Saturday, September 09, 2006

Game Report: Carp vs. Dragons - Fish Dig The Long Ball

Today we went down to Hiroshima for the day. I'd never been there before, and when we took the streetcar to the stop for the Peace Park and A-Bomb memorial, we stepped off the car, and looked across the street, and... there's Hiroshima Shimin Kyujo, the Carp stadium. Whee. So we bought tickets for infield seating, talked to one of the media guys who was at the gate at noon to find out where to get Carp stuff (the answer: a little bit everywhere, no big store near the stadium), and then headed over to the touristy stuff.

It was a really hot day out, not raining at all like the forecasts had said. And to make a long story short, the museums and memorials of the bombing of Hiroshima are really interesting, but at the same time, after about two hours of going through it all, it's just really, really depressing, and after a while I couldn't stand seeing all the remnants of tons of people who died, and I made my friend leave the museum and head to Hiroshima Castle instead, which is just up the road from the stadium. Unfortunately, that castle has no elevator, and I was (though I didn't realize it at the time) suffering from heat exhaustion, and so we ended up just taking pictures, and turning around and going to the stadium, as it was almost 5pm by then.

Of course, once I got into the shade and the stadium and drank some water and ate some food I was totally fine. Go figure.

Anyway, I got to watch batting/fielding practice for both the Carp and Dragons and it was really neat, and I took a bazillion pictures, and maybe some of them will even come out. I even got a shot or two of the one guy wearing one of the "WANTED" shirts about the Marty Brown fining incident a month or two ago. Sadly, I didn't get any pictures of me with Slyly, and I couldn't actually GET one of the cool shirts, but that's okay.

I should stop and explain a few things about Hiroshima Stadium before going on with the game report, come to think of it.

Firstly, the stadium's something like the third oldest stadium in pro yakyu right now (maybe fourth... Wikipedia tells me that Fullcast Miyagi opened in 1950, and Hiroshima opened in 1957, so eh, and both are much newer than Koshien and Jingu), and it IS literally right across the street from the peace park, and if you didn't know it was there it'd actually be pretty easy to miss, as it's somewhat hidden by a bunch of taller buildings around it.

It has an all-dirt infield, much like Koshien. The pitcher's mound is raised up slightly and a lighter color dirt than the rest of it.

I think it's one of the smallest, if not THE smallest, stadiums in Japan, in terms of how far away the outfield walls are, and being a hitter's park. At least, in Power Pro Yakyuu on the PS2, we used to always use Hiroshima when playing the home run derby mode.

There's seating all around the stadium, but it's not particularly huge. Most of the seats are on the first floor and there's a really small upper deck in the infield. The most expensive seats are 3200 yen (about $27) and the least are 1500 yen (about $12). As far as I can tell, there are two media/press areas, both next to the dugouts, and they aren't connected in back in any way -- I actually saw the media guy I'd chatted with that morning as he was coming out of the third-base media box wielding two huge cameras, and he saw me and smiled and waved, as he was crossing to the first-base press box.

There's no concourse in back. If you want to look for different concessions than the stand or two at your gate, you need to go out in front and then go back in another doorway. It's a bit odd.

The Hiroshima Carp mascot, Slyly, if you don't already know, looks like a big blue version of the Philly Phanatic. Since the Carp are also a team in red pinstripes and they kind of suck, the metaphor runs deep. Anyway, Slyly also ACTS like the Phanatic, which is cool. Another cool feature of the Carp (well, to me, anyway) is that they don't have cheerleaders in skimpy outfits who come out and dance every other inning or so. They did have the Carp Ladies in the left field stands wielding pompoms and doing some sort of coordinated thing, but they weren't on the field and they were in decent clothes (looked like happi coats, I couldn't tell from my seat) and all.

Anyway, uh, I went to a game. Annoyingly, the game pace slowed as the game went on -- the first four innings took an hour, and the last five innings took over two hours, and as a result we had to leave halfway through the ninth inning to catch the last shinkansen back to Osaka. When we left, the Dragons were still up 7-6 on the Carp. I got back here to Osaka, turned on the TV, and on the sports highlight show they happened to be showing baseball and there was the Carp game, and sure enough they staged a comeback and ended up winning 8-7 in extra innings! Aaaaaack.

