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Salt Of The Earth

Being seasoned with sodium in Japan was just part of Comstock's strange baseball odyssey

March 23, 2003|From Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. — Keith Comstock has had fans in Japan toss salt on him, and his Yomiuri Giants teammates poured it in his locker as a purifying ritual because they believed the pitcher had hexed the team.

Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh once politely asked him to strike out with the bases loaded.

For a two-week pitching stint in the Venezuelan playoffs, Comstock once earned a cool $10,000.

Of the 10 times he was released, the quickest came when he was on an airplane, heading to join his new team in Puerto Rico.

Baseball has been very, very weird to Keith Comstock.

He had a 10-7 major league record with a 4.06 ERA in 144 appearances scattered over six years.

The globe-trotter doesn't regret his "have arm, will travel" quest, which also sent him bumping around the minors and earned him brief stints with Minnesota, San Francisco, San Diego and most notably, a two-year, relatively successful stay with Seattle.

"It certainly opened my mind, sure helped me to relate to different cultures," said the 47-year-old Comstock. "It also enabled me to appreciate being in the States.

"There's a line in a Grateful Dead song saying, 'What a long, strange trip it's been.' I have to agree with that."

Comstock is a pitching coach with the Angels' double-A affiliate in Little Rock, Ark., appropriately nicknamed the Travelers.

One of his more interesting cultural forays was in Japan, where he learned to speak the language, including the ability to politely refuse dishes that didn't suit his palate by saying, "I'm sorry, but it's still moving."

There was an uproar when he refused, because of his religious upbringing, to enter a Buddhist temple with his Yomiuri teammates. The Giants went into a tailspin afterward, and Comstock was believed to be the cause, resulting in the cleansing salt ritual.

"Everywhere I went for at least a month and a half, they had thought I put a great hex on the team by not going in there. I would get salt thrown on me walking down the street, in restaurants, and at the ball park there would be salt piled for four feet high sometimes," he recalled. "I finally told the manager enough is enough.

"He made a plea to the people to stop it, and it stopped right there."

The revered Oh was one of his teammates.

"I remember when I came up and they were walking a guy to load the bases and get to me," Comstock said. "Oh-San told me that if I had any feeling that I was going to hit into a double play, to please strike out."

Before he played in Japan, Comstock made a brief but lucrative appearance in Venezuela, filling in for an injured pitcher in the playoffs.

"I came back with about $10,000 because my team won. I felt like I stole money," he said. "Sometimes in baseball, it's about being in the right place at the right time. And I've certainly been in enough places."

He seems to have the most vivid recollection of his one-batter duty in the outfield for San Francisco in the 1980s when he tried to make a highlight-reel catch.

Former Giant Manager Roger Craig had let him play right field in Atlanta because of a double switch.

"That was probably my highest point. All that shagging paid off and I got to play right field in the big leagues for one hitter, Dale Murphy," Comstock said, grinning. "He hit a home run over my head.

"I went back on it and I had no idea where the fence was and I must have looked like an idiot in a Marx Brothers movie because I ran smack-dab into it. "I wanted to jump up and kind of hang on because I'd be on ESPN that night.

Instead, he flopped ingloriously into the wall.

"Then I had to come to the mound and face Ken Griffey, and he hit a double, and that was it for me," Comstock said.

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