Saturday, September 26, 2015

Day 30: Deanna Dreams of Fighters

Hi all!  I'm finishing this up finally, and doing so from Japan!  I guess that's appropriate given that I started it a few weeks after getting back from my trip here in April.  I would feel bad about taking 120 days to finish instead of 30, except that the crazy Nohmi fan who actually started this whole thing never bothered finishing it herself.  So, there you are.

Day 30 of the 30 Day NPB Challenge says "Your Dream Team".

I think normal people would answer this by putting together the players they like that they think would just totally beat up any opposition they faced.

Me, I have decided to list a team of Fighters players that I've liked over the years and that I think would be fun to watch as a team (or just to hang out in the dugout with).  Assuming, of course, that I'm taking some of these guys at their prime (I clearly don't actually want a 48-year-old Yukio Tanaka playing, for example).

1B Yukio Tanaka
2B Masaya Ozaki
3B Michihiro Ogasawara
SS Makoto Kaneko
OF Hichori Morimoto
OF Tomochika Tsuboi
OF Atsunori Inaba
C Ryota Imanari
DH Fernando Seguignol

SP Hiroshi Kisanuki
RP Shintaro Ejiri
CL Yohei Kagiya

Definitely a few guys like Kazuhito Tadano, Micheal Nakamura, Yoshinori Tateyama, Brian Sweeney, Kazuya Murata, Yohei Kaneko, Masaru Saitoh, Yodai Enoshita, etc over the years that I also wish I could fit into this somehow.  I guess I could technically fill out an entire bench but I feel like there needs to be a limit somewhere.

You could also just say that my dream team is the 2006 Fighters and leave it at that and you wouldn't be too far off, either.

So I guess that's it.  You'll probably next hear from me here around draft time, in 4 weeks or so.  In the meantime, I'll still be posting random things from baseball games on Twitter while I'm in Japan, certainly!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Day 29: A Post about Hiroshi Kisanuki

It's just a coincidence that Kisanuki wears #29 for the Fighters and I happened to choose Day 29 of the 30-Day NPB Challenge for him.  Also I'm sorry this took me forever to write.  I feel really bad because he's having a bad season and I want him to do well and I'm worried, but at the same time I want to talk about how cool he is.

Day 29 says: "A player you wish he was your friend that you'd be proud to show around".

Clearly it would be Fighters pitcher Hiroshi Kisanuki because he's a great guy and because we have random hobbies in common!

A Great Guy

Kisanuki came to the Fighters in a trade that kind of pissed off pretty much everybody.  We sent the overly-talented-and-popular outfielder Yoshio Itoi, plus the former-ROY pitcher Tomoya Yagi over to the Orix Buffaloes, and in return we got former Seibu captain Shogo Akada, former Hosei captain Keiji Ohbiki, and uh... former Giants ROY pitcher Hiroshi Kisanuki.  All I knew about him up to that point, to be honest, was that Tatsunori Hara disliked him for some reason, but I never really knew what.  (In 2008 I was shadowing Jim Allen reporting on the Giants, and we saw Kisanuki running up and down the stairs of the Tokyo Dome, and he was like "I'm betting it's a punishment.  That guy is always in Hara's doghouse no matter how well he does.")

Of course, Japanese fans are often of the "Well, they're on our team now, we should support them!" mindset, so even as people were yelling hello at Itoi from the Fighters outfield when we played the Buffaloes, they still made a point of welcoming the new guys to the team.  Ohbiki actually had a fairly big following from pretty early on (and he ended up being Fighters captain in his second year after the trade, which was odd).  Shogo Akada, at least in the Kanto area, had a lot of admirers from his Seibu days.  Kisanuki, however, didn't seem to have much of a posse at first.

Two weeks into the 2013 season I was watching the Fighters play the Buffaloes in Kobe.  It was a notable game for me because it was Kagiya's first pro win!  But actually, something else happened that day that was equally important.  As batting practice was coming to an end, my friends were like "oh!  come down to the fence with us and let's see if Kisanuki will give us some baseball cards."

I thought they were kidding, but sure enough, right before heading to the dugout, Kisanuki reached into his bag, pulled out a stack of baseball cards (in sleeves, no less), and started walking along the outfield fence and handing them to everyone in the crowd!  They were signed and numbered.  He even said a cheerful English "Hello!" at me when he gave me a card.

Kisanuki handing out cards by the fence in Kobe.

The card he gave me that day.

Apparently he just does this whenever he can.  I got #234 in April, and then later on in August I got #2170, which means that he seriously obtained and signed and numbered at least 2200 baseball cards to give to fans over the course of a season.  And this guy has been a pro pitcher for over a decade.  Who DOES that?  Kisanuki does, apparently.  In an article in early 2013 he said he was going to try to give out 5000 of them that year, and that the team only provided him with the first 1000 cards.

But anyway, Kisanuki was also involved in what is one of my favorite but most embarrassing fan stories ever.  Basically, in mid-August 2013, my friend Takuma and I had gone up to see two midweek Eagles-Fighters games in Yamagata and Sendai.

I had read that Kisanuki is a huge train nerd (more on that later) and I made him a somewhat silly cheering sign - a parody of the Yamanote Line station signs, except instead of phonetically spelling his name underneath the kanji I wrote 我らのエース which means "our ace".  He was the starting pitcher at the Yamagata game but had a pretty awful start (giving up 5 runs in like, 2 innings) though the Fighters ended up winning 9-5.

The next day at Sendai I thought there was a chance I might see him, so I waited by the outfield fence during batting practice, and when he eventually did came over to give people baseball cards, I  held up my sign and waved hello at him and he was like "oh hi!  Nice sign, did you make it?" and I was like "Yeah, I made it for yesterday's game and I cheered for you but it didn't work, I'm sorry" and he was like "Whatever, it happens, thank you for cheering" and then he tried to talk to me in English but it didn't work very well (while he was still giving out cards to people.  Seriously.)

Anyway, I knew I wouldn't be able to get a photo WITH him, but I had a crazy impulse and asked, "Hey, can I take a picture of you holding my sign?" and he was like "uhh... sure?  I guess?" and motioned to hand it over the fence, so I did, and I took this picture.

Kisanuki holding up the sign I made, because he's just that cool.

The card he gave me that day.

Many of the other people standing around in the outfield weren't necessarily normal Fighters fans (this was a weeknight in Sendai, after all) so they were like "Wow that guy is really nice, you must be happy to cheer for a cool player like that", and I was still kind of shaking like "OMFG did I really just ask one of our starting pitchers to hold a silly sign I made for him??"

Hobbies in Common -- Railway Fans, Unite!

