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Rob Smaal

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D'Antona hooked on more than baseball

by Rob Smaal (Apr 9, 2009)

Most young ballplayers in America grow up dreaming of playing in the World Series or maybe one day making it to Cooperstown, home of the Hall of Fame.

Not that he wouldn't take pride in either of those accomplishments, but Yakult Swallows corner infielder Jamie D'Antona had other goals in mind.

"Fishing was always my first love as a kid," the 26-year-old cleanup hitter said Wednesday prior to the Swallows-Dragons game at Jingu Stadium. "Baseball was just something I did in the summers to hang out with my buddies. It became my goal to make it in professional baseball so that I could get my own fishing show when I retired. I can't think of anything better than traveling around the world fishing, and getting paid for it. Plus, I can talk with the best of 'em."

That he certainly can do. He can hit a baseball, too--hard and often. Through Tuesday's game, a 4-3 loss to Chunichi, D'Antona was hitting .500 with one home run. He went 4-for-5 on Tuesday with a pair of doubles, which is impressive considering that he is still hobbled by a surgically repaired left knee.

A self-described "meat-and-potatoes" guy who would prefer a cold beer over a glass of Merlot any day, D'Antona's early success here shouldn't really come as a surprise. He was being touted as one of the best young hitters in the Arizona Diamondbacks system and he tore it up in Triple-A Tucson last year, hitting .365 with 21 HRs. Unfortunately, he also tore some cartilage in his knee that season. He says the injury is coming along, however, and while there is some discomfort it's nothing he can't live with, or play through.

So far, D'Antona has no reservations about his decision to come to Japan in the prime of his career, rather than cashing in at the end of his playing days, like many former major-leaguers have done.

"Hey, I got my game in the Bigs (18 actually, last year with the D-backs), got my hit--I'd be perfectly happy to finish off my career over here if it keeps going well," said D'Antona, who grew up in Connecticut but now makes his offseason home in South Carolina.

But enough about baseball. Conversations with D'Antona tend to gravitate toward fishing, something he got hooked on at an early age.

"When I was a kid my dad asked me what I wanted for my birthday," recalled D'Antona, who was 9 or 10 years old at the time. "I told him I wanted to go fishing with Bouncer Smith, one of the top fishing guides in Miami who was on TV all the time taking out the big guys.

"Well, we ended up having a really good day of fishing," recalled D'Antona. "We went offshore and I caught a 7-foot (2.13 meters) hammerhead shark, a 45-pound (20.4 kilograms) amberjack, a 25-pound yellowfin tuna, a couple of mahi-mahi bull dolphins up to 25 pounds. I didn't know it at the time, but Bouncer entered my name in the South Metropolitan Fishing Tournament, a yearlong tournament with a junior division for kids 12 and under. In that one day I ended up winning the yearlong tournament. I got a couple of plaques, a painting--it was one of the most memorable days of fishing I've ever had."

When asked the obvious question, D'Antona rubs his stubbly chin and thinks for a few seconds.

"The biggest fish I ever caught? My father and I have caught sharks up to 250-300 pounds. I've pulled in tarpon up to 100 pounds."

D'Antona, who went fishing with teammate Aaron Guiel during spring training in Okinawa, said he's keen to try fishing in Tokyo Bay on his day off. It's unlikely, however, that he'll match the success of that day on the water in Okinawa, where they pulled in 75 tuna, possibly a result of Guiel feeding the fish every once in a while as the seas swelled to 12 feet at times.

"It was a blast," said D'Antona, although Guiel might not share that sentiment. "I've got the itch again."


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