Journeyman hurler C.J. Nitkowski was one of the first big leaguers to mess around with what we call a blog these days, but his early efforts weren’t quite a salacious as this. Currently in Spring Training with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, Nitkowski’s diary can be found in the Sentinel (link swiped from Repoz and Baseball Think Factory)

Before you board one of the buses, you have a very important decision to make. This decision is one no American ballplayer in my generation has ever had to make _ get on the smoking or nonsmoking bus.

I was caught a little off-guard when I was presented with such an option. Around 40 percent of the players smoke, so separation is necessary. I opt to go smoke-free every day.

There is something about being trapped in a smoked-filled bus at 9:30 in the morning that just doesn’t sound all that appealing. I guess that doesn’t sound appealing to me at any time of the day.

I came here determined to experience all Japan has to offer. Whether it is food or local customs, I’ve told myself to be open-minded and try things I might otherwise never have the opportunity to experience. So when I was told the hotel had an onsen (Japanese hot spring), I decided I really wanted to try it.

My first thoughts were that a natural hot spring is just nature’s hot tub. Having never been, I was briefed by one of the team’s three interpreters they have provided for the four Americans. He told me that the Japanese use an onsen completely nude.

Now these are fairly large pools that could fit anywhere from 15 to 20 men, and I was having a hard time understanding why they wouldn’t just wear bathing suits. He kind of agreed with me, so when I took my first trip to the onsen, I wore a suit.

There were two Japanese men inside the outer pool when I arrived, yes, both fully naked (the pools are only about 2 feet deep). Without making eye contact, I joined them.

The hot spring experience was very nice and very relaxing, and a much different experience from a hot tub. The heated water combined with nature’s minerals really provided a muscle relaxation experience I have never had before.

When I had relaxed enough, I dried off and made my way toward the exit. As I was leaving, I noticed a list of guidelines for using an onsen. Sure enough, as I worked down the list, I read that bathing suits are prohibited. It is birthday suit or the highway in the onsen.

I read somewhere that there is a Japanese virtue of “naked communion” where social barriers are broken down and you can get to know people in a relaxed atmosphere such as an onsen.

As you may imagine, I was in quite the quandary. I had just experienced one of the really great things Japanese culture has to offer, but I am not completely sold on the “naked communion” part of it, especially with strangers of the same sex. However, after a long spring training workout, an onsen is an ideal way to finish the day.

What is an American to do?

Let me put it this way: Before the next day’s workouts were even over, I couldn’t wait to be a member of “naked communion.” And so it goes, communion is no longer just on Sundays for me.

Though he’s nearly doubled his 2006 salary, Dodgers reliever Joe Beimel lost his arbitration case yesterday ; he’ll earn $912,000 in ’07 rather than the $1.25 million he sought.  The result is another feather in the cap of former Bill Singer sparring partner Kim Ng (above, right), and a not so subtle reminder to Beimel that Ann Marlowe isn’t the only thing hazardous to your health in New York bars.