Sunday, April 29, 2007

Game Report: Mariners vs. Royals - There and Baek Again

Mariners 5, Royals 1

Say what you will about Cha Seung Baek, and say what you will about the Kansas City Royals, but he did have a no-hitter going into the 6th inning, until Grudzilla slapped one up the middle for a single.

Say what you will about Willie Bloomquist, but he managed to stay alive in the bottom of the 7th and hit a valid double into centerfield which brought in the two go-ahead runs.

Say what you will about Brandon Morrow, but he deserved his win today. In the immortal words of Peter Venkman, he came, he saw, he kicked its ass.

Mark Grudzielanek and Yuniesky Betancourt
Grudzielanek: "Hey you, you get your dirty hands off my base."
Betancourt: "All your base are belong to me!"

"Short" version: Cha Seung Baek was perfect for his first three innings and almost had a no-hitter through six, walking David DeJesus in the 4th and Alex Gordon in the 5th. Mark Grudzielanek broke up the no-hitter in the 6th with a single, and sadly Baek also lost the shutout in the 7th inning, as Mike Sweeney led off with a double, was pinch-run for by Emil Brown, who was driven in by a Reggie Sanders single to shallow center which Willie Bloomquist dove for and missed. With runners at second and third and one out, Brandon Morrow came in and struck out Tony Pena and John Buck to keep the score tied at 1-1. Baek struck out 6 batters in 6 innings.

Yes, it was only 1-1 at that point, because despite Brian Bannister only managing to strike out one Willie Bloomquist, the Mariners still couldn't really do all that great a job of getting their bats on the ball. Beltre threatened in the first inning, singling to center, stealing, and advancing on a wild pitch, but Richie Sexson grounded into a fielder's choice to end the inning. Guillen reached on a Pena-Gordon fumble in the second, and Betancourt replaced him in a fielder's choice, also stealing, and then scoring on a solid double by Jamie Burke. But that was it for the Mariners offense, as Bannister retired the next 14 batters.

Richie Sexson started off the 7th inning by walking, and Jose Guillen grounded into a 6-4 fielder's choice. Yuniesky Betancourt then hit the ball into the left-center gap for a double, almost getting thrown out at second, having to scramble back to the bag to beat Grudzielanek's tag. Jamie Burke popped out to first, and Willie Bloomquist came to bat with two outs and runners at second and third. He got up to a full count, and then appeared to strike out, but the umpire called it a foul tip. Willie took the next pitch he saw and cracked it into center field. DeJesus misjudged it and dove for the ball, missing, turning Willie's single into a double, scoring Guillen and Betancourt and bringing the score to 3-1. Jimmy Gobble replaced Bannister at that point, and Ichiro singled home Willie after that to make it 4-1. Adrian Beltre hit into an infield single where Tony Pena made a nice stop on the ball but had no time for a throw. Jose Vidro hit a drive into the gap in right center, and David DeJesus chased it down, ending the inning.

Ibanez "tripled" in the next inning but the scorers called it an error after DeJesus dropped the ball, though he really had no right even reaching the ball in the first place. Joel Peralta replaced Gobble, and Richie Sexson singled home Ibanez to make the score 5-1, where it would stay when Betancourt grounded into a double play shortly afterwards.

Brandon Morrow retired five batters in a row to earn the win. JJ Putz pitched a scoreless 9th inning, though part of that was due to a diving catch by Jason Ellison. Ross Gload singled, advanced on defensive indifference and on a wild pitch, but Putz struck out Reggie Sanders and Alex Gordon, both swinging, to end the game.

There was a moment of silence before the game to honor the memory of Josh Hancock, who passed away early this morning in a car accident. Hancock was a relief pitcher for the Cardinals and had just thrown three innings in yesterday's game, even. I don't really have good words for this. My thoughts go out to his friends and family.

Willie Bloomquist
Down on the corner, out in the street, Willie and the poor boys are playing...

Today was one of the nicest days I've ever had the opportunity to spend watching a baseball game, weather-wise. It was sunny, but it was still something like 60 degrees out. Sadly, though, there was no batting or fielding practice before the game. I arrived at the stadium around 11:40am, and there were a few Mariners playing catch on the field, and then there were two huge lines of people waiting to get autographs from Jose Lopez and Kenji Johjima. I didn't feel like waiting in line, so I just went down and took a few pictures of pitchers -- notably, Jarrod Washburn was "catching" for Jeff Weaver, which was just plain comical.

I went over to the third-base side to watch Todd Wellemeyer and Jimmy Gobble playing catch, and saw a really tall Royals player signing stuff, so I went over to get him to sign my ticket stub. Turned out it was John Buck. He is a LOT taller than I thought! Wellemeyer and Gobble also signed stuff, but I only had one Royals ticket stub, so I didn't bother them. Now, if it had been Mark Teahen or Gil Meche (I was even wearing my Meche #55 shirt for the occasion), it might have been another story. Anyway.

I was sitting on the first base side for this game. Section 117, row 4. Beautiful day, plenty sunny, and so I shot about 400 pictures total. The people around me were pretty tolerant of the constant camera clicking, though -- the couple on my left mostly seemed to have no idea what was going on most of the time, and the guy on my right spent the whole game yelling things like "CMON BUDDY! CMON GO WILLIE GO! YEAH BAEK, YOU STRIKE HIM OUT YEAH! CMON ICHI, GET A HIT ICHI! YEAH BIG SEXY, YOU'RE BATTING 143, CMON GET A HIT CMON CMON BUDDY!", and behind me was a lady with a screaming baby. You take the good with the bad, I guess. Loud Dude also kept telling me how Willie Bloomquist is his favorite player, and then he tried to convince me that Jamie Burke went to high school with Willie, and I tried to explain to him that he meant Jason Ellison, and eventually I just gave up.

My section was a magnet for foul balls today; one landed three rows behind me, and another was 6 seats to my left, in my row. At one point, Ross Gload fouled off a ball that a middle-aged guy in the front row of my section caught, but the ball barely bounced out of his glove. Amber the ball girl runs up and recovers the ball... and starts going away to hand it to a kid elsewhere, when a bunch of people in the section yell "Give it back! Cmon, give him the ball!" Some others took up the chant of "Give it back!" and so she did. I know it's the ball girl's job to give baseballs to little kids and all, but I think in this case it was certainly right to give it to the guy.

Dan Wilson threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the game, and was there with his whole family. He got a big standing ovation, of course. They also showed one of the old Dan Wilson Quik Flix videos before Jose Guillen led off the bottom of the 2nd, which was weird, since Guillen is wearing Dan's old #6.

Jamie Burke is cool. I mean, I like Kenji Johjima and all, but I think we've finally got a backup catcher that doesn't suck. In addition to his hitting, he also called a good game, and then they did one of those "interview with a kid" clips between innings, with him. At one point he asks the kid "Who's your favorite athlete?" and the kid's like "You... and Ichiro..." and he's like "Me? Really? Thanks!" and then asks the kid about siblings, and starts talking about how he had three sisters, all older, and BOY was that a pain growing up. It was cute.

The AM-PM "too much of a good thing" prize was about 20 rows back and 2 sections over from me. The prize was 300 mini-donuts. I think just as many people got up and went crazy trying to get thrown mini-donuts as people got up and went crazy trying to catch a foul ball.

Today was informally "Knock down Mark Grudzielanek Day", apparently. He was taken out at second base at least three times. But hey, take a look at this -- in the second inning, Jose Guillen slid hard into second base and effectively broke up what would have been a 5-4-3 double play. He also ripped his pants, and I of course captured it on camera. Check out Guillen's left pants leg:

Jose Guillen and Mark Grudzielanek

Jose Guillen and Mark Grudzielanek
Guillen vs. Grudzilla - When Spikes Collide

Something that's also kind of crazy is that the Mariners were stealing off Bannister/LaRue fairly effectively, but Baek was trying pretty hard to hold people to the bag. David DeJesus and Alex Gordon in particular had a lot of pickoff throws aimed at them. After about five tries in a row, even Richie Sexson was getting sick of the pickoff routine:

Richie Sexson and David DeJesus
DeJesus: Aren't you guys getting sick of this yet?
Sexson: Shut up and take it like a man.

And last, but not least, let me talk again about Brandon Morrow for a second.

When I first saw Morrow come into a game during the second game of the season, on April 3rd, he looked horribly shaky, like he couldn't believe he was out there pitching to big-leaguers in a major league game. He managed to keep his composure and get out of a scoreless inning then, but it looked like he had a ways to go before he would be able to go out there and throw strikes.

