|ESPN.com: Surfing||[Print without images]|
|34-year-old Charlie Weatherby has been a bit of a journeyman as a pitcher, but he's never been as happy with his career as he is in Japan, where he scores barrels on the regular.|
For professional baseball pitcher, Charlie Weatherby, his surf dreams became reality after Major League Baseball when he started playing in the Japanese Shikoku Island League Plus. He pitches for the Kochi Fighting Dogs, throwing heat and also getting barreled off his gourd. In fact, the 34-year-old, regular foot gained celebrity status in Japan for his pitching, but also for his shredding. He's scored 19 typhoon swells since moving to the Land of the Rising Sun.
According to Weatherby, out of the 30 countries the 6'1", 220-pound pitcher has traveled to, Japan by far has the sickest waves he's ever experienced.
"This is going to be my 13th year in baseball and literally I can't tell you anywhere I've played where I've got to surf, so [playing baseball in Japan is] pretty sick," he says, "I'm pretty amped on it."
Weatherby's story of how he got on the Kochi Fight Dogs squad is almost a combination of "Mr. Baseball" and "East Bound and Down," but the main difference is that our hero was a surfer before a ball player. He grew up in Beaufort, North Carolina, surfing Atlantic Beach, and competing in the Eastern Surfing Association. Weatherby competed and surfed with Right Coast heavies, the Hobgood brothers, Asher Nolan, Justin Schultz and Ben Bourgeious. Although he loved surfing and made ESA finals against the future World Tour surfers, his parents pushed him toward academics and athletics.
|Weatherby has become something of a celeb in Japan as a starter.|
"Surfing was my love, but I excelled at football and baseball," he admits about the choice to pursue mainstream sports.
In his senior year of high school, Weatherby, who was the starting quaterback at the time, had more football than baseball scholarships. He was the number two pitcher on the baseball team, but played more center field because of his hitting ability. Then one fateful game, Weatherby pitched and some scouts took notice. The scouts suggested that he go to junior college instead of football at a four-year university. So Charlie attended the University of North Carolina Willmington and lived on Rancho Beach, which he says had a lot more consistent wave than home.
Before he knew it he was drafted by the Red Sox and pitched from 2001-04. Then he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, and had a baby. At that point, he was over the diamond and longed for the lineup, so he left baseball and started surfing contests again. Weatherby came back to the surf industry and started repping brands like Boysen Surfboards, Hot Tuna clothing and Electric Eyewear. He was happy, but then his agent called him out of semi-retirement and promised he would make twice the amount he was making in surfing by throwing heat again.
|When Weatherby got the call from his agent about playing in Japan, he happened to be eating dinner with Ben Bourgeois who told him about the barrels where he'd be playing baseball.|
By the middle to late-2000's, the MLB began testing more players for steroids and implementing stronger punishments. With that came more suspensions, and ironically another chance for Charlie to pitch baseballs in the majors instead of the new lines at trade shows. In 2006, he played a year with the Lancaster Barnstormers and won an Independent League championship. Then he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for a year, but blew his shoulder out in the process. He had surgery and came back to the MLB, signing with the Houston Astros. The experience "left a bitter taste" in his mouth though, and Weatherby shined baseball again to move home, care for his ailing father and surf.
Then his agent called again. This time though his representation was dangling Japan in front him. Coincidentally, Weatherby was having dinner with Ben Bourgeois when he got the call.
"Triple-A ball was good, fun, and I was making good money, but I wasn't doing what I wanted to be doing and that was to surf," says Weatherby. "So the guy calls me and Ben [Bourgeois] was eating dinner with me and my nickname is 'Steak' and he was like, 'Steak, you realize that they're trying to get you to play where the best waves in Japan are. Some of the best waves I've ever surfed in my life are right in the town where you're going.'"
|"This is going to be my 13th year in baseball and literally I canít tell you anywhere Iíve played where Iíve got to surf, so [playing baseball in Japan is] pretty sick,Ē says Weatherby, ďIím pretty amped on it.Ē|
Weatherby was skeptical at first, but headed Benny's advice and went. His skepticism struck out when "Steak" got to Japan and surfed a 500-meter long, barreling river mouth. He finished his first season as a gaijin (non-Japanese) pitcher for the Kochi Fighting Dogs with a 1.990 ERA and one was second in the league for pitching.
"If it wasn't for surfing I would've split way, way into the season," he admits.
Now Weatherby has a fan base in Japan that knows him as the surfing pitcher. He's scored Typhoon season barrel fests where he won't do a full-turn for a whole month because he only needs to do half-turns, pull-in and get shacked with a handful of guys in the water. At a certain point baseball took Weatherby away from surfing, but it eventually brought back him back to his first love.