Friday, November 03, 2006

Marinerds 2006 All-Cute Team, Part 3: Nippon Pro Yakyu

This is the third (and theoretically, last) installment in this year's All-Cute Team series. Here at Marinerds, we endeavor to bring you the absolute most relevant and up-to-date news in the world of baseball, which is why we're posting about stuff like this instead of about who's bidding or not bidding on people, and whether the MLB stars just nearly got their asses kicked by the second-string Yomiuri squad, or whatever. Never let it be said we don't have our priorities straight.

If you missed them, scroll down, or check out the Adorable American League and the Nice-Guy National League. And if you're actually here for relevant useful things like my Japan Series coverage and translations, check out October.

Anyway, today's edition might look a little strange, with a lot of different styles of pictures. This is because Japanese players don't seem to actually smile in their team headshots very often, so there were several cases where I simply couldn't find a good smiling picture of a player who I've admired as being cute for several years on TV or elsewhere. I did my best, though, and most of the normal headshots come from either Sponichi or Sankei Sports or the individual team sites.

If it was up to me, I would have made about half the team out of the Fighters, but figured that'd be unfair, so I included guys from every other team in Japan too with the exception of the Hiroshima Carp. Not sure exactly how that happened; just that none of their guys made the cut. Also, there are only 9 pitchers on this 25-man roster, but I figure with the standard workload of Japanese pitchers, they can easily handle the increased demand for smiling and being cute.

Disclaimer as usual: This is my annual "I'm a girl, goddamnit" posting spree. It's all entirely subjective, and if you disapprove of my selections, you are welcome to put out your own Equal Opportunity Endearer cute list, of course.



#11 Yu Darvish, RHP, Nippon Ham Fighters
#15 Kazuo Fukumori, RHP, Rakuten Golden Eagles
#11 Yasuhiro Ichiba, RHP, Rakuten Golden Eagles
#66 Kazumi Saitoh, RHP, Fukuoka Softbank Hawks
#42 Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi, LHP, Hanshin Tigers
#21 Tsuyoshi Wada, LHP, Fukuoka Softbank Hawks
#16 Hideaki Wakui, RHP, Seibu Lions
#31 Shunsuke Watanabe, RHP, Chiba Lotte Marines
#21 Masato Yoshii, RHP, Orix Buffaloes

I should note that Masato Yoshii started pitching professionally before Yu Darvish or Hideaki Wakui were born, heh. But despite all that, Yoshii is really cute; I'd honestly forgotten how old he was. I think he's cute in a goofy Shigetoshi Hasegawa sort of way.

As for Darvish, he will someday be the greatest Iranian-Japanese pitcher in the history of baseball. But for the time being, he's got these great exotic looks from his mixed heritage, and the most lovely cheekbone structure ever. Watching him, it's actually hard to remember that he just turned 20 this season, though. The same couldn't be said for Wakui -- he really looks like a little kid, though he's actually two months older than Darvish. But, Wakui's pretty adorable as far as they go -- back towards the start of the season when Wakui was still 19 and he had a cute 18-year-old battery mate in Ginjiro Sumitani, I had to wonder if Seibu was trying more to attract teenage girls to the stadium. I don't think it worked, though.

Kazuo Fukumori might be one of the only truly talented guys on the Rakuten roster right now, which was the first reason I noticed him, but the second reason was that he's really good-looking. (Also, he has a really entertaining blog. The latest entry has a picture of him with Ryan Howard, even. The more I read his blog, the more I fall in love with him. He's so funny.)

Then again, Yasuhiro Ichiba actually has talent too. He's just cursed, so he never smiles, which is also a shame. It was really fortunate that the only weekend I could go up to Sendai to see the Eagles coincidentally featured Ichiba pitching against the Hawks' Kazumi Saitoh.

So, yeah, Kazumi Saitoh. If you haven't been around here for a while you probably haven't heard me talk about how much I love the guy. It's not just because he's such a great pitcher, and he is -- he's fun to watch, so incredibly tall and graceful, with a wonderfully classic motion, and a blazing fastball and wicked forkball. But in addition to that, he's really interesting as a person and just plain cute. He looks a lot better with longer hair than short, though.

The young Hawks lefty and former Waseda star Tsuyoshi Wada won me over earlier in this season when he basically kept ending up having to face other teams' aces, and said with a grin, something like "Bring it on. I prefer the challenge."

Shunsuke Watanabe is a submarine pitcher who is also amazingly fun to watch -- his knuckles do practically scrape the ground when he's throwing. But, last year, he was nigh unstoppable for a while, carrying the Lotte Marines into the postseason, over the Hawks, over the Tigers, and through the Japan Series. He had a rocky year this season, but still has one of the most genuine and contagious smiles (and distinctive jawlines) I've ever seen.

Okay, okay, I know most people would never expect to see Old Man Shimoyanagi on a list of cute players, but he really is! I dunno, he's funny and has a nice smile, but what really sealed it was when I found out he had an entire part of his website dedicated to his black labrador Lager. Yeah, I guess I have a soft spot for black labs, and apparently for some black-pinstriped Tigers.