So anyway, something you might not necessarily know about me is that while my number one hobby in Japan is clearly baseball, my number two hobby is trains.  "Train fandom" is a huge hobby in Japan, although to be fair, it is mostly dominated by men, and there aren't many foreigners who really get into it.  The Japanese wikipedia article about the hobby is really pretty accurate -- there are some people who are just into riding all kinds of trains and obscure lines, some people who like taking pictures of trains, some who like model trains, some who like train melodies and station lunchboxes and such.

I am personally an adventurer, riding trains all over the country.  I identify my fellow adventurer train nerds because they're also riding local trains in an obscure part of the country and carrying a big thick 時刻表 timetable book.  Local trains because special tickets like the Seishun 18 let you ride anywhere for cheap, but no express trains allowed, and timetable books because you can't rely on cellphone coverage everywhere.  If a train gets delayed at all, or if you just want to wander around some area you stop in, you better know when the next train out of town is, or you may get stranded. The timetable book is also good for inspiration; some of my better train trips have happened due to just finding something cool-looking in the timetable and deciding to take it.  (I accidentally ended up on the awesome Isaburo and Shinpei tourist trains in Kyushu one time after going to Kareigawa, the oldest train station in Japan.)

Just as Japanese people are generally surprised to find a white girl doing baseball tourism, they're also surprised to find a white girl doing train tourism.  One of my favorite trips had a stop at the Tappi-Kaitei underground station in the Seikan tunnel between Honshu and Hokkaido, where we got a tour of the steam tunnels and then took an incline cable car up to the surface to see the very northern tip of Aomori and look out over the Tsugaru strait.  It was awesome!  And of course, through my luck I ended up booking on a tour where all the other participants were a group of old men from Yamaguchi prefecture who were doing some kind of senior tour trip together.

Irony: at the beginning of the trip one of them looked at me and made some comment like "Is it ok that this tour won't be in English?" and by the end, they were all like "Holy shit you are one serious train nerd" after I spent half the tour asking the tourguide a bazillion questions about the construction of the tunnel and the upcoming Hokkaido shinkansen development.

One of these things is not like the others...

I am, indeed, a train nerd.  I wouldn't have gotten to 46 out of the 47 prefectures on local trains otherwise.  In 2013 when I was finally eligible for a JR pass again, I spent 21 days covering 8718 kilometers of track, all the way from Wakkanai to Makurazaki, sleeping in 12 different cities and seeing 18 baseball games.  Good times.  Apologies to any JR employees reading this for exploiting your system.

So anyway, this is supposed to be a post about Hiroshi Kisanuki and why I want to be his BFF.

Well... Kisanuki is self-declared as プロ野球界随一の鉄道ファン, or "pro baseball's number one railways fan".  Fans for ages have talked about how they'd see him riding a train home from the stadium after baseball games, even from his Yomiuri days onwards.  (Most players either have a car or get a ride; I do occasionally see baseball players on trains but it's really rare.)  In offseason training times, articles about him often mention things like his plans to go ride a steam train on his off days.  He was the "One-day station manager" for the train station in his hometown of Satsuma-Sendai (the one in Kagoshima spelled 川内, not the well-known one in Tohoku spelled 仙台) in 2004, and he was supposed to be the one-day station manager as well when the Kyushu shinkansen opened.

(Unfortunately that was March 12 2011, so I can't find any record of him actually having done it, partially because of spring training and partially because it was the day after The Big Tohoku Earthquake.)

After getting traded to the Fighters, he started writing a column for the Hokkaido Nikkan Sports newspaper called 乗り鉄 about the trains in Hokkaido.  The article about it featured this awesome picture of him at Sapporo station:

There was even a time when the Sapporo metro was decorating a special ファイターズ号 subway car with Fighters players and the next player that was supposed to go on it was Keiji Ohbiki, but Ohbiki didn't really care and Kisanuki was like "Come on, who besides me even rides the train anyway?" and the team staff all agreed he was clearly the biggest train nut and deserved to be on the side of the train, and so he was.

Another thing I have in common with Kisanuki is that we both like biking!  Back during Spring Training in 2014, Kisanuki made it into the "random bizarre" section of spring training coverage by deciding he wanted to bike from the Fighters' ni-gun camp out to Cape Hedo.  It's about 40 kilometers round-trip so he rented a mountain bike to try it out.

Kisanuki also has a road named after him in his hometown of Satsuma Sendai.  It's a little bit hard to dig up specifics on it but I was able to narrow it down in Google Streetview to take a look.  Image searches on 木佐貫ロード show that it came into existance while he was with the Giants but the town has updated the sign as he switched teams.  Supposedly it's the road he used to run on for training back in high school.

What this all comes down to, though, is that it's hard to find cool people to take train trips with; you really have to be with someone who is meticulous about schedules, and actually enjoys spending long amounts of time riding on trains, and wants to explore random places... and also is someone you can spend long amounts of time with and not want to kill.  I only really have one good train friend that fits that.  I definitely could use more.  And I bet it would be awesome to do a long train ride or hike with Kisanuki.  He just seems like such an interesting guy, and we could talk about trains, or baseball, or Japanese history, or whatever, and it would be so cool.

I Have No Point Here, I Just Wanted To Post These

There was this crazy Legends Series at the Tokyo Dome on September 3-5, 2013, which included the longest game in Pacific League history on Sept 4th.  But, on Sept 3rd, Kisanuki started for the Fighters, pitched 7 innings, gave up 2 runs, Daikan Yoh put the fighters up 3-2 in the 4th inning, and the two of them were the game heroes!  And so when Yoh and Kisanuki came to the outfield to wave to the cheering section, I was in the front row holding up my train station Kisanuki sign, and he saw me and pointed and waved!  I mean, I was only one of maybe 3 or 4 people holding up a Kisanuki sign in a sea of Yohs anyway, but that was so cool, and I waved back and gave him a thumbs-up.

And then I made my friends all pose for a Kisanuki cheering photo just because.

My friends holding up their Yoh and Kisanuki towels

Kisanuki on the big screen during the hero interview

We all end up on the big screen too!!  I had my camera ready just incase :)  You can see me holding my sign over my face and the camera just above it.

Kisanuki and Yoh come to the outfield to thank the fans and to throw signed baseballs at us (no, I didn't get one)

Kisanuki cheering section!

Okay!  Well, that was long.  Day 30 is going to be difficult too and I really did want to get it done by the end of July or August, but hopefully I'll get out that last post sometime in the next week.  I'm going back to Japan on Sept 19th so I better at least have it done before then.

Friday, July 31, 2015

The 30-Day NPB Challenge

(I originally wrote/published this post on May 1st but I wanted it to be top of the blog AND I hope to finish all the entries by the end of July, so it's been redated to then.)