You know, almost every run scored while I was there was batted in from a home run. No joke:

First inning, Dragons, Kosuke Fukudome hits a 106-meter (347ft) solo homer into the left-field stands, 0-1.

Second inning, Carp, Takahiro Arai hits a solo home run into the left-field stands, 1-1.

Fourth inning, Carp, Takahiro Arai hits ANOTHER solo home run, 116 meters (380ft) into the left-field stands, 2-1.

Fifth inning, Dragons, Kazuki Inoue hits an absolute BOMB into the stands near center, listed as 140 meters (approximately 459 feet!). 2-2. After another run scores off a single by Masahiro Araki, Masahiko Morino hits a 3-run homer 110 meters (360ft) into the left-field stands as well, bringing the score to 7-2, and bringing Juan Feliciano, the Carp starter, out of the game. Yow.

Eighth inning, Carp, after Shigenobu Shima singled, Tomonori Maeda hit a 100-meter (328ft) home run just over the wall in right field. 7-4. Shigeru Morikasa followed that with a single, and Dragons starter Kenta Asakura was finally pulled from the game, but his replacement, Masafumi Hirai, gave up a 112-meter (367ft) home run to Jun Hirose. That brought it to 7-6 Dragons, which is where it was when we left the game.

(It appears that Kazunori Okagami hit a triple in the Carp half of the ninth and Akihiro Higashide batted him in, and then in the Carp half of the tenth, Maeda, who was ultimately 4-for-5 on the night, led off with a double and was bunted over by Morikasa, and sacrificed in by catcher Kura, but I'm just skimming quickly so if I'm wrong don't kill me.)

One of the wacky things about Hiroshima as well is that when a Carp player hits a home run, he's greeted at home plate not only by teammates to high-five, but by a girl in a Carp jersey who presents him with a Slyly stuffed animal. I was wondering exactly what the players would do with such stuffed animals, especially after Arai got two of them, and then on Maeda's I finally noticed -- he pretty much just chucked the doll at a batboy and ran into the dugout. Pretty funny. I bet they could recycle the same doll to present the players with and they wouldn't even notice.

There was a super-intense umpire behind the plate tonight. He'd make these really exaggerated motions for everything. It was sort of funny after a while. I was really digging his strike calls; he looked more like he was doing the Manny Ramirez thumbs-up thing from after the 2004 World Series rather than calling strikes.

Juan Feliciano used "Gasolina" as his at-bat music, which was funny to me since I remembered various Mariners using that as their song for a while.

Morino threw several balls to Dragons fans during the game; fouls, inning-enders, etc. Besides that, the infield was pretty deserted, especially at the outer edges. I swear, Zack Hample would have a great day in Hiroshima Stadium gathering baseballs; several times I saw a foul ball hit into the empty seats and some people go chase after it.

Despite that the Carp were charged with three errors, they really did make a lot of great defensive plays as well. I've never seen a team be so schitzophrenic between awesome fielding and lousy fielding. The Dragons were pretty good in general, though.

Also, we noted that there seemed to be a lot of one-kanji names on the Carp, what with Shima, Kura, and Soyogi. Hmm.

I had a really weird realization about the fact that every game in Japan seems to have a reasonably large away team cheering section, and that's that when there are only six teams in your league, if you decide you don't like your home team for some reason, and you choose a different team to follow, well, your team will play against that other team approximately 22 times in the year anyway, 11 of which will be home games (and it used to be more like 28/14 before interleague started). So rather than you only getting to see "your" team at like one or maybe two homestands per year, you'll get to see them four times per year, or more if you're in Tokyo -- heck, a Hanshin fan in Tokyo has about 30-40 games a year they can go to between the three CL teams in the area. So it's not that hard for them to get a decent cheering section together, in theory.

Or not. I dunno. It's also a proximity thing -- I mean, after all, I just went to two Dragons games in a row, in two cities that are something like 300 miles apart from each other, but due to the miracle of the shinkansen, that really wasn't all that difficult a task.

Anyway, I need to get off the computer as usual, so, um -- tomorrow, Saturday, should be an AWESOME BASEBALL DAY for me, in theory -- I'm going to the Fighters-Buffaloes game at the Osaka Dome in the afternoon and then the Tigers-BayStars game in the evening. My best friend, who I dragged to the last two games, is wisely staying far away from me tomorrow. His loss, right? :)

EDIT 12/05/2006> Picture set for this game is now online here!

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