That seems to have changed. I haven't seen his performances in the interim, but the Brandon Morrow I saw today pretty much came out there, in a fairly high-leverage situation (runners on second and third, tie game in the 7th inning), and said "I don't really care whose son this guy is, or whether John Buck is unusually tall for a catcher. I am a major league pitcher, and I am going to throw the ball really fast, and these guys are going to swing and miss."

And he did. And they did.

Morrow stayed in for the 8th inning as well to actually earn his win. Sure, this was the Royals, but DeJesus, Grudzilla, and Teahen are all legitimate major leaguers, and Morrow pretty much went right after them. He got some help from Adrian Beltre, who made a fantastic play on a Grudzielanek grounder -- Beltre stopped it with his glove, but didn't make the pickup, but in the same motion just swooped up the ball barehanded and fired it to first base in time for the out. (It was the finale for the Great Plays Video Vault after that inning.) Morrow then struck out Teahen, and in all honesty, he almost looked better out there today than JJ Putz did in the 9th.

Brandon Morrow

I don't really want to talk about JJ Putz's appearance. It looks good on paper if all you see is "flyout, single, strikeout, strikeout", but really, he was all over the place. We all stood up for the final out, with Alex Gordon at the plate, and suddenly, there went JJ again, like a Blass from the Past, bouncing a pitch in the dirt and then throwing a wild one to his friends in the Diamond Club.

I'm just hoping it was due to him being a bit off his game after having a few slightly-longer-than-one-inning outings, or something.

Also, Ryan Shealy sucks. Guess it serves me right for drafting a Kansas City player on my fantasy team. He wasn't even in the game today for me to heckle.

Anyway, it was a good game to watch. I'll try to get more of my photos up in a real set soon, since there are a lot of pretty cool ones. Sometimes I wonder what I could accomplish with some better camera lenses and a press pass...

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Grand Slammin' Yukio Tanaka

Fighters 10, Eagles 2

Yukio Tanaka had 10 hits left to go for the Meikyukai entry goal of 2000 before today's game started.

Now, he has 9 left.

Today's hit was a pretty good one. The Fighters were already up 5-2 in the seventh inning, and Hichori Morimoto started things off with a single to center. Kensuke Tanaka bunted him over to second. Atsunori Inaba popped out to short after that, and Fernando Seguignol was intentionally walked for whatever reason -- I guess in theory to go after Shinji Takahashi, who was already 2-for-3 for the day at that point. Huh. So Takahashi hits the ball to third, and Jose Fernandez boots it, loading the bases.

Yukio Tanaka comes in as a pinch-hitter for Naoto Inada, and rather than singing his cheer song, which starts "Let's go, Yukio, home run!", I'm sure the Fighters fans were actually singing the "chance music".

Which is ironic, because Yukio took the second pitch he saw, a slider breaking low and inside, and walloped it into the first row of seats in left field for a grand slam home run!

It had been two years since Yukio last hit a home run, and the last time he hit a grand slam was August 13, 2001, back when the Fighters were still calling the Tokyo Dome their home. (Source: Nikkan Sports)

Maybe my estimate of late May for his 2000th hit was a little hasty after all; the old man undoubtedly just earned himself some more playing time with that blast!

(This reminds me of following the 2004 Mariners -- even though they sucked, you checked the score every day to see how many hits Ichiro got, in the Sisler chase. The Fighters are sucking it up this year so far too, but the first thing I check in each box score is whether Yukio played and got a hit. I also check every Dragons box score to see how Masahiko Morino did, but alas, Dragonbutt is finally settling into a comfortable low-300's batting average and not stealing Fukudome's fire anymore, sadly. Norichika Aoki of the Swallows also finally fell below .400; he was really starting to scare me, though if anyone in Japan right now had the potential to hit .400 for the season, it's him, for sure.)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Body Part of the Week: Kazumi Saitoh's Shoulder

I got an email request this morning to translate Kazumi Saitoh's latest diary entry. I didn't think too much of it until I started checking up on the dailies and saw that he was taken off the roster, for possibly quite a while, with fatigue in his right shoulder.


Unfortunately, this is a known defect; he's had shoulder trouble in the past, and an operation several years ago. I had actually noticed that he seemed off his game during the Fighters-Hawks game I liveblogged a few weeks ago -- notably, he couldn't throw a curveball for a strike, and his velocity was down a bit. And he's been throwing a lot more pitches than he usually does. So, for the Saitoh fans who were wondering why he wasn't flat-out dominating this year -- now you know why. Seems like they're hoping he'll be back in shape to play in a few months, but man -- that's a HUGE hit to the Hawks to have him out for a while, even though Arakaki-Wada-Sugiuchi is STILL quite a punch at the top of the rotation.

Anyway for Grace, who requested it, his latest diary entry reads:
And here I translate:
Because of fatigue in my right shoulder, I have been taken off the roster.
Even since before Opening Day, I felt like my shoulder was slow to recover, but I stepped up to the mound on Opening Day regardless.
Recently I don't actually feel *pain* in my shoulder, and I've been hopeful and believing in the possibility that I could just change my preparation routine between starts, but.
After the last week or ten days or so where my shoulder recovery has been lousy, we came to a bunch of decisions.
It has been decided thats even though I have been contributing a little to the team, it's not good for either me OR the team for me to continue pitching like this.
To all the fans, I am REALLY sorry about this. But I am going to do my best to get back to full health, and to keep the promises I made during the "Morning Voice".

(I went back and listened to what he said during the Morning voice stuff during spring training, but it was basically "We will be the best in the world! We will throw manager Oh up in the air in victory after the season!")

You know who I really feel bad for? Naoki Matoba, the guy who pretty much only still has a job on the top-level team because he's Saitoh's personal catcher for the most part, who has gotten all of one hit in 17 plate appearances this year. Of course, catchers have pretty much been a black hole in the Hawks lineup since Kenji Johjima left, so whatever.

By the way, yes, the Fighters are still the only team in the Pacific League who haven't reached double digits in wins. When I predicted that Rakuten was not going to finish in the cellar this year, I wasn't expecting the team below them to be my Sapporo squad, but alas, that seems to be the way it's going. Aside from Darvish, none of the pitchers are really dealing like they were last year, and nobody on the team is slugging over .500; Seguignol and Inaba are trying, but the loss of Ogasawara and Shinjo in the lineup is actually making a fairly big difference. Tsuboi's doing his usual high-average low-power thing, Hichori's not bad but he still needs to cut down on his strikeouts, and Kensuke Tanaka is finally picking up the pace a bit. I guess all is not lost, especially if they can find a foreign slugger who can actually hit (Sorry, Mr. Green.). Brian Sweeney is starting to learn the Japanese strike zone a bit better, too. But, eh. We'll see, I guess.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Mariners 2, Athletics 0

It has a much nicer ring than "Blantowned", which was the theme of last season.

I only watched the first four innings of the game, because I had a birthday gathering to go to at 8pm. We were ice skating, and by the time the zamboni came out to redo the rink halfway through the session, I checked the game score on my cellphone and it was already over.

I realize that a lot of people are saying things like, "Great, Jarrod Washburn shut out the Sacramento Rivercats of Oakland on three hits", and so on, but you know, they play the games for a reason. Yeah, the current squad of non-injured A's aren't hitting particularly well, and maybe it's just lucky that Guillen and Johjima's hits were home runs (I mean, I saw Guillen's -- I thought it was foul with the first camera angle, even), but hey, give a guy credit for going out there and pitching a complete game win, and give the Mariners credit for continuing to win against the A's, and more importantly, win against Joe Blanton. I think it's fair to say that the Cupcakes Curse has been dispelled for now.

Despite getting swept by the Angels last weekend, the Mariners are still 6-5 against divisional rivals, which is a far shot better than last year. Small steps. You have to walk before you can run. Just ask Jose Vidro.

Today's game starts in about half an hour, and at this rate, will be over by the time I get out of my normal Thursday 2pm meeting. Marco Scutaro will undoubtedly get the game-winning hit for the A's. and the Mariners managed to make it to 7-5 against the AL West. Wowie!

As an aside, since I have nowhere good to mention it in particular: Fighters veteran Yukio Tanaka needs 10 hits to reach 2000 for his career. The Fighters even have a little graphic/Flash countdown on their home page, linking to a records countdown page. At this rate, he'll probably reach 2000 somewhere around late May, I'm guessing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Book Review: Watching Baseball Smarter, by Zack Hample

I'm back from Pittsburgh. Since the Mariners managed to get yet ANOTHER game postponed today, I might as well put off catching up on the weekend games a little longer and write a book review instead. (Seriously, is there any reason I should catch up at all? Getting swept by the Twins and Angels isn't exactly my idea of a fun thing to watch.)