About a month ago, a Tigers fan that I only know as "Nice Pitcher Nohmi!" on Twitter started a #30DayNPBChallenge thing. Now, at the time, I was in Japan enjoying my normal try-to-cram-4-months-of-baseball-and-friends-and-stuff-into-2-weeks thing so didn't really have time to take on anything, but I decided that when I got back to the US I'd try to do this.

I don't guarantee that I'll actually do 30 days in 30 consecutive days, but I'll try to get through this by the end of, say, June or July.

The rules are in this post:

Since I dislike having them in an image only, they are:

1. The first NPB game you watched (Fighters-Buffaloes Sept 2003)
2. Your all-time favorite NPB player (Shunsuke Watanabe)
3. Favorite CL team (Swallows)
4. Favorite PL team (Fighters)
5. The moment you became the fan of a player (Yohei Kagiya)
6. Favorite pitcher (Brian Sweeney)
7. A batter you'd put all your bets in (Sho Nakata)
8. A fielder you enjoy watching (Hirokazu Ibata around 2004-2009)
9. A player you think is the most difficult to play against (Okawari-kun now, Matsunaka 10 years ago)
10. Favorite battery (Daisuke Takeuchi/Masahiro Nagasaki, Keio 2010)
11. A reliever/closer who gives you shivers when he takes the mound (Tetsuya Yamamoto)
12. A pitchers' duel you enjoyed or think you would enjoy (Game 5 of the 2007 Japan Series, Fighters' Darvish vs. Dragons' Yamai/Iwase perfect game - boxscore)
13. Most impressive moment in an NPB game (Benny's kubinage throw of Toru Hosokawa after the Lions hit 3 Marines players with pitches in one inning, Sept 24 2008: video)
14. Most disappointing moment in an NPB game (Hisashi Takeda giving up homers to Kamei and Abe in the 9th inning of Game 5 of the 2009 Japan Series)
15. Funniest scene in an NPB game (Marty Brown throws bases, May 7 2006)
16. Favorite team anthem (ファイターズと共に by TRIPLANE -- love the song but the "Fighters ver." video with so many friends and so many memories is the best)
17. Favorite team logo (Tokyo era Fighters logo)
18. Favorite mascot (Fighters ni-gun mascot Cubby)
19. Favorite uniform (Swallows alternates navy/black/etc 2011)
20. Favorite stadium or dome (Sapporo Dome OF, Jingu IF watching college baseball)
21. Coolest chance theme (Baystars "Rising", Swallows "Natsumatsuri", Fighters Sendai songs and Kansai)
22. Favorite ouenka (Alltime: Yukio Tanaka, current: Kenshi Sugiya with his switch-hitting switch-melody)
23. Manager you trust the most (Trey Hillman and Bobby Valentine)
24. A coach you wish he was yours (Masato Yoshii, come back to the Fighters!)
25. A young player you have expectations on (Daiki Asama)
26. Favorite farm player who you hope makes it to the first team (The four pitchers who I knew at Hosei University who are now on the Baystars and having various issues: Kisho Kagami '10, Tomoya Mikami '11, Kazuki Mishima '12, and Kenta Ishida '14)
27. A player you wish he was in your favorite team (Koji Fukutani)
28. Favorite rivalry between two NPB players None. My favorite rivalry is Keio vs Waseda, or Everyone vs the Giants.
29. A player you wish he was your friend that you'd be proud to show around (Hiroshi Kisanuki, baseball's biggest train nerd and nicest guy)
30. Your dream team (See post; Fighters dream team of sorts)

I may not make separate posts here for ones that need 130 characters or less to answer, such as the first one, which is just going to be: September 2003, Fighters vs. Orix Blue Wave.  I wrote an entry on here about it a few years later.

(and I suppose several of these are just going to be links to old entries on here, in all honesty)

Sometime this summer I'm hoping to write up a guide to watching baseball in Japan since people ask me all the time and I'd like to have something good to link them to.  It may have to wait until after Google I/O, though :)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Day 15: My Manager Throws Bases, revisited

Day 15 of the NPB 30-Day Challenge says "Funniest scene in an NPB game".

I'm going to have to go with the infamous "Marty Brown Throws Bases" incident here.

I figured this one will take way more than 100 characters to adequately explain.  It's hard to believe it was almost 10 years ago now (on my birthday no less) May 7, 2006.  It was a month or two into Marty Brown's first season managing in Japan.

The Dragons were playing at the old Hiroshima Municipal Stadium (a stadium I would visit later that year and also see the Dragons).  Domingo Guzman was pitching for the Dragons, and Mike Romano for the Carp.  In the top of the third inning, with the score tied 0-0 and one out, Guzman (bizarrely) was on first base having gotten an infield hit.  Masahiro Araki grounded to shortstop Eishin Soyogi, who threw to Akihiro Higashide at second for the easy out on Guzman.  Higashide then threw the ball to Kenta Kurihara at first.  It was a really close play and the umpire called Araki safe.

Romano wasn't too happy about the call and said that it was a "fucked call" or something to that effect.  First base umpire Manabe didn't hear exactly what Romano said but just the syllable "fuck" was enough for him to eject Romano from the game.  Romano, naturally, was kind of pissed off about this and started yelling at the ump.

Marty Brown came out then to talk to the ump himself, or more like, to first announce Koji Hiroike for the pitching change, and THEN to tell the ump where to shove that call.  There wasn't a brawl or anything like that, but the entire team came out while Brown was yelling at the ump.

Eventually, after getting nowhere with the umpires, Brown ran over to first base, pried the base itself out of the ground, and threw it halfway into right field, to thunderous applause from the crowd, indifference from Araki and Kurihara, synchronized "EJECTED" hand-waves from the umpires, and the amusement of just about anyone else watching.  He bowed, Japanese-style, as he was exiting the field.  Nobody in Japan had ever seen anything quite so crazy before.

Araki and Kurihara went to retrieve the base.  The fans kept cheering.  The umpires announced that Romano and Brown were both ejected for poor behavior, that Jeff Livesey (bench coach) would be the manager for the rest of the game, and that Hiroike was pitching.


Years later when talking about his interpreter at the time -- Joe Furukawa, who had played for the Carp for a few years, interpreted for Brown, and then eventually got a job scouting with the Texas Rangers and spent a year interpreting for Yu Darvish -- he recounted it slightly differently:
"The first time I was ejected from a game, I didn't know the rules and Joe didn't either," Brown said. "You have a certain time to argue and then the umpires would walk away and you would go back to the dugout. We didn't know that and I couldn't get the umpire to talk to me. The only way I could figure out how to get thrown out was to throw the base to right field. And all four umpires threw me out."
For the record, by the way, the Carp went on to win the game, 5-2.