I thought about including Micheal Nakamura, but he ended up getting cut due to the "too many Fighters" aspect. And while Kenshin Kawakami might be one of the better-looking players on the Chunichi Dragons, that's more because the Dragons are mostly a bunch of funny-looking old dudes than anything else.



#8 Ryouji Aikawa, C, Yokohama Bay Stars
#22 Tomoya Satozaki, C, Chiba Lotte Marines

Tomoya Satozaki is the biggest dork on the entire planet. I just need to make that clear first. I mean, he's just so adorkable and goofy and making funny faces all the time. But at the same time, I love that -- I love his smile, I love seeing him laughing with teammates, I love the silly crap he writes in his blog, I loved his radio color commentary during the Pacific League playoffs. While it's true he probably let the Series and WBC stuff go to his head a bit, he really kicked ass this year, and was a bright spot in a lineup of Lotte guys who mostly saw a dropoff from last year.

Aikawa got on this list because outside Yokohama Stadium they have a bunch of player picture marquees of various people; Takuro Ishii grinning, Mark Kroon looking badass, Daisuke Miura with a ridiculous pompadour... and Aikawa just smiling and looking absolutely adorable. I wasn't really familiar with him before my trip to Yokohama, and as it is I only saw him play in one of the three Bay Stars games I saw, but still, he's a cutie if there ever was one.

Shinji Takahashi, of course, is pretty cute, but he got cut due to the Fighters factor, and maybe even due to the Takahashi factor (which will become apparent when we get to the outfielders).



#8 Makoto Kaneko, SS, Nippon Ham Fighters
#52 Munenori Kawasaki, SS, Fukuoka Softbank Hawks
#31 Masahiko Morino, 3B, Chunichi Dragons
#25 Shuichi Murata, 3B, Yokohama Bay Stars
#3 Hiroyuki Nakajima, SS, Seibu Lions
#7 Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B, Chiba Lotte Marines
#2 Michihiro Ogasawara, 1B, Nippon Ham Fighters
#3 Kentaro Sekimoto, 3B, Hanshin Tigers

Do I even need to explain why Makoto Kaneko and Michihiro Ogasawara are on this roster? I've been in love with both of them pretty much since I became a Fighters fan. (PS - for the other Kaneko fans, I found a site full of "weekly Mack" interviews from the season, which are awesome to listen to! He's so charming and adorable!) Ogasawara is just so awesome in every way possible; he's handsome, intelligent, humble, well-spoken, and amazing at fielding and batting as well; he's like the classic respected Samurai leading his comrades into honorable battle.

Munenori Kawasaki wears high socks and has the most adorable smile ever. He just radiates cute.

Masahiko Morino is my Dragonbutt. What's weird about him is that I first saw him during fielding practice before a Carp-Dragons game in Hiroshima, and I thought -- "man, that guy's really cute! I wonder who he is," but at the time the players weren't wearing number shirts. I took a picture, but still couldn't figure out who the heck it was by looking at the roster, because most of the Dragons players are somewhat older, or they look really sullen in their headshots. Finally, one day I was reading Shukan Baseball; there was a Hichori interview in the front and a Morino interview in the back, and there's this picture of Morino actually smiling, and I realized -- he's my cute Dragon! In addition, he's my Dragonbutt! (I took that picture of Morino and Tatsunami just because it was a funny angle at the time; now it's become a running gag.) The other thing about Morino is that he reminds me of Kotaro Tanaka, the actor who played the third baseman Tachibana in the TV version of H2. He's also really cute.

Hiroyuki Nakajima has the best smile on the Seibu Lions, period. I decided he was pretty cute last year back when the Lions still broadcast their games over the net for free on Yahoo (which is, by the way, the only reason I can sing their fight song). Then this year I went to a Lions game and sat on the third-base side and watched him play, and he's quite good -- a worthy replacement to Kazuo Matsui, at least. But in addition to his adorable smile, he wears pastel pink wristbands and a pink glove, being as it's his lucky color or something. Now that takes a *real* man (not counting Shinjo, of course).

Shuichi Murata was scouted out at batting/fielding practice before one of the Bay Stars games I attended. He's one of those weird young talents that's somehow hiding on a terrible team. If the Bay Stars go anywhere anytime soon, I predict he will play a large part in it.

Ah, Tsuyoshi Nishioka. It's really a shame that I couldn't capture what I thought was his cutest moment ever -- when he appeared on the Japanese celebrity-blind-date-match TV show Koisuru Hanikami, where he met the actress Sakura, and it was the cutest thing ever. They went shopping, and then to Chiba Stadium (where he taught her to throw a baseball), and to the Fujikyu Highland amusement park, and then for a nice firework show on the beach. It was so cute you wanted to vomit (much like they probably did after the rollercoasters), and well... last I heard, Sakura and Nishioka are still dating, maybe even engaged now. It's funny because I sort of think he'd look good as a TV actor if he hadn't ended up as a baseball player. But it's a good thing he IS a baseball player, because he's young and fast and exciting to watch.