This is the second book in a row I'm reviewing where I actually sort of know the author, although in this case it's mostly that I've been following the chronicles of Zack's baseball collecting for the last year or so on his blog. Zack and I share the viewpoint that writing about a game shouldn't just be about the events on the field, although he takes it to much more of an extreme than I do. Anyway, his FIRST book was about getting baseballs, but this one is his second book, and it's about... everything.

Watching Baseball Smarter: A Professional Fan's Guide for Beginners, Semi-experts, and Deeply Serious Geeks by Zack Hample

A week or two ago, there was a thread on Lookout Landing asking what would be some good ways to teach a friend or significant other more about baseball, if they were interested in learning but didn't really know where to start. At the time, I'd read about 60 pages of Zack's book, and already wholeheartedly recommended it. I haven't changed my opinion since finishing the rest.

What's great about this book is that it actually manages to be something that can be read and enjoyed by all sorts of baseball fans. The subtitle is not a joke; Zack manages to make sure that there's fun stuff in the book for fans of all interest and knowledge levels. Whether you don't know what a ground ball is, or whether you know all about the infield fly rule and what year it became official, you'll still learn something from this book.

To be fair, it's hard for me to evaluate exactly how good it would be to a complete baseball newbie, though I could definitely see a lot of the same sort of tricks that I used to use when I worked as a technical writer, trying to cater to a wide variety of audience skill levels. Italicizing jargon words and keeping a glossary at the back keeps the text flowing well, but the reader shouldn't feel awkward if they don't understand the usage of a particular word; they also know that an explanation is readily available if needed. The book organization is pretty good overall, and it does cover all of the bases, no pun intended. There's even a chapter on umpires (with a situational quiz on "foul or fair?" that I could only get 7 out of 11 correct on), and a chapter on Baseball Stats For Dummies, interweaved with fun little factoids and quotes so that the advanced reader doesn't get bored. (The second half of the chapter is about scorekeeping and boxscores, and the sample boxscore has all of the players ending in -ez. You know, that badass Tavarez-Ibanez-Ordonez-Benitez lineup we've all dreamed of. Just kidding.)

There's a lot of good pictures and diagrams, too, showing anything from the way to grip different pitches to how fielders position themselves, to how they hold the bat in different situations, and so on. Lots of good explanations of things a lot of us take for granted, too, especially "what the hell are those guys thinking out in the field when it looks like they're just chewing gum," and "why are baseball contracts so thoroughly ridiculous?" There's even a poem made out of the "151 Ways To Hit A Ball".

Of course, there's no mention of Bill Wambsganss in the section on triple plays, but, hey, I think I can forgive that given the wealth of information on everything else.

My recommendation is to buy this book, read through it yourself, and then keep it in your backpack or on your desk at work -- and the next time you're in a conversation about baseball and feeling like "I don't have the time to explain all of this stuff!" to a friend or coworker, you'll have a book to lend them instead. Tell them it's even got an explanation of why baseball players are always grabbing their crotches, if they seem iffy about reading it. Of course, they're never actually going to give the book back to you once they realize what an indispensable baseball guide it is, so maybe this isn't the best plan, but you get the idea.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Cole Hamels is Ours, And You Can't Have Him

Well, if you're a Phillies fan, at least.

I'll admit I didn't see the game, nor any others, since I spent most of today either in the 80-degree sunny Pittsburgh weather or inside buildings avoiding said sunny weather once it became overwhelming, but I've got Hamels on my fantasy team (whoever said that drafting cute lefties doesn't work is obviously WRONG), so when I first checked the lines I saw the 15 strikeouts and was like "Great, ESPN's all screwed up again," except IT WASN'T SCREWED UP. Old King Cole was a merry old soul indeed.

Phillies 4, Reds 1

This game seems to have had plenty of awesomeness in it:

1) Cole Hamels pitched a complete-game win, throwing 115 pitches, giving up exactly one run -- a home run to Jeff Conine, who's like four times his age -- and gave up 5 hits overall, two walks, and STRUCK OUT 15.
2) The Phillies turned a 5-4-3 triple play! WOW!
3) Chase Cameron Utley, aka "An ace homers cutely", hit a home run (and no doubt it was done in a cute manner). So did Aaron Rowand, whose name does not anagram conveniently.

Seriously, 15 strikeouts may very well end up being the top strikeout performance of the season. If you look back over the last few years, there's only a handful of games in the 14-16 range in general.

On the other hand, while looking up the ESPN game score for this one (an 86 -- tying Felix's Opening Day game score and 3 short of his one against the Sox), I noticed that while I was in the midst of travelling to Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Mark Buehrle was throwing a no-hitter. Crazy! Man, I go away from baseball for a few days and all hell breaks loose! :)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Charting Masahiro Tanaka

Hey, I'm in Pittsburgh for a college reunion (Carnegie Mellon Spring Carnival, for those who know it) until Monday night, so I'm not sure how much I'll be updating this blog in the next few days. There aren't even any baseball games going on while I'm in town unless I feel like going to Altoona, so. I did finish reading Zack Hample's book on the plane and I'll try to post a review soon.

I wrote up a script the other day to try to do pitch charting off the Yahoo Japan gameday logs. The game I ended up testing it on was the Hawks-Eagles game the other day, where Rakuten's rookie pitcher Masahiro Tanaka pitched a complete-game 13-strikeout 140-pitch win over the Hawks, winning 6-2.

I mostly had been wondering whether he was throwing mostly sliders or not, as I had vivid memories of watching him pitch at Koshien last year and thinking "wow, that's one hell of a slider". As it turns out, the breakdown of his pitches was something like:

Slider: 68 (48.57%)
Fastball: 44 (31.43%)
Curve: 14 (10%)
Shooto: 9 (6.43)
Fork: 3 (2.14%)
Changeup: 2 (1.43%)

Of the 9 hits he gave up, 4 came on fastballs, 4 on sliders, and one on a shooto.

Of the three times he struck out lefty Nobuhiko Matsunaka (who I think would offhand be the biggest threat in the Hawks lineup for him), the strikeout pitches were a forkball, a fastball, and a slider.

Overall he threw 48 balls and 92 strikes, for 65% strikes, which is pretty good.

He got 8 flyball outs and 6 groundball outs, though given the Rakuten defense it's possible that you'd want more flyballs than groundballs.

I have more data, but am not really sure exactly which parts of it to write about.

All in all, it's pretty impressive for an 18-year-old kid to pull off that sort of performance against the Hawks. It won't get the press to shut up about Yuki Saito, though.

Also, I hear that Felix is not dead. That is good.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wheel Of Twins

Twins at Mariners. Mariners 2, Twins 11.

Okay, let's play the game! We start with last week's loser... Mr. Jeff Weaver. Are you ready, Weaver?

I sure am, Kenji!

Okay, then you get over there on the mound and pitch to the Wheel of Twins! Go ahead, give it a spin!

[audience boos as the Twins lineup keeps going around and around and around, hitting singles and bunting and running wild around the bases. The action pauses with Justin Morneau at the plate and runners on second and third.]

A big lefty-hitting Canadian slugger! Very tasty! Okay, Weaver, now listen carefully...

You can either face your Canadian slugger, or you can go for what's taking practice swings in the on-deck circle right now! What's it gonna be?

[Weaver stands there thinking for a minute. Morneau takes a few practice swings outside the batter's box. Torii Hunter takes a few practice swings from the on-deck circle. The audience yells out lots of random things, like "Walk the Canadian!" and "Weaver, you SUCK!" Weaver looks back and forth between the plate and the on-deck circle.]

I... I'll take the circle!

Okay, Weaver, you took the circle! Let's see what's in the circle...

[Weaver intentionally walks Morneau, loading the bases. Torii Hunter comes to the plate, and after getting a few strikes on the outside corners, Weaver leaves a pitch hanging over the plate, which Hunter CRUSHES and sends into the Twins bullpen in left field.]


(In case the parody isn't obvious immediately, see here.)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Jackie Robinson Day, and Sunday Slugfests

I'd originally thought about going to Sunday's Mariners game, but instead decided to sleep in and catch the game on TV. Later in the evening I also caught the first half of the Dodgers-Padres game on ESPN with the whole tribute to Jackie Robinson beforehand. I had three reactions to it, besides the "this is a deeply cool thing for everyone to do" sort of feeling:

1) It is pretty confusing to tell who is who when everybody has the number 42 on their backs and nobody has any names on their uniforms.
2) Rachel Robinson cannot possibly really be 85 years old. If I didn't know who she was and just saw her in the booth with the ESPN guys, I would have thought she was in her mid-50's, tops. She really looks good for her age.
3) Mike Cameron looks really good with high socks. (Though apparently he had to borrow someone else's pants to pull off the right look.)