Brown and Romano were both slapped with fines from the league later that week.

But the funny thing is, the Hiroshima Carp team itself was surprisingly supportive of Brown.  They even made T-shirts commemorating the event, that said "DANGER" on the front, and "MY MANAGER THROWS BASES" on the back, for the players/staff to wear, and "I THROW BASES" for Brown himself.

There are still a few articles out there about it with photos, like this one from Asahi, or this one about auctioning off the shirts to benefit a musical:

Or you can just do a web image search yourself on ベース投げTシャツ and find quite a few.
I think that's what was the funniest thing about it -- not that the entire episode itself wasn't so funny -- but the reaction of the fans, AND the legacy it created for the rest of that year.  Brown also had a few other amusing incidents of getting ejected which also resulted in silly t-shirts being created.  This, for example, is a shirt I saw a guy wearing when I was in Hiroshima later that year:

In the end, Brown was ejected a record 12 times over his 5 years spent managing in Japan (four with Hiroshima, one with Rakuten).  But honestly, his ejections shouldn't speak for what he accomplished there.  Much like Bobby Valentine, though in a more subtle way, Brown helped develop young players and to introduce a new style of baseball in Hiroshima.  The time he was there saw the city build a new MLB-quality ballpark, and a year or two after he left the team made it into the playoffs, no small feat when you're a perennial low-budget team competing with the Giants and Tigers.  For a while after Brown left I even heard some of my Japanese friends who like the Carp say that Kenjiro Nomura was an idiot and everyone would rather have Brown there, at least he kept things interesting.

BTW, I did consider some other pretty funny things I've witnessed along the way, and my runner-up for this category was the time Tsuyoshi Shinjo thought he should pitch an entire ceremonial first at-bat to Hichori Morimoto (video here - note how his uniform number is actually his face?) but that wasn't really during a game so I figured it didn't count.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Day 9: If it weren't for those meddling home run hitters...

Day 9 of the NPB 30-Day challenge actually says "A player you think is the most difficult to play against".

I thought about different ways to interpret this.  The obvious one that a lot of people would go for would probably be a really strong pitcher, that when you see they are the scheduled starter against your team, makes you think "Do I really want to go to the game today?".  Me being a primarily Pacific League person, there have been a lot of those over the years.  Ma-kun in 2013 (or any year really).  Darvish (though not an opponent to me).  Chihiro Kaneko.  Hisashi Iwakuma, of course.  Kazumi Saitoh before he got injured.  The entirety of the Hawks and/or Lions rotations some years.

But what fun would that be?

I want to talk about two personal vendettas that specific home run hitters have had against me in the past.

Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura

You've probably heard of the Seibu Lions third baseman Takeya Nakamura.  If nothing else, I've written my fair share about him on this blog.  He's almost hit 50 home runs 3 times in his career - in 2008 when he hit 46 and in 2009 and 2011 when he hit 48.  He would be leading the PL this year if Sho Nakata wasn't one homer ahead of him (at the time of me writing this), and he's on pace to be pretty close to 50 again this year.

Anyway, those years that Okawari was pounding the crap out of the PL in general, it always felt to me like he was pounding the Fighters more than anyone else -- and pounding them particularly in games I was watching.  So I went and looked up the numbers:

Year     HR total    HR vs Fighters   Games I saw    HR in front of me
----     --------    --------------   -----------    -----------------
2008        46         7 (15%)            11           7 (2 off Fs)
2009        48        11 (23%)            11           5 (4 off Fs)
2011        48        10 (21%)             3           3 (all off Fs)

So maybe I was a little over-paranoid in 2008, but in 2009 and 2011 he definitely hit homeruns against the Fighters a little more than average -- each year he only played 17% of his games against the Fighters but hit 21% and 23% of his homers against them.  Of course, there are plenty of reasons why this happened, like home games and interleague pitchers and whatnot, but I'm just justifying my own impression of how things went down.

Also, if you think about it, in those years, he was hitting homers at a rate of about 1 HR per 3 games (you'd expect him to hit a homer about 33% of the time; yeah, I know he hit more than one in a few games).  However, I saw him in 25 games and 15 homeruns of his, so he hit a homerun about 60% of the time in games I was watching.  And it clearly wasn't just against the Fighters; this was also against the Marines, Buffaloes, Dragons, and even the Giants in the 2008 Japan Series.

The upshot is, at some point I was so annoyed at losing to Seibu that I had joked to a friend who worked for the team that he ought to hire me as an "Okawari Omamori" of sorts and hang me in the Seibu Dome dugout for good luck since Nakamura was hitting homeruns in pretty much every game I watched there.

As for my second personal vendetta...

Nobuhiko Matsunaka

Those of you who just started following NPB recently are probably like "I don't get it.  That old guy?  Why hasn't he retired yet?"  But those of you who remember Matsunaka as the freaking Triple Crown winner back in 2004 who led the Japan team at the 2006 WBC in all batting categories, you'll know what I'm talking about when I say how in my earlier days as a Fighters fan I was pretty damn sure Matsunaka personally wanted me to see as many of his home runs as humanly possible.  Heck, the very first time I saw him in person in a game (in Sendai in 2006) he hit a home run.

Anyway, looking at numbers, it's clear that the only time this was really true was 2009.  Not only did he hit 8 out of his 23 homers against the Fighters (for 35%) but I did personally see 5 of them in person in 7 games.  Infact, there was a point that season where I wrote on here how "I've seen Matsunaka in 5 games this season and I've seen him hit 5 homers.  Coincidence?"

So yeah.  My nemesis is Matsunaka 10 years ago and Okawari-kun now.  I wonder who the next one will be.   Given that it's likely to be a Hawks or Lions slugger born around 1994 I'm going with Tomoya Mori :)

Monday, June 01, 2015

Day 5: A post about Yohei Kagiya

Day 5 of the NPB 30-day challenge actually says "The moment you became a fan of a player".

I have to admit I wasn't entirely sure exactly what this one means, and I certainly have plenty of random stories that could fit this.

I mean, is it the moment you took a bad impression to a good one?  I actually had a bad impression of Daisuke Miura like 10-15 years ago, until I saw him at a Fan Fest and saw what a great guy he was with fans, especially kids, then read about all of the humanitarian work he did, and then after the earthquake he was tweeting about being at stations with collection boxes, and so on.  The kicker was when he turned down a FA offer from Hanshin because "I think the fans need me more in Yokohama".  And now Bancho is kicking butt at the age of 41 and I still think it's awesome and I still want him to succeed and I still think he wears too much hair gel.

