Wednesday, February 14, 2007

NPB Roundup: Happy (Bobby) Valentine's Day

Actually, sadly, I was hoping to have a whole bunch of stuff to talk about the Chiba Lotte Marines in such a named post, but alas, I don't see a count anywhere of how many chocolates Nishioka or Imae or even Bobby himself received (if you're unfamiliar with the way Valentine's Day works in Japan, women give chocolates to men they like on Feb 14th, and then a month later on White Day, March 14th, guys are supposed to reciprocate. Or something).

Instead, I suppose I could mention that the Marines are finishing up their two weeks of Spring Training in Geelong, Australia, where women glow and men plunder, and the temperature was apparently around 100 degrees the entire time. This week they played two exhibition games against the Australian national team. On Tuesday, submariner Shunsuke Watanabe pitched the first two innings, striking out 5, which led to an Australian newspaper to rave about his pitching -- and spell his name wrong as "Watanbe". Oops. Kosuke Katoh was roughed up for 4 runs, but he was the only Marines pitcher to give up any runs in the outing, with Yoshihide Kanda striking out the side in the 7th and Yusuke Kawasaki pitching a perfect 8th and 9th inning. Shunichi Nemoto, Shoitsu Ohmatsu, and Naotaka Takehara contributed home runs on the offense as Lotte pounded the Australians 9-4. On Wednesday, the lineup featured a lot rawer players, with Yoshihisa Naruse getting the start and doing okay for two innings, but the rest of the game sounds like it was pretty sloppy and the Australians beat the Marines 4-3. Takehara was 3-for-4 and contributed another home run. Can you hear the thunder?

For those not familiar with Lotte's farm team, they won the Eastern League pennant last year. Takehara put up a .310/.415/.541 line with 13 home runs (tied for the lead league) and Nemoto was the league batting champ with a .343/.411/.461 line. If these guys can step it up to the top-level team this year, along with the addition of Julio Zuleta, Lotte could be pretty scary. They'll just need to get something out of their outfield and their pitching, as their infield may be the best in the Pacific League.

(A funny side note to the "Watanbe" thing I linked from Shunsuke's blog -- he explained that the Australian announcer even said his name as "Watanbe". During the Nichibei series, David Ortiz signed something to him as "Watanabi", which is the way his gaijin teammates usually pronounced his name. At the end of the entry, Watanabe ponders, "It must be a hard name to pronounce, huh?" Which personally makes ME confused, as I think it's one of the EASIER names in Japanese to get right!)

Another day in camp, Bobby Valentine made his players run dashes until they were exhausted and then he went around taking pictures of them collapsed on the ground. Maybe he's finally learning how to be a proper Japanese baseball manager.

I did originally intend to make this a silly post, though, so here's the silly part.

Masahiro Tanaka, the highly touted draft pick of the Rakuten Golden Eagles -- formerly the ace pitcher of Komadai Tomakomai high school, who had won the 2004 and 2005 summer Koshien tournaments and come close to winning the 2006 one as well -- apparently was not quite the most popular guy on the Eagles when it came to Valentine's Day chocolates, though. That honor went to "cool guy ace pitcher" Hisashi Iwakuma, who received 36 chocolates. Tanaka received 23, and tied for third on the team were Yasuhiro Ichiba and Tsuchiya Teppei with 18. However, Teppei and Ichiba are both on my All-Cute Team, and Iwakuma and Tanaka are not, so you know who the real winners are.

The guy who defeated Tanaka in the Koshien tournament this year was a Waseda Jitsugyo pitcher named Yuki Saito, who now attends Waseda University, and who is nowhere as cool as the pitcher with the same name on the Hiroshima Carp. He's such a media sensation (infact, following the Yuki Saito media will give you a good idea of what it must have been like being Matsuzaka in his Koshien days) that they still have articles just to talk about him getting over the flu. Anyway, Saito's manager joked that "He got about 500 chocolates", which is probably a little bit of an exaggeration, though the post office apparently did have preparations to deliver Valentine's presents for him from women all over the country. Oi.

The Yakult Swallows had something on their home page where you could send Valentine's messages to players. In the final tally, they received 919 messages in all, and former Waseda star Norichika Aoki led the team by far by having 260 of them addressed to him. Pitcher Ryo Kawashima was second with 96.

I know some people think I'm nuts for thinking Old Man Shimoyanagi is a big adorable teddy bear, but apparently the Hanshin Tigers female fans somewhat agree, as he led the team in chocolates with 20. Norihiro Akahoshi got 13, and below that it seems that Osamu Hamanaka (cuuuuute!), Tomoaki Kanemoto (handsome), Kyuji Fujikawa (awesome incarnate), Akihiro Yano (err...) and Shinjiro Hiyama (?!?!) all got 5 or so.

Here's a picture of Sadaharu Oh happily opening a heart-shaped box of chocolate candies he received from the press. There was also one of a slightly grumpier Munenori Kawasaki being inundated with bags full of Valentine's chocolates from female Hawks fans. Poor guy.

No comments: