A few years ago, I worked at an elementary school in Sacramento. As it was in an upper-middle class neighborhood, not far from the State Capitol, the school attracted the children of the well-to-do: Legislators, attorneys and also C-level local celebrities. Among this latter crowd was a former Major League Baseball player who I got to know, Dion James.
I actually met James years before when he came to sign autographs for my Little League team. A Sacramento product and 1980 graduate of C.K. McClatchy High School, where Nick Johnson and Larry Bowa also went, James played in the majors between 1983 and 1996 with four different teams. His best year came in 1987 with the Atlanta Braves when he hit .312 with 154 hits, six triples, and 10 home runs. James never became a star, though he was a key reserve in 1995 with the New York Yankees, even meriting a mention in Sports Illustrated. He visited my Little League practice that year and signed a Japanese card for me from his days with the Chunichi Dragons.
By the time I met James again a decade later, he was a 40-something-year-old father, raising a few sons in Sacramento, including one prodigy. We talked once or twice at the elementary school I worked at as a recreation aid. While he waited to pick up his son one time, James told me about his playing days, including his stint in the Japanese League. Like a lot of players, including Kevin Mitchell and Rob Deer, James went to play in Japan in the wake of the 1994 strike. Apparently, the Japanese training regimen is no joke. James told me about having to do exercises in gale-force winds, hunching down to show me how he and other Dragons players scooted into the wind.
Not surprisingly, James only lasted a year in Japan before returning to the majors.