You have no idea how awesome it is to go look at the page of today's starters on the Pacific League site and FINALLY SEE SOME NAMES!
In about 4 hours, the baseball season will officially be underway in Japan. I may or may not be home for the games, so I won't be liveblogging them; also I still don't know what the deal with video/audio feeds and whether they'll work outside Japan (see below). The good part is that I'll get to test some of my translation Perl scripts from last year on the box score pages afterwards and see whether they still work.
The pitching matchups for the Opening Day games are as follows, with their 2006 stats, and some notes from the bottom of the page:
Eagles vs. Lions @ Goodwill Dome
Hisashi Iwakuma (1-2, 3.72) vs. Fumiya Nishiguchi (9-9. 3.55)
Fumiya Nishiguchi, in his 13th season as a pro, is the Lions Opening Day starter for the 5th time, and the second time in a row, after starting from 97-99. For the Lions, only Osamu Higashio (ten times) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (6 times) have been the Opening Day starter more times. Unfortunately for the Lions, Nishiguchi has only ever won on opening day once, in 1999. His opening day record is 1-3, 4.23.
Hisashi Iwakuma was Opening Day starter for the Kintetsu Buffaloes in 2004 (before the Orix merger and Rakuten expansion) and for the Eagles in 2005 and won both games (2-0, 1.69). So the odds actually seem to be in favor of the Eagles, strangely enough.
Fighters vs. Marines @ Chiba Marine Stadium
Yu Darvish (12-5, 2.89) vs. Naoyuki Shimizu (10-8, 3.42)
Naoyuki Shimizu was Opening Day starter for the Marines in 2004 and 2005, and he is 1-1 with a 3.45 ERA on opening days. If I understand correctly, though, the Marines have won every time they have started the season at home, since Choji Murata in 1982 at Kawasaki stadium. Like many other top Japanese players, Shimizu was off in the WBC last spring and that's why he wasn't ready for Opening Day 2006.
Yu Darvish, who is barely 20 years old and starting his 3rd season as a pro, is Opening Day pitcher for the first time. With any luck, he'll be the Opening Day pitcher for the Fighters for at least the next five or six years as well.
Now, there's some GREAT trivia to be had here. First off, I had thought that Satoru Kanemura had started most of the last couple Opening Day games for the Fighters, but no -- actually, from 2001-2006 he only started three (01, 04, 06). Carlos Mirabal (!) was opening day starter in 03 and 05.
Second, the trivia mentioned on the page is that Darvish is the fourth player in club history -- counting all the way back to the Tokyu Flyers -- to be Opening Day starter within 3 years of graduating high school. What it doesn't mention is that the other three were all Opening Day starters as rookies! Hiroshi Tsuno was 4 months short of turning 20 when he started the 1985 Opening Day game for the Fighters (and won). Toshiaki Moriyasu did that one better -- selected by the Toei Flyers in the first round of the very first draft in Japan in 1965, his first professional game was Opening Day 1966, where at the age of 18 he pitched a complete game shutout against the Nankai Hawks for the win. Sadly, 5 years later he was banned for life from baseball for fixing games in the Black Mist Scandal. The earliest of the young openers was Noboru Makino, who pitched the Opening Day game for the Flyers in 1956 also at the age of 18.
(credit goes to Wikipedia and to Japan Baseball Daily for the historical data)
Buffaloes vs. Hawks @ Yahoo! Dome
Hidetaka Kawagoe (9-9, 3.14) vs. Kazumi Saitoh (18-5, 1.75)
I know this isn't a very nice thing to say, but man, when your opening day starter choices are between Kawagoe and Masato Yoshii (who'll be 42 in a few weeks), that's just plain bad. Unless I've missed some major reason why Yoshihisa Hirano isn't starting, of course -- to be fair, I haven't really been paying attention to Orix, but Hirano's looked great in spring camp from what I've seen. Anyway, Kawagoe has started 2 opening day games, and is 1-0 in them with a 2.63 ERA.
As for Kazumi Saitoh, do I even need to explain who he is? Not only is he pretty much the undisputed best pitcher in Japan now that Matsu-nantoka is in the MLB, but this is his fourth opening day assignment and he's won all of the other ones (3-0, 2.19). Outcome: doesn't look so great for Orix unless Saitoh's shoulder suddenly explodes.
Deanna's 2007 PL Predictions?
(but in reality, my prediction is just "Hawks #1, Eagles not #6, "Buffaloes suck".)
I'm not sure what the deal is this year with online broadcasts, though it appears that the Yahoo video streams are theoretically going to be IP blocked to only play in Japan, which sort of sucks, since from the teams page it appears they are going to stream Hawks, Marines, Fighters and Eagles games on there. I suppose I won't know for sure until tonight when I try to load up the broadcasts, but I'm not counting on it.
On the other hand, I expect to still be able to at least listen to the Lions-Eagles game on internet radio on Lions Nighter. Shame I don't particularly like the Lions.
I guess there'll at least be some highlights of the Marines games up on marines.tv afterwards, but that doesn't make it any better... hey, Satozaki team captain interview video is up, I think I'll go watch that!