There's a whole bunch of articles and photos of the whole event on, so you can go check it out if you're curious. Another fun thing during the preview to said Dodgers-Padres game was that Marco "Little Hurt" Scutaro delivered a game-winning walkoff 3-run home run off Mariano Rivera -- the current only #42 in the MLB -- so they had him on ESPN over the phone. Pretty crazy.

Anyway, watching the Mariners game was pretty unreal. They won it 14-6, and you'll note that the 14 runs scored in this game is exactly half of the 28 runs they scored in their previous 7 games. Kameron Loe also seemed to have absolutely no idea what the hell to do with the baseball, either in pitching it or fielding it. At one point he even threw the ball into the stands when fielding a line drive back to the mound. Pretty impressive.

Of course, this was on the heels of the Fighters winning the biggest blowout of theirs that I recall in recent history, where they beat the Rakuten Eagles 18-3. Yukio Tanaka came in as a pinch-hitter in the 5th inning when the Fighters were already up 10-1, and he got two more hits, so he only has 13 left to reach 2000. Also, right after Yukio's first hit, rookie Youhei Kaneko hit his first pro home run, a 3-run shot to left field.

The other crazy thing about this game is that Rakuten's once-and-future-ace Yasuhiro Ichiba pitched in long relief the 2nd through the 6th innings, and managed to rack up 14 runs allowed, 13 earned. Supposedly, only ten pitches in Japanese baseball history have allowed that many in a single game, if I understood one of the articles I saw properly. He gave up 18 hits, 2 homers, 1 strikeout, and 1 walk on 118 pitches, too. In more craziness, starter Kanehisa Arime was brought in to pitch the 7th inning for whatever reason.

So, while April 15th may normally mean bad things like tax day, the sinking of the Titanic, and so on, it seems to have been good luck for both of my teams.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Game Report: Mariners vs. Rangers - A Cold Friday Night

You know, with all the excitement that happened in other games this weekend, I suddenly feel like Friday's game was a billion years ago.

Spot what's wrong with this picture.

My original plan involved showing up early to snap some BP photos and maybe even shout out to CJ Wilson about how awesome his blog is. What really happened is that the weather was dark and grey and rainy, and so I took my time walking to the stadium, even stopping in at Elliott Bay Book Company to get a copy of Zack Hample's book Watching Baseball Smarter, which I'll review sometime next week.

The roof was closed, but I did take some BP shots. Most did not come out well, and I may not even bother making a photoset out of this game. I think next time I'm just not going to bother taking pictures at all in those lighting conditions. Also, the Rangers are a notoriously crowd-avoidant team here, although I did see Sammy Sosa actually sign for a few people when I first got there. But other than that, they were all noticeably determined not to acknowledge most of the fans watching BP. Ron Washington was being pretty friendly, but I think he took that with him from Oakland.

While trying to find Conor Glassey, I ran into Bretticus (one of the commenters on LL/USSM), or more like, he spotted me with my big camera and Phillies cap and said "Hey, are you Deanna?" and I ended up chatting with him for most of the pre-game. Ironically, he doesn't actually read Marinerds, so I could totally trash-talk something about him here, and he'd never see it!

During the game, I ended up sitting in front of a group of guys who had graduated from the University of Texas sometime in the last few years. They were mostly drunk and all quite loud. A few of them seemed to be Astros fans, or at least anti-Rangers, while others were wearing Rangers jerseys. One guy didn't even have a jacket, and kept going on about how "I've never been to a game where it was less than 90 degrees out, what the hell is with this cold crap?" This same guy also uttered such gems as "Where's Bucky? Cmon, Bucky, take this guy out!" (he wasn't aware Buck Showalter was no longer the manager), and every time Sammy Sosa came to bat he'd stand up and let out a really loud "COOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORK".

Rather than sum up the game, I'll just try to remember the interesting parts of it:

- When Raul Ibanez came up to bat in the first inning, they actually displayed on the scoreboard, "Raul has 199 career doubles, one short of 200," and I swear, less than five seconds later, he hit a ball into the gap in right-center for... a double. Seeing Raul's 200th double is not quite as exciting as when Edgar hit his 500th on my birthday a few years ago, but it's still pretty awesome.

- Beltre REALLY smashed a few of those long fly balls he hit. Infact, in general the Mariners were really smashing fly balls, but maybe something about the cold wet weather or the wind kept a lot of them in the park. Also, strangely, Millwood was the one giving up a bazillion fly balls, whereas Washburn was getting all grounders (Millwood's GO/FO was 4/12, whereas Washburn's was 9/5).

- Jeff Sullivan and I usually agree on most matters, but we wildly disagree about Ian Kinsler. Jeff thinks Kinsler is horrendously overrated; I think Kinsler's pretty good. In addition to all the hitting-type stuff, during the 2nd inning Betancourt hit a liner up the middle which Kinsler managed to jump and snag, and then he fired to first to double up Johjima on the play. Later, Young and Kinsler combined for a bounce-stop on an Ibanez grounder up the middle; although it was a single, it still looked cool. Maybe I'm just easily impressed. Also, he wears high socks, which gives him extra cool points.

- Speaking of Johjima, HE IS ON FIRE! In the last three games he went 8-for-10 with four doubles and a walk. However, this also only resulted in one run and one RBI, which either accounts for the Mariners sucking or for him being misused at the bottom of the order where he has nobody to knock in or knocking him in.

- Weight Watchers notes that after Friday's game, Ichiro (.182), Beltre (.136), Vidro (.174), Sexson (.190), and Betancourt (.158) were all on the program. Actually, I guess technically Ichiro is listed at 170 so maybe he wasn't. Still. Fortunately, Ichiro and Beltre and Vidro all had good days during Sunday's slugfest and have managed to acquit themselves.

- The grounds crew danced to "Old Time Rock'n'Roll", the "we lost the game" theme was "Don't Stop Thinkin' About Tomorrow", and the new scoreboard game gag seems to to be this "traffic jam" thing where they have a bunch of cars in a pinball-like game and you have to guess which one will get to the finish first.

- I'm not sure how raucous the festivities were for College Night, as I'm pretty sure the guys behind me were UT alumni, not current students. However, for "fact and fiction" the category was "Division 1 Team Nicknames", including things like the "Pillowfighters", the "Banana Slugs", the "Blue Hens", and the "Heffalumps". I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to look them up.

- Matt Kata hit a home run, among going 3-for-4. I somehow had completely forgotten about Kata's existence since his stint in the Phillies minor league system and didn't even know he'd spent a year on the Reds AAA team before signing with Texas. Crazy.

- Joaquin Benoit was pitching in the 7th and was vaguely struggling - after Lopez hit a line drive single to center, and then Beltre hit another line drive for a double, scoring Lopez, I saw CJ Wilson warming up, and I was thinking he'd come in to pitch to Ibanez, but after striking out Vidro, they let Benoit stay out there, and he got a groundout. At that point, Akinori Otsuka stood up to warm up and Wilson sat down. I hadn't seen Aki pitch in person since sometine in early 2005 with the Padres, I think, so that was kind of cool. The only hit Aki gave up was a double to Johjima. It should be a goal for Johjima to double off every Japanese pitcher in the MLB, I think.

- Eric Gagne pitched the ninth and got the save for Texas. To be perfectly honest, I thought he looked terrible when warming up in the bullpen, from my vantage point -- didn't look like he was throwing much of anything at all -- but then he came in and pretty much smoked everything across at about 94 mph, even causing Ichiro's third strikeout of the day.

- No game post would be complete without a shoutout to George Sherrill for actually getting into the game for one out, where he got Blalock to ground out to first base in two pitches. On the other hand, one wonders whether he was really necessary to pitch to Blalock in the first place. It'd be nice if George could actually get in for a full inning one of these days.

And yes, for whatever reason, the RAUUUUUUUUUL gang was sitting behind first base instead of in left field. I'm not sure what was up with that.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday Foto: Loe and Outside

I don't have time to write a game report -- I'll get to it later this weekend.

In the meantime, enjoy the strangest photo I took tonight. No, seriously. The Rangers pitchers were bouncing these soccer-like balls back and forth during BP. The guy with the grin is Kameron Loe.

