Offered a chance to coach in two games against Samurai Japan from Tuesday in Osaka, former Orix Buffaloes pitcher Alessandro Maestri is returning to the venue where he found his greatest success and, for a time, mastered his demons.

Maestri recently spoke with Kyodo News about his stint with Orix and his battle with "the yips," which can leave athletes unable to do something as simple as throwing a baseball.

Former Orix Buffaloes pitcher Alessandro Maestri speaks online from his store in Rimini, Italy, on Feb. 18, 2024. (Kyodo)

"Japan is a country I have in my heart," the 38-year-old Italian said via video call. "It's a great opportunity for me, and I'm going back to the stadium where I used to play. It's crazy."

The games between Maestri's Team Europe and a young Japan roster will be held at Kyocera Dome Osaka, the right-hander's home park from 2012 to 2015 after stints in Australia and Japan's independent Shikoku Island League.

He is hopeful some players he is coaching will also find their way to pro baseball in Japan after challenging some of the nation's top young stars.

"Everybody wants to play at that level, and those who have a little more talent are definitely hoping to be seen by scouts. I hope some of them get some exposure and interest there," he said.

Now retired, Maestri has created the "Dominate" brand for his baseball goods and equipment business in Rimini, Italy, and espouses a mind-over-matter philosophy he learned the hard way.

After becoming a key contributor to Italy's national team, Maestri began pitching in the Chicago Cubs organization in 2006 and reached Double A where his career went into a tailspin after a bout with shoulder soreness.

"When I came back from that injury, I ended up having the yips," he said. "It was a very stressful time, and that affected me for the rest of my career."

After he "touched bottom" and was released by the Cubs, Maestri found help through a sports psychologist and learned relaxation techniques that allowed him to compete.

"I ended up writing a book to share that experience. Baseball is such a mental sport, so to me, 'Dominate' is being able to dominate your mind," he said. "I wanted to share that part of my career that nobody knew about because when you have the yips, obviously, it's something that you try to keep inside."

Maestri is gratified athletes' mental issues are no longer as stigmatized as they once were.

"When I was in the States, we saw the first few mental coaches walking around, and everyone would be looking at them like, 'I would never talk to him,' and 'I'm not crazy,'" Maestri said.

"Now, I'm sure all the big players have mental support. I'm really happy, it's something normal, that times have changed."

As Maestri found ways to cope, he also found the success he had been looking for in elite pro baseball in Japan.

"I was blessed," Maestri said.

"I always tried to do everything they (the Japanese players) were doing, even though it was different from the way we did it in the States. So, at times, it was hard, and it got to some points where it was kind of stressful. But I think what I remember most...was that I was actually able to feel like one of them, even sometimes Japanese players would take me out to dinner without my interpreter."

"I was trying to learn Japanese, and I wasn't bad at it. I could get by. That makes me proud. That I could go there and not just be, 'I'm a foreigner' and just do things my way. I really respected the way they were doing things and the culture."

Experiencing Japan by pitching in big stadiums in front of large, boisterous crowds was gratifying, but it was still a daily challenge.

"I had to do a deep job in trying to work in relaxation because it's basically being anxious," he said. "It's an anxiety problem. You can't control your thoughts. Your thoughts are actually taking control of you. I have to do a lot of relaxation, every day before going to bed before every start. Now looking back, I got tired doing all that just to play a game."

Maestri is now positioned to help others learn as the Team Europe players get a taste of what he savored here.

"There in Japan, I could accomplish my dream of playing in the big leagues," he said. "I'm pretty positive there are going to be a lot of people at the games. I'm happy for them that they're going to be able to experience it."

Related coverage:

Baseball:Shohei Ohtani happy with married life but keeps wife's name secret

Baseball: A "safe bet" Yamamoto will start in South Korea: Roberts

Baseball: Free agent Shintaro Fujinami inks 1-year deal with Mets