buy-out agreement, to the time my agent negotiated a playing contract seemed like overnight. After talking things over with my agent, my wife, God, Theo Epstein, Joe Maddon and several other players who have previously played in Japan, I signed on the line which was dotted to become the newest member of the BayStars.
My decision was based on my ability to stand out in Triple-A, but yet not quite get over the hump at the major league level. I wanted to try something different. Something that could help give me that last extra boost. Maybe learn something new about myself that could put me in the big leagues for a good, long while.
I felt good about my decision. For once I was able to make a career choice, without the choice having been made for me. For once I will be in one place for the entire season without having to move several times between cities. I am fortunate to have been blessed with a tremendous opportunity to provide for my family, while at the same time being part of a great team and organization, and experiencing a new world.
I only wish I had more time at home with my family before I crossed that big pond to a land in a country of incredible culture, tradition, and history. Who knows how this will end up, or where this adventure will lead. But here I am, in a place where that little boy from a small town in Illinois never could have dreamed he would be, playing that simple game.