Kameron Loe

Seriously, it was a pretty freaking cold evening to sit at the park, and I think that actually had a pretty big effect on whether or not baseballs were home runs or warning track shots. Oddly, J-Rod the Washburninator was getting the groundballs, while Kevin Millwood was getting the flyball outs. Despite that all, Ian Kinsler was definitely the Boyfriend of The Day... for my fantasy team, of course. If the Mariners could be said to have a Boyfriend for a 2-5 loss to the Rangers, it'd be Kenji Johjima, who refused to come to the plate without getting on base one way or the other.

You Gotta Have Whaaa?

Robert Whiting, one of the forefathers of English-language coverage of Japanese baseball, author of books such as The Chrysanthemum and The Bat, You Gotta Have Wa and The Meaning of Ichiro, recently did a four-article series for the Japan Times on the effect of MLB on the NPB, and whether or not it's totally doomed or still has a chance to get its act together.

Part 1: Is the MLB destroying Japan's national pastime?
Is it all about the money? Does the NPB have a lesson or two to learn from the MLB in order to keep itself from becoming absorbed?

Part 2: Foreign managers change face of Japanese game
Cro and Enatsu mouth off, Bobby Valentine and Trey Hillman are great for English-language baseball writers, and a true World Series beyond the WBC will probably never actually happen.

Part 3: NPB needs major reform, vision to prosper like MLB
The team owners need to actually work together for the betterment of baseball, not for the betterment of the Yomiuri Giants. But I think we already all knew that. Also, some more backstory on how Japan viewed the WBC beforehand.

Part 4: NPB players in need of strong union like MLBPA
...because obviously ridiculously high salaries, plush travel conditions, and lots of attendants to pamper you are good things, and if the players in Japan had them too, the stars wouldn't jump overboard like it was a sinking ship. Wait a minute.

Overall, I agree with what Whiting has to say, though there are a few points I'd disagree with as well. And most of what's said in the articles isn't new to anyone who's been following the state of things for a while, though maybe it'll at least help to raise awareness of some of the issues. Personally, I'm pretty sure professional baseball will never die in Japan, but whether the current NPB structure can sustain itself is another story.

I'm going to Safeco tonight for the Mariners-Rangers game. It can't possibly be rained or snowed out! Yay!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Felix Hernandez: Stolen Stage King

A few days ago I described violinist Joshua Bell as being the Johan Santana of violin playing. Today, in trying to think of ways to explain Felix Hernandez, I realized that saying he's the Joshua Bell of pitching prodigies would not be that far off a description.

No, really. Did you see the game today?

The whole of Red Sox Nation was gearing up for the first home start from their $101 million acquisition, with various apparel and signs commemorating the occasion, most containing dice, and K's. The Japanese media was awaiting the first at-bat of the game, when Ichiro would dig into the batter's box against Matsuzaka. Thousands of people in Japan were undoubtedly glued to their TV sets for a game that started at 8am Thursday morning on their side of the world.

It was a typically Japanese at-bat, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. After getting off to a quick 0-2 count, Matsuzaka threw a bunch of breaking stuff and eventually ended up in a 3-2 full count before Ichiro hit a one-hopper back to the mound which Matsuzaka fielded easily.

And then thousands of Japanese people undoubtedly shut off their TVs and went back to sleep, or continued on their morning commutes, drifting away from the screens in the subway stations. The excitement was over. Except what they didn't realize was that the real excitement was about to begin.

I'm kidding, mostly. But the zeroes kept piling up in Boston's box, and aside from an awkward Youkilis at-bat where Felix seemed to be aiming at the cameras in the home plate dirt and issued a walk on four straight pitches, he was downright unhittable. Well, almost. Jose Lopez had been beyond amazing in the field, getting groundball after groundball, and finally after Dave Sims had said the words "no-hitter" on the air enough times, JD Drew led off the 8th inning by hitting a grounder that finally got through Jose Lopez for a single.

And that was it. Felix pitched a complete-game one-hit shutout on 111 pitches. The Red Sox batters didn't even make the ball leave the infield until Kevin Youkilis hit a line drive to left field in the 7th inning, which Raul Ibanez managed to make a great catch on.

The only thing that could have really made this game any better would have been if the Mariners had managed to actually score a run off Joel Pineiro, but alas.

The Mariners got 9 hits today. 6 of them were by guys named Jose. 2 were by a guy named Joh. Adrian Beltre hit the other one, and was later seen pretending to be one of the Double Play Twins.

The Red Sox got 1 hit today, and it was by JD Drew, who apparently extended his hitting streak to 12 games by doing so. Phillies fans everywhere were booing in spirit.

It was Jason Varitek's 35th birthday today, which the announcers brought up so often I was thinking it might need to be added to my theoretical Matsuzaka drinking game (for every time you hear the phrases "250 pitches", "Matsuzaka generation", "gyroball", "Matsuzaka-Ichiro showdown", etc).

Jeff, that bastard, was actually at Fenway for the game. He'll undoubtedly have a great recap of the game up tomorrow, assuming he hasn't died of happiness in the meantime. I'll edit that in when it surfaces.

In case you're curious, Nikkan Sports has a whole bunch of Matsuzaka stats in English here, where I confirmed my intuition that of all the Japanese batters in the major leagues likely to face Golden Boy, our Kenji Johjima indeed faced him the most, almost the most recently, and with the most success. (Though to be fair, I was mostly remembering Johjima hitting a huge home run off Matsuzaka in the PL playoffs in 2004 when I'd made that claim.)

Of course, that didn't stop Nikkan Sports, like several other papers, of making a big deal over the "Ichiro-Matsuzaka showdown". Torakichi on the japanesebaseball forums astutely and amusingly pointed out that There Are No Non-Japanese Players in the MLB!, at least as far as the Japanese papers are concerned. Even worse, their coverage is all like "Ichiro didn't get any hits off Matsuzaka! Oh... and by the way, Kenji Johjima happened to be 2-for-3 with a walk, and TWO DOUBLES OFF MATSUZAKA. But who cares?"

Oh, by the way, speaking of double play twins, Munenori Kawasaki broke his finger the other day in practice, and is pretty much going to be out for a month. Currently, the Hawks' middle infield is the confusingly-named Honma and Honda, who are both good-glove-weak-bat infielders who bat left-handed, and that's about where the similarities stop.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

PSA: No Third Place Books event tonight

Well, as I mentioned when I wrote a review of The Cheaters Guide To Baseball a few days ago, I was really looking forward to getting to heckle Derek at his book event at Third Place Books tonight, but alas, Derek was hospitalized this morning (severe dehydration, it sounded like) and so he's not going to be able to make it up to the bookstore. Hopefully it'll be rescheduled for a later date. (He's home and recovering now, but isn't supposed to go anywhere for a few days.)

Just figured I'd help spread the word. Get better soon, DMZ.

Happy Second Birthday, Marinerds

Oh, geez, I didn't even notice this, but Monday actually marked the two-year anniversary of me starting this blog.

Everything I said last year still applies, plus all of the awesome new faces I got to know around here in the last year.

Offhand, I think the highlights of Marinerds' second season were, generally speaking:
- pinch-blogging for Jeff at Lookout Landing
- playing fantasy baseball with the Phloggers (and placing 3rd!)
- getting more involved contributing at (and being a wannabe Gary Garland during the offseason)
- the Fighters winning the Japan Series
- my trip to Japan for a few weeks last fall
- getting the Nikon D50 (and immediately attacking the A's with it)
- writing more song parodies and more player conversation parodies
- attempting to run the Seattle Baseball Book Club, even if it fizzled in the end (if anyone wants to restart it, let me know, I'll help)
- and of course, going to way too many games, some of which the Mariners even won!

I'm probably forgetting things. I need to sleep.

I have no idea what the future holds, nor whether I'll still be writing this thing in another year, but hey, thanks to everyone who's been along for the ride, and especially to those of you who left comments or emails to let me know when I was being particularly funny or stupid. You guys rock.

What a Tangled Web We Weaver

I forgot there was a Mariners game today until around 2pm, at which point they were already down 13-1. It seems that I'm probably better off for that. From what I understand, Jeff Weaver was just very, very bad today. Offhand, my biggest thought after the game was how the Nippon Ham Fighters really could use Hideki Okajima (now doing well with the Red Sox) or Brad Thomas (now sucking with the Rainiers) back, as the lefty side of their bullpen has been abysmal.

I really need a good way to share random links here without making an entry for each. I've been sort of collecting them on the side and figured I'd regurgitate them all at once, even if they're a few days out of date.