Is it just the moment you took notice of a guy?  Moments like when Naoto Inada ran into the stands to get a foul ball during the 2006 playoffs, "running as if I was a hungry bull and it was a piece of food"?  Or Hichori wearing some crazy outfit to an All-Star game? Ryota Imanari making me crack up at Fighters Kamagaya Fanfest 2008?  Hiroshi Kisanuki giving out baseball cards to fans in the outfield stands and then turning out to be a fellow train nerd?

Anyway, I stopped blogging for the most part way before I became known as a Yohei Kagiya fan among all the Fighters regulars, so I thought I'd bend this "becoming a fan of a player" theme and make this a Kagiya post!  Yay!

High School

The first time I saw Kagiya play was Koshien 2008.  I wasn't there in person, but I was watching on TV before heading to my eikaiwa job every day at 1pm.  Kagiya was the ace pitcher for Hokkai high school, from Hokkaido, and they were playing Toho HS, from Aichi, a geographical matchup much like the Fighters-Dragons Japan Series.  I was just going to watch the first few batters before heading off to my train, and then Yusuke Yamada took the very first pitch off of Kagiya and hit it into the stands in right-center field.  I typed into the chatroom at the time,


I missed my train and was a few minutes late to work.  It was memorable.  Yamada came to Rikkio for college, I met him a few times, he was a nice kid, and sadly he never really got taller than his 166cm he was in high school and went to work for a properties rental company after graduation.  So clearly, while Kagiya may have been the worse for their first interaction, he's done better overall in the grand scheme of things.


The next time I saw Kagiya play was his sophomore year at Chuo, in 2010.  I came to Jingu to see Takahiro Fujioka pitch for Toyo, and stuck around for the Chuo-Aoyama game.  Kagiya came in to pitch in the 5th inning, and my brain was trying to remember why he looked so familiar, and then I remembered who he was.  (Especially when he gave up a home run to Aoyama captain Ko Shimazuru.) Even back then he still had a little yell he would do when he struck batters out.

I was actually somewhat of a Chuo fan in general at that point thanks to Kageyama, Nishime, Seiya Inoue, and even Sawamura and Yuhi Yamasaki.  And then the next year I went to several of their games to watch Yosuke Shimabukuro pitch.

But then Shimabukuro got injured, and at the same time Kagiya was emerging as their ace.  I went to several of his games in 2012 and charted him out and noted that he threw more first-pitch strikes than pretty much anyone else in the Tohto league.  He still had the same calm but passionate demeanor, and he was still attacking batters, striking them out, throwing a great fastball, and still losing a ton of games because Chuo's team sucked.

I tried really hard to meet Kagiya his senior year but it never worked out, sadly.  The Tohto league works a little bit different than Tokyo Big 6, especially being on weekdays (embarrassingly, when I got a photo with Shimabukuro, I had to ask another player on the Chuo team to take it, because I didn't know any of the other fans hanging out there).

Kagiya during his sophomore year at Chuo.

Kagiya during his senior year.

Holding Out For a Hero

After Ryota Imanari got traded to the Tigers, I spent the second half of 2012 looking for a new favorite Fighters player.  Having your favorite player(s) is part of your identity as a baseball fan in Japan; people know me as a Fighters fan in general but in the grand scheme of all your Fighters fan friends, you need to be identified by which player's camp you're in.  (It is not uncommon for someone to be described like "You know her, she's the Konta fan with the purple-letter jersey?") This is especially important for merchandise; during my 5 years wearing an Imanari jersey around I can't count how many people would give me Imanari pinbadges and other similar things.  Even at Swallows games at Jingu, wearing my Kawabata jersey, a woman once came up to me like "I heard you were visiting!  Welcome home!  Here's some Shingo cards I saved for you."  Similarly, I would save cards or pins for my friends who liked specific players as well.

So Kagiya got drafted by the Fighters and I decided, even before the 2013 season started: Kagiya was going to be my new guy.  Not only was I already a fan of his from college, but being as he's from Hokkaido he was unlikely to get traded any time soon, and also, since he's awesome, he was likely to have an impact on the team.

Fighters Year 1 (2013)

I got a new uniform with kanji letters made in time for the first Tokyo Dome series of 2013 and ran into another person who also had a custom Kagiya kanji uniform.  Whoa!  Then I went to Kobe for a weekend and saw Kagiya's first pro win and well, that was the beginning of this crazy run.

Later that year when I was back in Japan I got extremely lucky and caught Kagiya outside the dorms at Kamagaya briefly and was stuttering like an idiot as I asked him to sign my uniform and if we could get a photo together.  He had a bit of a "why is this girl freaking out" look on his face but I told him how I used to watch him at Chuo and was a huge fan of his, and then he was more like "wait, really?" and then smiled and thanked me for cheering for him and all that.  I felt super-awkward but super-happy about it.

When I got back to Sapporo, a friend in Hokkaido gave me a Kagiya towel and some other cheering stuff (including the Sapporo-area newspapers from Kagiya's first win -- the only place in the country that had him on the front page, of course!), so I had something to hold up in the stands during the Lucky 7 but also before games to yell hi at him in the outfield.  So by the end of 2013 I had solidly gotten most of the fans and Fighters players, Kagiya included, to recognize my new identity as "crazy Kagiya fangirl".

Our completely random and somewhat surprising but totally awesome Kagiya cheering section.

Kagiya and Kisanuki warming up before the game in Kobe, where Kagiya got his first pro win. Also the day I became a Kisanuki fan, but that's another story, maybe.

Finally met him! This is an awful picture of me but to be fair it was August and I had just gotten back that morning from a train trip to Hokkaido.

Hanging out at the Osaka Dome with my newly acquired Kagiya towel a week later.

Kagiya entering the game in the 11th inning of the longest game in Pacific League history.

Unfortunately, Kagiya gave up a 3-run homer to Akira Nakamura in the top of the 12th... the game ended shortly after midnight.

Fighters Year 2 (2014)

In the fall of 2014 I happened to make it to the final Kamagaya game on 9/23, which was both a national holiday and Kagiya's 24th birthday.  Some friends snuck me in line with them near the front, so I got to do the "team high-five greeting" with everyone -- where basically, for the first ten minutes of fans flooding into the stadium, the entire team is out there high-fiving and saying hello to everyone.  It's actually pretty comical if you've never seen this sort of thing before -- 40 baseball players and coaches in the concourse as a thousand fans filter past them into the stadium, so all the players have their hands held out and are high-fiving everyone and it's a big chorus of "konnichiwa," "ohayou gozaimasu," "ouen arigatou," etc as fans are flooded past the players, some of whom seem to actually be enjoying the entire thing (Hakumura), some of whom look like they're just amused and smirking at it all (Yukio Tanaka), some of whom definitely are grumpy just like "It's so lame that I have to be out here greeting you all just because I'm having a bad season (Yuki Saitoh), and some of whom are just like "holy crap this line goes on forever!" (the rookies)  For me, it's kinda funny because I've met about 70% of the team at one point or another, so some players react to me like "WTF A WHITE GIRL!" and the rest are like "Oh hey it's you, good morning, long time no see".

