Bale jumps back into big leagues
Reliever feels he's better by having pitched in Japan
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- John Bale had a special interest in the Stanley Cup while pitching in Japan in 2004. He would arise early in the morning, flip on his laptop computer and listen on the radio to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won hockey's coveted trophy that year.
Bale's brother-in-law is Vincent LeCavalier, who leads the National Hockey League in goals. He was the first overall draft pick in 1998 by the Lightning.
"He's pretty much their franchise guy," Bale said. "They pretty much built the team around him. He was the youngest captain in NHL history at age 19.
Bale, who signed with the Royals in the offseason after pitching three years in Japan, said he is a huge hockey fan.
"I used not to really be into it, but I am now," Bale said. "I've got somebody to root for. I wish I'd been there when they won the Stanley Cup."
One will not find Bale on ice skates.
"I have my son [Zachary] doing it," Bale said. "I'll wait until I'm done in baseball before I start messing around with that. I definitely wouldn't risk it."
Bale, a 32-year-old left-hander, pitched in parts of four seasons in the Majors with the Blue Jays, Orioles and Reds, compiling a 2-2 record with a 4.69 ERA in 27 games, including nine starts.
After the 2003 season, the Reds gave permission to the Hiroshima Carp to negotiate with Bale. He signed a one-year contract.
"It kind of went from there," Bale said. "It was a good opportunity for me to make some quick money for my family. I took the guarantee."
Bale went 11-10 with a 4.21 ERA in 25 starts and he agreed to a two-year extension with the Carp. He saved 24 games for the Carp in 2005 and had a 2.93 ERA with six saves and five starts in 2005.
"I don't regret doing it at all," Bale said. "I wouldn't have done it differently."
In the back of my mind I was hoping [to get back to the Majors]," Bale said.
"But you're in Japan and get kind of caught in the loop over there," Bale said. "And then you start thinking you're going to spend your whole career there."
"They matched the same deal I had in Japan, which I wasn't expecting. I was hoping," Bale said. "I just thought Kansas City was a better fit for me and my family. They really reached out."
General manager Dayton Moore, manager Buddy Bell and pitching coach Bob McClure called Bale, recruiting him to Kansas City.
"They told me about the direction they are headed and I wanted to be a part of that," he said.
Bale, who gave up two runs on three hits and struck out one in one inning on Thursday against the Angels, is being counted on as a left-handed setup man in the Royals' overhauled bullpen.
"I think I'm a better pitcher coming back than going over," Bale said of his Japanese tenure. "You had to mature on your own pretty quickly, not having a pitching coach for three years basically. The Japanese pitching coach really didn't talk to us. They just kind of stepped back and, if you're coming from the big leagues, they expect you to come in and help the team out right away. They pretty much left you alone, so you had to make your own adjustments over there and realize what your mistakes are and really watch your videos, kind of learn on your own. I think I'm a better pitcher for that."
Bale would like to add a World Series trophy to the family, which already includes a Stanley Cup.
Alan Eskew is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.