So, something I wasn't aware of was that the teams in the KBO actually draft the Korean players in the MLB, regardless of whether those players have any intention to come back to Korea. The SK Wyverns picked former Mariners prospect Shin-soo Choo with the first pick. The Hyundai Unicorns picked Byung-Hyun Kim. And apparently, the KIA Tigers picked the struggling Hee-Seop Choi, who actually sounds like he might return to Korea.

I thought it seemed crazy to have the Indians play a series with Milwaukee as their home, but it looks like almost 20,000 people attended the "home" opener anyway. Google maps tells me that it's a 7-hour drive from Cleveland to Milwaukee, so my guess is that it was mostly the Wisconsin chapter of Grady's Ladies filling the stadium.

Still, the snowfest in Cleveland was worth something -- a good Mariner snow fight. Is the "snow ball" an outlawed pitch these days too?

And speaking of the Angels, I thought it was really cool how Troy Percival retired as an Angel -- signing a minor league contract with them on Opening Day, then retiring, and throwing out the ceremonial first pitch that evening. I used to really like Troy Percival -- he just always looked so badass out there on the mound, like he was going to crumple a beer can into your forehead if you stood in the way of him getting his three outs. And it was way cool of him to literally build his alma mater a new clubhouse a few months ago. So, with Percy and Salmon retired and Blue Eyes on the Mariners now, that about does it for Angels I used to really like, I think. Well, there's always Shields, I guess.

This is not a baseball link exactly, but the Washington Post recently pulled what I think is an excellent stunt -- they got Joshua Bell, who is basically the Johan Santana of violin playing, to go stand in a subway station in DC and play violin for 43 minutes and see whether anyone actually noticed. They surmise that nobody noticed because people just don't pay attention to beautiful music OR crappy music performed by buskers. My hypothesis lies in the opening sentence of the article describing Bell's appearance: "a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap." It's quite obviously the Nats cap that made people rush by. Duhhhh.

I have no point here, I just want to forward an awesome Page 2 article on Sal Fasano.

Though I guess that could make a nice segue into Jonah Keri's hilarious
Page 2 story lines for the season article. The best part is point 6, calling out Pat Neshek (rightfully so) as the best baseball player-blogger. Pat, of course, had to live up to that, and responded in his own blog, mentioning that you should never suggest what sounds like a ridiculous memorabilia trade to him -- after all, he actually HAS the Simpsons trading cards in question.

And completely out of nowhere, just because I want to remember the link, Pat Venditte is a switch pitcher. Who knows if he'll make it to the majors, as usual, but it's still cool.

To transition between sides of the pond, here is an awesome audio documentary of Adam Hyzdu, which Mark Moran forwarded me. It's long -- an hour -- but basically Hyzdu had a tape recorder with him in spring training for several years, and he and his family recorded diaries as he made his journey through the minors and majors, and even into the start of his playing time in Japan (where, incidentally, he is also in the minors currently. Poor guy).

Robert Whiting, who is the man when it comes to writing about Japanese baseball, is doing a series in the Japan Times this week on MLB's effect on Japanese baseball. The first piece is out and as usual, Whiting says everything I'd want to, only better than I ever could. I look forward to the rest of the series.

You know, the Fighters bullpen isn't just having trouble with lefties -- their closer, Micheal Nakamura, just got de-activated from the roster due to shoulder pain. Arrrrgh. Same article mentions that Jason Johnson has an inflamed elbow. On the other hand, Seibu is still winning games and Nippon Ham is not, so pffft. At least this explains why Darvish pitched a complete game the other day in order to get the win.

Okay, the season's officially started now that Orix manager Terry Collins managed to get himself ejected from Sunday's game arguing over a balk that Tom Davey made which eventually led to a Seibu win. Here's a picture of him blowing his top.

Hanshin Tigers ironman Tomoaki Kanemoto turned 39 last week and celebrated by hitting a grand slam.

As I mentioned, Fighters veteran Yukio Tanaka is getting close to reaching 2000 hits (he started the season with 1982). Here he is, with 16 left! and 15 left!. One could argue that putting in a utility infielder who's way past his prime might be part of why the Fighters are losing games, but let's face it, they basically lost way too many key parts of what made the team so great last year. I'm not ready to give up on the season yet, but from what I have seen, there just aren't enough new guys who can fill the old shoes. At any rate, if the team's losing, at least they can let Yukio hopefully get enough at-bats to reach his goal so he can retire and become a coach or whatever. I have mentioned it's weird seeing old Fighters centerfielder Tatsuya Ide as a base coach for the Softbank Hawks, haven't I?

Speaking of big round numbers of hits, remember I mentioned a few weeks ago that Chunichi's Hirokazu Ibata is the best shortstop in Japan? Well, in addition to being a kickass fielder, he also just reached 1000 hits last week. Misero yo Ibata, indeed!

I was all ready to make a post last week called "Dragonbutt for Third!" after my pet Dragon, Masahiko Morino, went and hit three home runs in three consecutive games. As of April 4th he was a collective 9-for-17 with 2 doubles and 3 home runs, for a whopping .529/.555/1.176 line. The next day, Tyrone Woods said "I am not about to be outdone by Deanna's Dragonbutt", and went and smacked three home runs in one game to overtake the team HR lead, and since then Morino hasn't hit another homerun and has dropped to a mere .382/.405/.706 clip, behind Tyrone Woods's .344/.475/.875 line. Alas.

Also, in case you haven't seen yet, I released the first version of my Japanese box score translation scripts, and you can see the boxscores on the front sidebar at Exciting, isn't it? I've already got a bunch of changes I need to finish testing and put up there -- and soon I'll be generating player game logs and other fun stuff.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Player Blog Translations: Wada and Fukumori

I was catching up on a few Japanese player blogs today, so I figured that rather than just linking them, I'd translate a few, mostly for amusement value. These are probably about 80% accurate, but you'll get the gist of it, at least.

Lefty Hawks pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada gave Matsuzaka a phone call to congratulate him after his first start. Personally, I'm mostly amused that he's complaining about having to stay up until 3am to see the Red Sox games, while I'm complaining about having to stay up until 2am to see the Hawks games:

Tsuyoshi Wada's blog, April 6th


Today Daisuke made his debut.
7 innings pitched, ten strikeouts.
But the game started at an impossible 3am...
Usually I think I can get up at 9am to see the game,
but this time it was already done when I awoke...

"Whaaat!? Game's already over? Who was the winning pitcher?"

Hey, y'know, I was REALLY HAPPY FOR HIM :)

I got a phone call from Daisuke when I won my first game of the season,
So I wanted to call Daisuke for his first win,
But I wasn't sure of the time difference...
I didn't call him right then after all,
But I made a point to specially call him later on.
He spoke in a REALLY happy-sounding voice.
Seems like it was really cold there...
So getting those results is pretty awesome.
In the majors he'll have to deal with lots of weather.
I want to try to watch his next start live.
Of course, it'll be tough if it's at 3am again :)

Anyway, from tomorrow we play two games against Nippon Ham.
We're not going to lose to anyone in Japan!

Okay, that was the mostly-straight, now this is the freaking funny. The other day the Eagles and Fighters played a game and the Eagles won it 4-3 in the bottom of the 12th, with goofball closer Kazuo Fukumori pitching the last inning and a half for Rakuten. The game was won on a double up the third base line by outfielder Koichi Isobe. Isobe was the game hero and gave the after-game interview at the stadium, but Fukumori came in to pitch in the top of the 11th with one out and runners on first and second and struck out Shinya Tsuruoka and got Yukio Tanaka to ground out, so in his own mind, for getting out of that pinch, he was the actual game hero... or at least, in his own blog...

Kazuo Fukumori's Blog, April 5th


Thanks to my teammates and to all the fans who were cheering for us. You guys rock.

You'd think that if the hero interview came from the pitching staff, it'd be me, right? Sadly, it didn't. I'm not really complaining about it, I didn't REALLY expect to give one...
Relief and middle pitchers simply don't get to stand up as the game hero.
I only have one or two chances per year at all at it... it sort of sucks.

So since I didn't get to do it in real life, here on the blog I will do my HERO INTERVIEW!!!

Q: Today's hero interview is with Kazuo Fukumori! Congrats!
A: Thanks!

Q: The last time you got a win was June 26, 2005, 1 year and 9 months ago. What are your thoughts about that?
A: Wooooooow... it has been a LONG time! Last year my record was 0 wins and 3 losses. So when I do get a win, I'm really really happy about it.