Anyway, I'm making my way down the line, laughing, greeting, etc, and then I got to Kagiya, and he had the "whoa, it's you!"reaction so instead of just high-fiving him like the other players I stopped for a second, took his hand in both of mine, and said in English, "Kagiya-kun!  Happy birthday!"

And he broke into a huge smile like "Oh!  Thank you!!" and shook my hands.

Toshiyuki Yanuki, who was standing behind him, said something in Japanese like "Damn dude, it's your birthday?  I didn't even know that."

Kagiya even pitched an inning, so it was cool to see him out there.  The only thing is, the game went over 4 hours, and then there was a season-closing ceremony afterwards, and the last bus that leaves Kamagaya is around 5:12pm, so I pretty much had to bolt right after the game and couldn't catch up with any of the players.

And so on... (2015)

So this spring when I was back in Japan, I went to eight Fighters games; 7 ichi-gun, 1 ni-gun, and the Fighters won all but one of them.  The last two games were home games at the Tokyo Dome.  When the Fighters win a home game, the game heroes come out to the outfield cheering stands and throw signed baseballs into the crowd.  At the Tokyo Dome, almost the entire team runs out onto the field and throws signed baseballs into the crowd.

The first game, I was in the front row.  The first row almost never gets those signed balls because the players throw them into the stands pretty far.  But the second game I was with a different group of friends in the stands, in the 6th row or so, and when the players came out I held my Kagiya towel up and yelled really loudly and he threw a ball almost right to me!  That is, my friend two seats to the right caught the ball, and then someone else was like "I actually think he was throwing that to Deanna..."

Remember how I said that having "your player" is a really important thing?  My friend was kinda like "OMG, of course he was, you should totally have this ball" and he gave it to me.  I was like "Really?  You sure?" and he said "Yeah, it'll make you happy when you are back in the USA."

I had to go look up what the kanji on the back of the ball meant.  It's a a yojijukugo, a "four kanji idiom" of sorts, and says "a hundred cuts without bending", really meaning a kind of endurance.  I found out that it's the baseball club slogan from Kagiya's high school team at Hokkai, basically.  (In this year's Fighters Guide Book they had a photo of him and Hayao Segawa sitting in the Hokkai clubhouse, with that slogan written on the wall.)

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Day 2: Your all-time favorite NPB player

This is a pretty much near-impossible subject for me as I've had way too many players that I've been totally in love with over the years.

I thought about it and figured that if I really had to only pick one player, I would probably choose Shunsuke Watanabe -- the longterm submarine pitcher for the Chiba Lotte Marines.  He has always been so much fun to watch when pitching because he's so different from everyone else, and his prolonged success while being so different.  Even among other submarine pitchers he's the lowest -- I have several pictures I've taken where his hand is almost scraping the ground while he's releasing the ball.  Terms like "fastball" or "curve ball" or whatnot don't really mean anything when they're coming out of his hand.

But in addition to being a super-interesting and different pitcher, Shunsuke is also super-interesting as a person.  I used to often talk about how bizarre his hero interviews were on here occasionally.  And when I'd read his blog back in the day he always had a lot of insightful things or just random thoughts on his hobbies, as opposed to a lot of other baseball players' blogs.  He's also apparently very good at skipping stones.

Anyway, despite that I had media access to the Chiba Lotte Marines stadium for 2 years back in the day thanks to Bobby Valentine, I never ever ever got up the courage to talk to Shunsuke.  Though pretty much every English-speaking staff member or player on the team knew he was my favorite player (to the point that Bobby, Larry, and Paul Pupo would mention how "your boyfriend's pitching again today!"), I just wasn't sure what I'd say, plus my Japanese wasn't good enough yet at that point to do a real interview with a Japanese player.  So what was I going to say, besides OMG YOU ARE AWESOME?

After the 2013 season, Shunsuke became a free agent, and signed a minor-league contract with the Red Sox, but that didn't work out, so he signed with the Lancaster Barnstormers independent team in the Atlantic League for the 2014 season.  Yusuke Kajimoto and Tomochika Tsuboi were also on that team, so when I got invited to a friend's wedding back in Philly in September, I took that opportunity to drive out to Lancaster and catch a game.  I unfortunately missed Shunsuke pitching by one day (he threw a complete game win against the Sugarland Skeeters the night before), but I DID get to meet him before the game.  (And Kajimoto, though Tsuboi had already retired by then.)  I basically told most of the pitchers hanging out that I was looking for Shunsuke and they eventually pointed him my way.

The funny thing is we mostly chatted in English!  I explained to him in Japanese that I'd been a huge fan of his like forever, I even had my old Watanabe #31 t-shirt with me from the old days.  I got him to sign a shikishi and we got a photo together and talked for about 5 minutes before he had to go because the game was starting.  He told me how he was enjoying being in the US, living with a local family, learning English from his teammates (though they were teaching him a lot of bad words), and so on.  Also we talked about Satozaki, who had announced his retirement only an hour or two before that.  Very crazy.  I was super-happy I got to meet him!

Shunsuke did recently announce on his blog that he expects this year will be his last playing baseball, as he wasn't able to get a contract with an MLB organization at all.  So I kind of hope I can get out to see him again, but it seems pretty unlikely.  Who knows, though.

(and yes, there were many many runners-up for this.  The funny thing is that I felt bad picking any one Fighters player over another -- between Ogasawara, Hichori, Imanari, Ejiri, Sweeney, Kaneko, Kagiya, Kisanuki, there have just been way too many of these guys over the years, so it was easier to just pick someone from another team.)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Draft Photopost (of actual draftees! ha!)

You know what?  It turns out that photo posts are a lot easier to do once you already know who's been drafted!  I went and dug around my last 3-4 years of photos to see which of this year's draft class I might have (the number keeps dwindling as I no longer live in Japan and can't go as many games, of course, but)...

Anyway, here are photos I took over the last few years of some guys that were drafted last month. I meant to get this out a lot sooner, but well, between work and other things I've been swamped as usual.

Sachiya Yamasaki, Meiji University LHP/1B (Nichidai Sanko HS), 1st Round, Orix Buffaloes

I not only expected more colleges to go after Sachiya, but I also expected the Fighters to try.  His dad Akihiro was a mostly-minor-league catcher for 11 years, mostly for the Giants, but also for the Fighters for 2 years, before retiring and becoming a minor-league coach for the Fighters for 12 years; he was infact coaching for the Fighters when Sachiya was born.  Now he's the manager of the Hyogo Blue Thunders after spending the last decade or so bouncing around as a coach for various indie league teams like the Kochi Fighting Dogs and the Kobe 9 Cruise.