I have to admit that Nishioka's only listed at 2B because I had ninety billion shortstops and I inadvertantly cut the other guys I had down at 2B originally -- Kensuke Tanaka got cut due to the too many Fighters factor (notice a pattern here?) and Makoto Kosaka just didn't make the cut because -- and this is odd -- he actually looks pretty awful in most of the pro pictures I've seen of him this year, but the ones I took of him at Yokohama were actually great, him taking pregame practice wearing glasses and all, it's precious.

I have a somewhat embarrassing story behind how I found out Sekimoto was cute. Namely, I completely forgot he existed. I was in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, where they have this big "Full Swing" baseball in the plaques room. (Not a great shot but look here.) Anyway, the ball was signed by a ton of players during last offseason, and I was walking around reading it with these other people. One of the things said "Guts Guts! Hanshin Tigers #3". But we couldn't read the signature. So one guy's like... "Hanshin no seibango san, dare?" ("Who's #3?") And the three of us stood there for a good five minutes racking our brains unsuccessfully to figure out who it was. Worse, I'd even been to a Hanshin game recently where Sekimoto had played.

Anyway, a day or two later I remembered and went to look up exactly who #3 was, and suddenly it was like "Oh, that guy! Sekimoto! He's adorable!"



#9 Shogo Akada, OF, Seibu Lions
#23 Norichika Aoki, OF, Yakult Swallows
#5 Osamu Hamanaka, OF, Hanshin Tigers
#24 Yoshinobu Takahashi, OF, Yomiuri Giants
#10 Yoshitomo Tani, OF, Orix Buffaloes
#46 Tsuchiya Teppei, OF, Rakuten Golden Eagles

I've had a crush on Yoshinobu Takahashi for about as long as I've been following Japanese baseball. He's so good-looking and smart (he's a Keio grad!) and talented, although it's really a shame about his slew of recent injuries.

I hadn't really noticed Shogo Akada much before this fall either, to be fair, and then I went to a game where he hit three singles, which was notable only because catcher Toru Hosokawa, batting behind him, hit three of the loudest-cheered bunts in history. Anyway, him being a switch-hitter and getting on base a lot, I saw him flash an absolutely stellar smile while standing at third at one point, and it was just like... "yeah, okay. He's in."

I knew who Aoki was during his insane rookie year when he blasted away all of Ichiro's hit records and other stuff, but it wasn't until the WBC that I got a really good look at him (being as the Central League teams didn't broadcast games over the net), and you know... in addition to being a kickass hitter, a great fielder, and so on, he's really cute, too! But finding a closeup picture of him smiling was nigh impossible for me for some reason. Understandably, he always looks like he's concentrating really hard in all of his game pictures.

Osamu Hamanaka is just plain freaking adorable. I'm not sure what else I could say about him.

I first remembered Teppei as being the guy who broke up Shunsuke Watanabe's attempt at a no-hitter earlier this year by being beaned twice, the second of which got Watanabe ejected from the game on the kikenkyu rule. Ironically, the first time I really saw him close up was at Chiba Marine Stadium a few months later; I was watching practice and thought, "hey, that guy's pretty cute, I wonder who he is." Then a bit later it was like, "Shit, that's Teppei!" Anyway, after watching the guy for a couple of games, I'm fairly convinced that he both has cute and has talent. The former's already there, the latter will hopefully continue to emerge.

Yoshitomo Tani's been around with Orix so long that he was once part of an outfield with Ichiro and Taguchi. Now he's sort of bumming around in left field with a bunch of scrubs. I've always thought he was kind of cute in a "chubby cheeks!" sort of way, and I was really annoyed that when I was sitting in left field at the Osaka Dome, he wouldn't turn around and look at the stands (understandable as the Fighters oendan were behind him), so I could never quite get a good picture.

Hmm. 17 guys from the Pacific League (3 per team except 2 from Orix), 8 from the Central. Duplicates of uniform numbers 3, 8, 11, 21, and 31. Three guys named Tsuyoshi but no other name duplicates. (See, Shinjo got denied both for being a Fighter and for being a Tsuyoshi, obviously!)

So, there you go.

No, this really isn't what I was doing in Japan last month, I swear.

And I really need to start posting some of my trip pictures, too. Sorry I haven't gotten around to it yet.

Oh yeah, I debated who would be the manager of this team. Keeping with the fact that I was actually going for an all-Japanese team here, rather than put one of the gaijin managers (Bobby V, Marty Brown, Trey Hillman -- all of whom are pretty cute) at the helm, I would instead put the adorable elder statesman Atsuya Furuta, the current player-manager of the Yakult Swallows. Now, if there was an All-Slow team, I'm sure Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai could lead it, of course.

Maybe taking on three rosters like this was a bit much -- I didn't know it was possible to get burnt out babbling about cute baseball players, seriously. I am definitely not doing an All-Ugly team, anyway -- I'll leave that to the appropriate experts.

Anyway, we should be back to normal (for whatever definition of "normal" you choose to interpret) around here after this, with no further mentions of the word "cute" until next fall. I'm finally reading Mike Schmidt's book "Clearing the Bases" and will probably end up reviewing it once I finish it. This weekend is the Nichi-Bei series, next weekend is the Asia Series. You see, there's always baseball going on somewhere!

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