Q: Today you stepped up to the mound in the 11th inning with 1 out and runners on first and second base. What were you feeling at that moment?
A: Because it was extra innings, I didn't want to give up ANY runs! That was the strongest thought as I took the mound. We had the worst time playing against Nippon Ham last year, so I was thinking that I was going to throw them my absolute best stuff.

Q: Yukio Tanaka, your elder alumni from Miyakonojo High School, only has a few more hits to go before reaching 2000, and you had to pitch against him.
A: Personally, because he's my sempai, of course I want him to reach his goal and get his hits, but today because he was facing me on an opposing team, I had to do my best to strike him down.

Q: Today you gave up no hits and struck out one. A perfect relief outing, right?
A: Nah, nah, I did well enough to be successful, but I think it was all due to being backed by great fielding.

Q: In the bottom of the 12th inning, what were you feeling watching the offense?
A: First of all, I was not thinking "we'll lose", because with the top of our lineup at bat, I was just praying to god that we'd have a good chance of winning.
Really, Yamazaki was saying to people on the bench, "You wanna be today's hero?" trying to stir them up! By the time I brought my coffee back to the bench, we had a runner on first. And then Isobe hit the ball and it went up the third base line for a double. I was so excited I spilled my hot coffee while Isobe was running off into the sunset!

Q: In pitching these two games in Fullcast Stadium, were you aware of the fans cheering for you?
A: Yes! There were people holding up a "Fukumori" sign behind the back screen, when I see that it gives me tons of courage!

Q: You have more wins than saves this season so far, how do you think that'll progress this year?
A: Wins and saves happen mostly by chance, certainly I am just doing my best for the sake of the team's victory.

Q: Tomorrow Masahiro "Ma-Kun" Tanaka is making his first start at home at Fullcast.
A: The team's going to go for its third victory tomorrow with Ma-kun on the mound. I should be closing it out for him, right?

Q: Alright, for the last question, please say a message to all the cheering fans who came to the stadium tonight!
A: Yeah -- today, even through the middle of that rainstorm, thank you all for coming out and cheering for us! Our team is being reborn into a new Rakuten Eagles team thanks to all of you. So please come on back to the stadium tomorrow and cheer for us and be eyewitnesses to the change! Thank you all so much for today!!! time I hope I get to do a REAL hero interview,
but in the meantime, this was a "FUKUMORI-STYLE HERO INTERVIEW!"

Fukumori just cracks me up (this is the same guy whose blog I linked last fall when he was awed by the size of Ryan Howard's nose, among other things). Funniest thing is that I really can actually imagine him sitting there giving his own imaginary hero interview and typing it into the blog.

And of course, I don't have to translate CJ Nitkowski's latest blog entries for the amusement value to come out:
These are all learning experiences, good ones that I just have to take in stride. I certainly hold no ill will toward any of the parties involved. I like the coaching staff here very much and as long as I pitch well and take that Japanese veteran pitcher's advice things will be just fine. I really just need to treat them like my wife. Shake my head yes when they talk and retain none of what was actually said.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Book Review: The Cheater's Guide To Baseball, by Derek Zumsteg

It's really rare that I actually review recent books here. It's even rarer that I review books written by people I've actually met in real life. This book was both released in the last month AND is by someone I know, which makes it a little strange to write about.

However, being as I'm all for book events and going to bookstores and heckling local authors, I figured I better review this one soon, especially because Derek will be at Third Place Books on April 11th at 7pm -- that's this Wednesday night -- talking and signing and being his usual entertaining self. If you're in the Seattle area, you should try to come out for this. It'll be fun.

The Cheater's Guide To Baseball, by Derek Zumsteg

Cheating is not a laughing matter.

Someone'll have to inform Derek of that, though, because most of this book is pretty funny.

The first thing I should probably mention is that this book is not really a guide for cheating in baseball, though you could probably figure that out on your own. A more accurate but less witty title might be "A Historical Account Of Ways People Have Broken, Bended, Ignored, Folded, Spinned, and Mutilated the Rules of Baseball Over The Years". Derek basically presents the stories of various figures through baseball history who have sought to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents, often by breaking the rules (or occasionally, those who sought to gain a little extra cash by giving their opponents an unfair advantage).

All of the things you're probably thinking of as baseball cheating are covered in this book -- corking bats, throwing spitballs, stealing signs, doctoring the ball, the 1919 Black Sox, etc. But there's a lot more details about each one of these than most casual fans would know. For example, the physics of how a corked bat provides an advantage; a detailed explanation of why doctored baseballs do what they do, and several examples of who used them and how; a long treatise on Gaylord Perry, the legendary spitball master; and recountings of fixed games going back 50 years before the infamous World Series fix. There's even a chapter on steroids. It's a pretty interesting chapter, and that's all I'm going to say on the matter.

If you've been reading Derek's writing on USS Mariner and elsewhere for the last few years, most of the writing style will be fairly familiar to you -- informative with a dash of sarcasm and wit mixed in. Pretty much every sidebar, whether serious or silly, has a punchline at the end of it. Sometimes this detracts from the main flow of the writing; sometimes it doesn't. If you're like me, you'll eventually just skip the sidebars and read them after you finish the chapter.

(As an aside, this actually made a great bus book due to the length of the chapters and the lack of chapter-to-chapter context -- everything's pretty well-encapsulated. The book's got plenty of substance in it, no pun intended, but at the same time, the writing is light enough that you won't have any trouble keeping yourself in it.)

Some of the best parts of the book are the drawings. They range from funny things like a cartoon diagram of Gaylord Perry's secret hiding places for substances and a comic strip entailing the Hidden Ball Trick, to serious things like a corked bat or an illustration of how to doctored illegal baseballs work... to things that are both funny and serious, such as one "showing" a bunch of "signs" that teams may use. (The signs diagram was funny enough that I was reading this book on the bus and started laughing. My best friend was sitting next to me wondering what was so funny. He doesn't know much about baseball, but I handed him the book and told him to read through that page, and he also cracked up.)

Oddly, if I have one complaint about the book, it was that I heard Derek had to cut out a few chapters, notably those on equipment and on trying to deliberately injure other players, and well, I would have rather read about those than the chapter on fan riots and heckling, which didn't seem quite as relevant to the central theme to me.

It's a good thing the groundskeeping chapter stayed, at least, because that's some great stuff. If you ever wondered exactly what things could factor into "home-field advantage" besides simply having the last opportunity in the game to score, you'll love learning about the various ways people have (legally) tampered with the field in the past to get conditions that work for their team and against the opponents. (And no, I'm not just saying that because I was the first bug finder with that chapter. It's seriously fascinating stuff.)

So yeah, I give this book a thumbs up. It's a solid effort from Derek to serve up an interesting slice of baseball history. As a paperback-only release, it's worth the $14, and again, you can buy a copy and get Derek to sign it at Third Place Books this Wednesday night, or later in the month I believe you can also bug him at Powell's on Hawthorne, if you're in the Portland area.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Liveblogging Hawks vs. Fighters

Okay, so I'm sick. This sucks. The bad part is, I slept through most of today, including the snowfest in Cleveland that the Mariners went through. The good part is, I'm awake again... at 2am... and the Fighters-Hawks game is about to start, and since it's in Fukuoka, I can actually watch it on the low-quality 100k feed on this page.

After a couple of games we're back to a great set of pitching matchups today, too. Lotte-Rakuten was Shunsuke Watanabe vs. Yasuhiro Ichiba (Rakuten won, 7-3); Seibu-Orix was Fumiya Nishiguchi vs. Masato Yoshii (Seibu won, 4-1). And the Fighters-Hawks matchup is Kazumi Saitoh vs. Yu Darvish. Awesome!

So, I'll add to this as the game goes on.

Starting lineups:

Fighters Hawks

Hichori CF Ohmura CF
K. Tanaka 2B Kawasaki SS
Tsuboi LF Buchanan DH
Seguignol DH Matsunaka 1B
Inaba RF Kokubo 3B
Takahashi C Shibahara RF
Inada 1B S. Ide LF
Green 3B Inamine 2B
M. Kaneko SS Matoba C

------------- -------------
Darvish (0-0, 3.00) K. Saitoh (1-0, 4.38)

First inning:

And the game's off... sadly, with Hichori Morimoto striking out swinging. Go figure. Kensuke Tanaka pops an outside pitch up towards shortstop where Kawasaki makes an easy catch. Saitoh's curve actually looks really good but it's not really coming in for strikes today. Once it does, the Fighters better watch out. Tomochika Tsuboi WOW gets ahold of that one and drives it to the back wall, it hits up high and Tsuboi's just FLYING for a triple by the time Shotaro Ide can field it. Woohoo! Seguignol hits a blooper way out to right field for a single, scoring Tsuboi. Score is 1-0 Fighters. (And I get to sing along to "Oi Hokkaido" with the oendan, wheeee.) Geeez... Inaba hits a ball into center for a double as well and my GOD, Seguignol lumbers all the way home on that! The throw's close but Seguignol clearly evades the tag from Matoba on the way in -- Fighters 2-0! Wow -- Shinji Takahashi ALSO gets a hit, driving in Inaba... and then Naoto Inada ends the inning by hitting a pop fly up to left, easily caught. Wow. Saitoh threw 28 pitches in that inning, and the Fighters are leading 3-0. WOW.