(Sachiya's brother Fukuyuki, for the record, is a LHP for Sega Sammy.  They both do have names starting with 福, the kanji for luck.)

But I digress.  Sachiya not only comes from a super baseball family, but his baseball pedigree is also pretty solid, as he was a pitcher/1B at Nichidai Sanko (one year ahead of my favorite team ever, but I saw him play there too) and oddly, a pitcher/1B at Meiji University as well (Big6 career stats here; there was a point where he seriously both had enough innings and a good enough ERA to be on the Top 5 pitching list for the league but also enough ABs and AVG to end up in the Top 10 batters for the league.  Meiji was kinda just letting him and Hiromi Oka do both things; but in all honesty I still think Sachiya's a better pitcher than Oka and better batter, both for being taller, throwing the ball faster, and being left-handed. But I guess I'm pretty biased.)

A story I only heard much later is that right before he entered Sanko, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had a 6-hour surgery.  He apparently had a very successful recovery and despite that, entered Sanko and was a regular on their roster by the fall of his freshman year, and pitched at Koshien in the summer of 2010.  The Winter 2010 issue of 輝け甲子園の星 had an interview with him and his mom and how she took care of him all through his playing career, it was very sweet.

Anyway, whatever.  I am a pretty big fan, incase that wasn't obvious.  Even though I'm often cheering against Meiji in recent years (having become more of a Rikkio-Todai supporter in addition to my usual Hosei), most of my friends know I was a big Sanko fan and a big Sachiya fan and I did get to meet him once during his sophomore year and he was kinda very incredulous like "WTF the white girl is a Sanko fan?" but I did get a photo with him and he was pretty bemused about it.

Yasuaki Yamasaki, Asia University RHP (Teikyo HS), 1st Round Baystars

Something really funny is that despite that I have been following this guy since 2009ish, I have nearly zero photos of him whatsoever.  There is a good reason for this:

The reason I was following him in the first place is that he's from Arakawa, the part of Tokyo I taught JHS English in, and he went to the junior high school next to ours (Ogu Hachiman).  One of my students, his older brother had played baseball with Yamasaki on the Nishi-Nippori Glitees, even.  Plus, Teikyo is one of the schools I've followed for a long time thanks to Hichori Morimoto (who, much like Yamasaki, is also from Arakawa and half-Japanese, although Hichori's dad is Korean and Yamasaki's mom is Filipino).

So, summer of 2010.  I planned my schedule around Teikyo's bracket in the East Tokyo tournament.  I saw them at Edogawa on July 18th, where they beat Nichidai Tsurugaoka.  Bizarrely, Michiori Okabe pitched the first 3 innings of that game, a kid named Hagiya pitched the rest, it was called in the 8th inning on mercy rules anyway.

July 20th, Yamasaki started for Teikyo against Kokushikan, a whole bunch of scouts showed up to see him, and... he totally got pounded.  I think the eventual game score was 14-6.  It was ridiculous.

It worked out okay because instead of seeing Teikyo in the semi-finals I saw Shutoku beat Kokushikan and that was pretty awesome, but... yeah.  I never actually managed to be at a Teikyo game in person that Yamasaki was pitching at.

So then he went to Asia University, and there's two main reasons I never really saw him pitch there...

1) he didn't get a ton of time pitching when the guys in front of him were Nao Higashihama and Allen Kuri.  You may have heard of those guys.
2) Asia seriously won the Tohto League championship SEVEN SEMESTERS IN A ROW and so I actually found it pretty boring to watch them play because they were always winning.  Plus they look like a bunch of robots when they're practicing.  Like, they all stand in lines really orderly and shout and turn and all this other stuff.  It's kinda freaky.

I did go to try to see him pitch twice this year actually, and he didn't start either of the Asia games I showed up for.  Go figure.

Kohei Arihara, Waseda University RHP (Koryo HS), 1st Round, Fighters

I first saw Arihara play when he was a freshman in 2011 and he was facing off against Yusuke Nomura (Meiji University, but also Koryo HS, so people were making a big deal about it).  I still basically think he's a big ugly dude who throws a baseball pretty fast and I don't quite know why the Fighters had to go in on the sweepstakes for him but at least I have a feeling it'll work out better than Yuki Saitoh did, anyway.

Arihara in his 4th year.

Arihara in his sophomore year.

Kona Takahashi, Maebashi Ikuei HS RHP, 1st Round, Seibu Lions

The really stupid thing here is, I actually saw Kona Takahashi play in person at Koshien in 2013, and I'd even been sitting in the 2nd row and taking photos of the first two games of the day.

The third game of the day was Joso Gakuin vs. Maebashi Ikuei.  I was on the Joso side and they were the expected winners as they're a long-standing powerhouse school, but just like the rest of that tournament, expectations were NOT coming true, and their ace pulled a muscle and had to come out of the game in the 9th and the replacement literally had the game down to one or two more pitches and then BAM, a routine 4-3 play became a runner reaching on error, and then a double, and then Kona Takahashi, the sophomore ace pitcher for Maebashi Ikuei, slammed a TRIPLE that tied the game, and Ikuei won in the 10th inning. Talk about drama.

However, from my standpoint, some guys set up a gigantic tripod by the fence between the 2nd and 3rd games, and so my view became blocked not only by the gibbering old men who had been there the whole time but ALSO two dudes with a tripod, so I wasn't getting many good photos AND it was 97 degrees out AND all my ice was gone by the 3rd inning AND that Takahashi kid wasn't even pitching, so I gave up and moved to the shade of the upper part of the stands, which was a generally good call as I could tell I was having the start of heatstroke issues.

Of course, Takahashi came out to pitch in the 6th inning and I regret not being there to get better photos of him because he is AWESOME. Just this big tangle of arms and legs that somehow throws a baseball really fast. I left after Game 3 because I was quite sunburnt and exhausted already.

I watched the Koshien finals a few days later from my living room back in Tokyo and I was pretty happy for Maebashi Ikuei and even happier that I was sitting in a nice air-conditioned room.

Kona Takahashi pitching (photo taken from way up in the stands)

Takahashi standing on 3rd after his bases-clearing triple.

