Hey there. I'm leaving Japan in about 20 hours to return to Seattle, sadly. I have no idea how long it'll take me to get reacquainted with the Mariners once I return; I looked briefly to see that we're completely eliminated from all races at this point (not a surprise), that Ichiro got his 200th hit again (not a surprise), and that Hunter Brown isn't on the expanded roster (goddamnit). Everything else, well, I'll have a lot of catching up to do. Feel free to send some links my way that I need to see.
I hope you've enjoyed reading about my adventures, even though most of these entries have been typed up haphazardly while I've been on internet cafe 100-yen-per-15-minutes time limits.
Anyway, before I talk about the game I went to yesterday afternoon, let me briefly mention that I went to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame today, which apparently has lifted the ban on pictures that they had when I was there three years ago, so I took a whole bunch. There's a WBC exhibit with trophies and uniforms and pictures and signed baseballs now, and they've got the 2005 Japan Series highlights playing on video in a room. My favorite thing was this gigantic baseball -- I mean, like 8 feet tall -- with stuff written on it from tons of NPB players in the 2005 season, most of which is pretty funny to read. The English stuff is all like "I want to help my team", or "Come watch me hit home runs!" from Alex Cabrera, and so on. Japanese players wrote things like "Watch my guts pose after our victory" from Kenshin Kawakami, or "We exist only for the fans!" from a signature I couldn't read, and of course a certain Fighters outfielder wrote simply "SHIN-JOY". The second most interesting thing to me was a base sent to Yutaka Fukumoto from Rickey Henderson, back when Fukumoto broke Lou Brock's career stolen base record (which of course Henderson later passed). I think my least favorite thing, though, is that they seemed to have a lot more non-baseball-players in their hall of fame than we do -- business people, architects, college players, etc. It's a little weird.
The upshot is, I know a lot more about Japanese baseball history now than I did a few years ago, so I appreciated the museum a lot more. I think last time I was just going around saying things like "My god, did ANY of these teams keep their names the same for more than ten years?"
Anyway, I went to a game yesterday, where the Yomiuri Giants pounded the Yokohama Bay Stars 5-2, but I'm not sure anyone actually noticed who wasn't at the game themselves, because the big news yesterday was that Chunichi's Masahiro Yamamoto pitched a no-hitter against the Tigers at the Nagoya Dome. Yamamoto's been around absolutely forever; he just turned 41 last month, has been with the Dragons for something like 23 years, and this was his first ever no-hitter. You could say he's sort of like Jamie Moyer in that he's old and left-handed and pretty good at changing speeds and control, but that'd probably be about where the similarities end. This game was one batter away from being a perfect game, too, when Norihiro Akahoshi reached base on an error by third baseman Masahiko Morino. Yamamoto also broke the record for being the oldest pitcher to pitch a no-hitter in the NPB; the former record was held by Yoshinori Sato of the Orix BlueWave on August 26, 1995.
Okay, now I should talk about the game I went to.
First off, let me tell you something funny about Yokohama Stadium. Unlike every other park I've been to in Japan, Yokohama does NOT have those goddamn fences up all around the infield and outfield. Ironically, however, I still ended up with a seat behind a fence. I was a little bit to the first base side of home plate, and as it turns out, their netting behind home plate is not only an upright one, but it also has diagonal nets extending off of it. So, basically, if you want to take pictures, don't sit anywhere in the S seats or in the B seats behind them. You want seats in either FA or in A. They're pricy at 4500 or 4000 yen per seat, but well worth it on a bright day. B seats actually have a great view for the 3500 yen, but they're just lousy for taking pictures is all. (chart here)
Secondly, now that I think about it, I'm not sure what to tell you offhand about the game. There weren't all that many big exciting hits or big exciting plays or even big exciting innings, really. The Giants just sort of kept chipping away at the lousy Bay Stars pitchers and the holes in their defense, and it mostly worked. The scorers at Yokohama are really generous, and several things that could have been called errors were actually called hits, so it looks like a high-hitting game on paper -- 5 runs on 13 hits for the Giants and 2 runs on 10 hits for the Bay Stars -- but eh.
The only Giants player I still really like, Yoshinobu Takahashi, had a pretty lousy day, striking out twice, only getting on base once in 5 at-bats, and then ended up getting himself tagged out in a really stupid rundown between third and home when he did get on base. He also made one of those "non-error" plays of the game when he caught a ball at the back wall and it bounced out of his glove, hit the wall, and the runner was credited with a double by the time he recovered it.
Takuro Ishii uses the Orange Range song "Isshin Denshin" for his at-bat theme (which was pretty funny when I realized it), Hitoshi Taneda uses the song that the Mariners always play when taking the field at Safeco that I don't know the name of, and Masaaki Koike uses "Hey Mickey", though I'm not sure what version. The Giants' Takayuki Shimizu has the same cheer song he did two years ago, and I still can't place what song it's to the tune of. Takahiro Suzuki's cheer sounds like "Train Train" by the Blue Hearts.
After the game I asked a guy to take my picture at the stadium like I have been doing, and one of his buddies was wearing a Softbank Hawks shirt -- Wada #21 -- and I was wearing a Mariners t-shirt, so we got into a conversation for a bit about Kenji Johjima. He asked me who I liked on the Hawks and of course I replied Kazumi Saitoh, and he was like "Well, Saitoh is good, but I cheer for Wada!" Of course, I like Wada too, but in general I want the Hawks to lose, and I didn't think it would be a good idea to say that, so I didn't.
Speaking of which, the Fighters actually have more wins than any other team in the PL, but due to rainouts and ties, they're still a few percentage points behind Seibu and a few up on Softbank currently (.606 to .600 to .597 as I write this). Softbank, oddly enough, had a rainout today -- even though they have a domed stadium. I don't really have time to investigate more details, except I saw this on the Yahoo front page, which basically says "The Softbank-Rakuten game today was cancelled due to typhoon". Eeeeeeek.
See you all on the other side of the globe!