Today is Walter Johnson's birthday. It seems like a fitting trivia bite for the next thing I'm going to mention, which is that
Hiroki Kuroda re-signed with the Hiroshima Carp for a 4-year, 1.2 billion yen contract. Yay! That's like 10 million dollars, which is about what pitchers of his quality here get paid in one year. I like that about Japanese baseball though -- players aren't quite so ridiculously overpaid. He has a clause in his contract about trying to go to the Major Leagues later on, which may or may not be linked to his concerns about the health of his 82-year-old father Kazuhiro Kuroda (a former Hawks/etc outfielder). I'm betting there are a lot of happy baseball fans in Hiroshima right now, and it seems I might have to continue with my "The Carp aren't THAT BAD" campaign for next year instead of shifting allegiances to the Yokohama Bay Stars.
Seung-Yeop Lee reportedly signed a 4-year deal with Yomiuri for 3 billion yen (about $25 million), which will make him one of the highest-paid players in Japan. On the other hand, he was a force to be reckoned with last year (.323/.389/.615, 41 HR). The contract supposedly has a clause about letting him go to the majors if the Giants win the pennant, which is weird, but cool.
This was kind of a big weekend for exhibition games in Japan. On Saturday, there was a game between the Yakult Swallows and a selection of Tokyo Big Six players, which the Swallows won 3-2, even though their lineup was mostly second-stringers, not counting Aoki, Miyade, and Yoneno. Aoki had to leave in the middle of the game to go play in the MLB-Japan all-star games, though. Swallows manager Atsuya Furuta put himself in as a pinch-hitter late in the game. The entire game was to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the building of Meiji Jingu Stadium, which has always housed the Big Six university games, and the Swallows games for the last 42 years. (Trivia: the last time the Fighters won the Japan Series before this year, in 1962, they were the Toei Flyers and Meiji Jingu was their home stadium.)
Then on Sunday there was the last ever Pacific League East-West All-star game in Shizuoka (still looking for a box score, here's an article). The East team was made up of players from the Fighters, Eagles, and Marines, and the West was from the Hawks, Lions, and Buffaloes. Orix's Muramatsu and Softbank's Shibahara knocked in three runs for the West team in the first inning, but Ogasawara struck back with a solo homer in the second, and Lotte's Heiuchi hit a 2-run RBI single in the fourth to tie it. In the fifth inning, Hichori Morimoto hit a solo homer and Toshiaki Imae hit a three-run homer in the midst of piling on 5 runs total. Atsunori Inaba added on a solo homer in the 8th and the eventual score was 9-4. In the meantime, both Ogasawara and Satozaki played in this game and then had to run off to Tokyo for the MLB-Japan all-star game as well.
I wonder what kind of insanity these guys had to be going through to try to play through two games -- two exhibition games at that -- in one day. At least Aoki just had to go from Jingu to the Tokyo Dome, which isn't so bad, but the guys playing in both the East-West game and the MLB-Japan one had to go all the way from Shizuoka to Tokyo, which is like an hour and a half train ride. I thought it was exhausting enough just attending two games in one day in Japan; I can't imagine playing in two of them.
The MLB all-stars have won all of their games against the NPB all-stars so far (not counting the tie game with Yomiuri), 3-2, 8-6, and 11-4.
Another fun note from this weekend was the Softbank Hawks Fan Fest on Friday afternoon, which looks like it was an absolute blast. Something like 30,000 fans attended, and most of the players from the team, as well. There was everything from picture booths to games to talk shows to auctions to Matoba in a pink wig to singer Fumiya Fujii performing to videogame contests to pitcher Michinao Yamamura as Razor Ramon HG (if you don't know who he is, you don't want to, trust me) with a bunch of players as his backups. A message from Sadaharu Oh was broadcast on the board at the stadium, which you can view online too.
Oh, and for Ice: Hanshin signed Ryohei Hashimoto, their third-round draft pick. Hashimoto was the star catcher for Chiben Wakayama high school and is being hailed as the "post-Yano" catcher for the team. He seemed like a pretty solid player at Koshien, and Hanshin definitely needs a younger catcher soon. He remarked in a press conference, "I want to catch for Kyuji Fujikawa". Who doesn't?