Shogo Nakamura, Waseda University IF (Tenri HS), 1st Round, Chiba Lotte Marines

This is going to sound dumb, but I've been watching Shogo Nakamura play baseball for four years and really don't know a damn thing about him.  When I still lived in Japan and could go to all the Big6 games I would at least know all the players from afar if not more personally, but I have to prioritize which teams I see and interact with, and you can't easily talk to Waseda players for the most part anyway, so I focus less on them.  Sorry.  So this is at least a photo I have of Nakamura at bat -- he was Waseda's captain this year even. His college record speaks pretty well on what a solid player he is.

Onto the next rounds.  Let's see...

Kenta Ishida, Hosei University LHP, 2nd Round, Yokohama DeNA Baystars

The funny thing about Ishida is that I actually got to know him a bit during his freshman and sophomore years.  I moved back to the US in 2011, which is when Ishida started at Hosei, but I was still going back to Japan for long periods of time and still knew a lot of the guys on the Hosei team so I was still always going to their games and hanging out with the team afterwards.

Ishida started pitching regularly in the fall of his freshman year, and even went 3-1 that semester, and one week I brought some photos and got him to sign one, and would you believe... the next week I ended up sitting next to his dad and siblings at a game (he looks like him, but I figured it out for sure when Arihara came out to pitch and his dad went batshit crazy talking about Koryo, so I'm like "aha!  You're Ishida's dad!  You know the Hiroshima baseball scene pretty well, right?" and he laughed and we got to talking, and sure enough they'd all come up to see Kenta pitch, and it was a big deal to see him face off against Arihara since they'd been rivals in HS too).  He complimented me on both my Japanese and my photos since it turns out he'd seen the photos I gave to Kenta the week before!  So the next time I ran into him I just gave him a bunch of photos since I figured he could bring them back for the family.

So the really funny thing is, the picture of me and Ishida here was actually taken by his dad.

The sad part is that I haven't talked to Ishida OR his dad in like 2 years at this point, beyond maybe just saying hello in passing.  It's mostly that I haven't been able to get to many Hosei games due to scheduling and weather recently on my trips.

Still, I am really amused that the Baystars now collected Kagami, Mikami, Mishima, and Ishida, all the Hosei aces of their respective years.

These are actually all photos from Fall 2012.  I can see Kanji Kawai in the background behind us in the shot together :)

Taiga Egoshi, Komazawa University OF, 3rd round, Hanshin Tigers

Funny thing about Egoshi is that I remember him showing up as a freshman and immediately playing as a regular at Komadai, and he's been there all along, but since I don't really know their team that well, I literally have nothing to say beyond that he's always looked like he had the build to go pro for as long as I remember.  Plus it's great that a guy named Taiga got taken by the Taigas, so to speak.

Masayoshi Fukuda, Chuo University OF, 3rd Round, Rakuten Eagles

Fukuda is a player that I feel extraordinarily sad I never got to meet. I've been watching him for years and when looking through photos I noticed I had a ton of him bowing to the field, smiling with teammates, things like that, the habits I pick up on subconsciously on players. I haven't met a ton of Tohto players in general though and just a handful from Chuo so it's not that weird, I guess.

Daiki Tanaka, Kokugakuin University LHP, 4th Round, Yomiuri Giants

Shun Ishikawa, JX-ENEOS IF, 4th Round, Chunichi Dragons

Ishikawa has a pretty interesting history. He was a slugger in high school and had scouts interested in him back then, but then he got hit by a pitch and had his wrist broken during his senior year. So he went to Meiji after deciding not to go pro. I saw him in a few of the Rookie tournaments and thought he looked pretty good but then he disappeared again due to injuries, he had a knee problem and basically during 4 years at Meiji only had 1 productive semester in league games, and had another problem his senior year. So, he didn't go pro then either but instead went to ENEOS, which is currently one of the most competitive corporate teams (they regularly beat up on professional minor-league teams and I actually think they could regularly beat some of the pro teams if they tried). And the scouts still like him, so here you are. He's from Shiga so it's even close to Nagoya, and we'll see how he does, I guess.

Takuma Katoh, Aoyama Gakuin University C, 5th Round, Chunichi Dragons

Yosuke Shimabukuro, Chuo University LHP, 5th Round, Softbank Hawks

If you don't know who Shimabukuro is, you haven't been following Japanese baseball for a while. He was the ace pitcher for Konan HS's high school team in 2009 and 2010, when they represented Okinawa in the spring and summer both years. Shimabukuro first made splashes in his first game in 2009 when he struck out 19 batters (19 batters!!!) and STILL LOST in the 10th inning on an (well, his) error because Konan couldn't score any runs. He also has a pitching motion that people were calling the "left-handed Tornado" like Hideo Nomo.

They lost again in the first game of the summer 2009 Koshien, and that was the last time Shimabukuro would lose a game at Koshien, as Konan went on to become the 6th team in history to sweep Spring and Summer Koshien in 2010, and the first Okinawa team in history to win summer Koshien, period.

Despite all of that, almost all of the core Konan team ended up going to college (much like the Nichidai Sanko team in 2011), and many graduated this year. Ganeko, Shimabukuro, and Agena were all college captains this year, and Ohshiro is likely to be next year.

Anyway, I went to see Shimabukuro both in the preseason in Spring 2011 and at his very first college game at Jingu. It was pretty crazy -- a ton of people clustered around the bullpen to watch him warm up, which I hadn't seen at a Tohto game in a very long time, and hadn't even really seen at Big 6 since Yuki Saitoh's freshman year. It was a big, big deal. Of course, he ended up going 4 2/3 innings and losing on an error by the first baseman. But still.

Later that fall I got up the nerve to talk to him after a game once the craziness about him had settled down. I asked if we could get a photo together, he said sure, we actually ended up having another player take it because I was there alone. I told him I was a huge fan of his during Koshien and hoped he'd do well in college and thought he seemed like a really nice boy.

Unfortunately, his college career was not entirely stellar, although that partially has to do with the fact that Chuo has been pretty awful lately relatively, and partially due to some elbow/shoulder pain. I watched Yohei Kagiya lose a ton of games due to the lack of run support and a ton of errors behind him as well, which is really weird because Chuo always has a few fielders/batters that are stellar and end up going pro as well. I really don't get it. Anyway, let's hope that Shimabukuro has a good pro career (except for when he plays against the Fighters). At least he shouldn't be given the Yuki Saitoh treatment, given that he wasn't hyped during college and wasn't drafted in the first round.

These two are from a preseason game at Hosei.

Shimabukuro in the bullpen before his very first game playing for Chuo.

Koki Yamashita, Kokugakuin University IF, 5th Round, Yokohama Baystars

Masataka Iryo, JX-ENEOS OF, 6th Round, Chunichi Dragons

Iryo has been playing for ENEOS for as long as I've been following them and he's been in the draft magazines for almost that long too. I don't entirely understand the story there.