PORTLAND – Not every American can adjust to the Japanese pro baseball league, with its long, rigorous practices.

Alex Ochoa took to it right away.

“I loved it,” said Ochoa, who grew up in a disciplined home in Miami, so a little extra work wasn’t a problem.

Of course, there was the adjustment to a new culture, a different language and the lonely feeling of a foreigner.

That experience, among others, makes Ochoa suitable for a role with the Red Sox as special assistant to baseball operations.

It’s a vague title, encompassing the many hats Ochoa wears.

Most recently, he served as a mentor and interpreter for Cuban shortstop Jose Iglesias, who defected in 2008 as an 18-year-old and signed last year with the Red Sox.

Boston invested more than $8 million in Iglesias, and Ochoa’s job was to help him adjust to American culture.

Like a U.S. player in Japan?

“It’s obviously a different situation,” Ochoa said. “My parents were able to come (and visit). But I can relate a little bit (to being) so far from home, by yourself. It’s not easy.”

Ochoa can relate in other ways, with his Cuban background and experience as a touted prospect.

Ochoa, 38, was born in March 1971 in Miami, four months after his parents arrived from Cuba. His father, a doctor, initially requested to leave in 1965. He was punished for the request, told he could no longer be a surgeon, and eventually was sent to a labor camp.

“He worked in rice paddies and with sugar cane. He went through a lot of stuff,” Ochoa said. The family finally was allowed to leave in late 1970.

Ochoa became fascinated with Cuba and its problems, which prompts so many to want to leave.

“They ration food. If you go (where the food is distributed) and there is nothing there, you go without,” Ochoa said.

Ochoa learned more about Cuba when he encountered former Cuban baseball players, including a fellow Mets rookie, Rey Ordonez, in 1996.

Ochoa was a third-round draft choice of the Orioles but was traded to the Mets, then to the Twins. More deals followed. He also played for the Brewers, Reds, Rockies and Angels, earning a World Series ring in 2002.

His career batting average was .279, with a high of .316 in 2000 with the Reds.

Wanting to be more than a fourth outfielder and looking for a good payday, Ochoa went to Japan in 2003. The Chunichi Dragons had an opening after another major leaguer, Kevin Millar, went to the Red Sox.

Ochoa played four seasons with the Dragons. He signed with the Red Sox for the 2007 season but was sent to Triple-A. After a handful of games, he went back to Japan and played for Hiroshima for two seasons.

He joined the Red Sox as a coaching assistant and scout last year. When Boston signed Iglesias, Ochoa joined him in the Arizona Fall League last year. When Iglesias was assigned to the Sea Dogs, Ochoa also came.

While here, Ochoa has worked with others while serving as first-base coach.

Ochoa left Portland on Thursday for his home near Miami. Then he will head to Fort Myers, Fla., to check two Cuban players — catcher Adalberto Ibarra and outfielder Jorge Padron — both of whom signed this spring with Boston.

Ibarra is a blue-chip prospect and could even be at Hadlock Field later this season. So Ochoa may be back soon.

 

CHAD EPPERSON was one of the roving minor-league instructors to visit Portland this past week. His presence brought up memories when Epperson played here in 1998 with the Trenton Thunder, then a Red Sox affiliate.

Epperson hit two blasts that should have been home runs, but the umpires ruled both doubles. Both struck billboards above the home-run line in center and left. There was no Maine Monster then.

Because of the missed calls, the Sea Dogs installed a net to catch homers in center.

 

A GOOD DEAL combined with a canned food drive will take place Monday through Wednesday at the Hadlock Field ticket office.

The Sea Dogs are revising their canned food drive to benefit the Good Shepherd Food Bank.

For every ticket purchased — along with a donated non-perishable food item — fans will receive a free ticket of the same value to the same game.

There is no limit. If you buy 10 tickets and bring 10 canned food items, you get 10 free tickets.

 

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]