Well, let's see if the Hawks can fare any better against Darvish. I suppose so. Ohmura leads off with a single up the middle. Kawasaki and his high socks come to the plate, and Darvish is pretty much throwing him everything outside, getting up to a full count before he hits the ball up the left-field line for a double, Ohmura going to third as Tsuboi barely scrambles for the ball in time. Here comes Brian Buchanan... and now the strategy seems to be to pitch him inside. Buck lines a ball up to second, splitting a splinter off his bat, but Kensuke Tanaka's there to make the catch and prevent the batters from moving. Okay, so Nobuhiko Matsunaka hits a grounder to the shortstop side of second base, and Makoto Kaneko's there to get it -- Kawasaki stuck to the bag as Kaneko made the throw to first to get Matsunaka, but Ohmura scored on the play. 3-1 Fighters. OH GODDAMNIT, so Kokubo hits a grounder between third and short, and Andy Green stops the ball but fumbles it and doesn't have time to make a play, so now we've got Kawasaki at third and Kokubo at first (they seem to be calling that an error). Lots of low stuff to Shibahara and he strikes out swinging, the ball bouncing in the dirt and Takahashi tagging him out. Darvish threw 26 pitches in that inning. Wow, this is crazy.

Second inning:

Andy Green is leading off for the Fighters this inning. I swear I have not seen Saitoh throw a curve for a strike yet, but he gets a couple of strikes on forkballs before Green goes down swinging. Okay, so Makoto Kaneko walks on four straight balls after almost getting hit in the shoulder. (Hawks already calling the bullpen? What?) Okay, so first a pitchout on Kaneko, who doesn't go. Hichori fouls one off and then narrowly misses hitting into a double play -- Kaneko's out at second by a few steps and Hichori pretty much steps on the first base bag at the same time the ball gets there, 6-4 fielder's choice. Ha, Saitoh's first pitch to Kensuke Tanaka is actually a curveball strike! (I love watching Naoki Matoba's signals -- he's set up real low and makes a bunch of fists for the fork -- then next sets up behind Tanaka's kneecaps, maybe to signal to try to throw out Hichori?) Another pitchout -- but Hichori's on his way and slides into second under a leaping Kawasaki. Not that it matters, as Kensuke Tanaka walks on the next pitch. And a mound conference ensues. And now, Tsuboi! High socks Tsuboi! (Seems Saitoh's finally throwing that curve for consistent strikes, so maybe the Fighters should stop watching them.) A fastball right down the middle is apparently a little too high, and then Tsuboi grounds the next one towards first, where Matsunaka gets the ball and runs across first for the play. Score is still 3-1 Fighters, and Saitoh threw a whopping 24 pitches that inning for 52 total so far.

Shotaro Ide leads off the inning by hitting an awesome liner to right field but it is matched by the awesomeness of right fielder Atsunori Inaba. Inamine goes down swinging shortly after that. Here comes Naoki Matoba, who has yet to get a hit this season. Matoba watches two go by for strikes and then fails to check a swing on a third slider, and that's it for him and the inning. Darvish threw a more economical 11 pitches that inning for a total of 37 so far.

It occurs to me that if Matoba (career batting average somewhere around .150) was not Kazumi Saitoh's preferred catcher, he'd literally never get to make a start ever again. Poor guy.

Third inning:

Seguignol goes up swinging and goes down grounding out to second. Inaba goes up swinging and hits a ball into the left-field wall for a double, getting to second around the same time as the baseball. Takahashi is caught looking on a slider that's barely on the outside of the plate, and Naoto Inada also strikes out. 13 pitches that inning for Saitoh for a total of 65.

Yeah, things are definitely speeding up. Ohmura grounds out to second, and Kawasaki tries to bunt the first pitch he sees but Darvish isn't fooled and fields it perfectly, throwing Kawasaki out at first. And Buchanan grounds to short, an easy grounder for Kaneko. 8 pitches that inning -- Darvish's 45 pitches in 3 innings now looks a bit more normal. Still 3-1 Fighters.

Fourth Inning:

Green hits a big fly ball up to left field, easy for Ide to catch. Makoto Kaneko, on the other hand, hits a hard grounder up the middle, which goes just past a flying and diving Homare Inamine for a single. Back up to the top with Spaceman Hichori Morimoto who better not ground into a double play agaaaaaaaaa.... haha, okay, so he grounds up the third base line and Hiroki Kokubo drops the ball. So due to that error, now we have Kaneko on second and Hichori on first. Well, after a long and valiant 8-pitch battle, Kensuke Tanaka strikes out. (Lots of pitches in the dirt.) And man... every time you wonder whether Saitoh's faltering he does something like this and ALSO strikes out Tsuboi on another slider. Yeesh. 23 pitches that inning though for a total of 88 through four.

Matsunaka hits a high fly ball right to Tsuboi and his high socks. Kokubo... (hey, is he using SMAP's "Arigato" as at-bat music?) strikes out on a ball that's way down and out in the dirt. And then pretty much every pitch to Shibahara is in the dirt (Takahashi keeps leaping to get the ball), until he tags one through a diving Kaneko for a single to left. Whew, Ide grounds to third and Andy Green makes a nice play on it. 13 pitches this inning for Darvish, 58 total.

Fifth inning:

Seguignol comes up. Ball goes up. Ball comes down in Inamine's glove. 1 out. Inaba grounds up towards first, Matsunaka almost makes the play unassisted before throwing to a bag-covering Saitoh. And man, much as I hate to say it, Takahashi obviously didn't get the "Saitoh's curves are coming in for strikes now" memo and just watched pitch #100 go by for a beautiful third called strike.

By the way, I was totally right about Kokubo's at-bat music. I actually think the Hawks have pretty good taste in music in general, all things considered.

A little kid announcer announces Inamine leading off the inning, but Inamine hits a fly ball to Hichori Morimoto in center. Matoba predictably strikes out on three straight pitches, poor guy. Ohmura less predictably strikes out. 69 pitches total for Darvish, 11 this inning.

Sixth inning:

Naoto Inada grounds out to short. Andy Green does a sankyuu sanshin, karaburi (swinging strikeout on three straight pitches). Kaneko, in his usual fashion, singles to left. (He's so totally like Marco Scutaro.) Hichori grounds out on the first pitch, well, a fielder's choice to short, 6-4. 8 pitches this inning for 108 total.

More strikeouts for Darvish, starting with Kawasaki, continuing with Buchanan, and... then he walks Matsunaka on four straight pitches. Whoa. Little bit of trouble with that one corner... but, Kokubo hits a foul fly caught by Inada. Woohoo. 89 pitches for Darvish through 6, 20 this inning.

(sings along: utte, utte, faitaaaazu! susume, susume, faitaaaazu! hashire hashire faitaaaazu! F-I-G-H-TERS! LET'S GO!)

HEY, it's CJ Nitkowski taking the mound! AWESOME!

(Saitoh's line: 6 innings, 108 pitches, 7 hits, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts, 3 runs, all earned, no homers.)

It occurs to me that watching Kazumi Saitoh face the Fighters is a lot like me watching Rich Harden face the Mariners. There's just no bad outcome for me -- either an awesome pitcher I love gets the win, or the team I root for gets the win.

Seventh Inning:

Whoosh, Kensuke Tanaka strikes out to start the inning. (Yeah, I guess Nitkowski makes sense. Tanaka and Tsuboi hit lefty and Seguignol's a switch-hitter. And two minutes after I type that, the announcers say the same thing.) Tsuboi catches a piece of a slider but lofts it into shallow centerfield where Ohmura makes an easy catch. Nitkowski's chewing gum, which would look totally normal in the MLB, but looks pretty weird to me in the NPB for some reason. Seguignol walks. The yellow balloons are coming out from the Hawks fans for their half of the inning, and Inaba isn't handling the outside pitches well and strikes out swinging on one. Whoosh. 18 pitches for Nitkowski that inning.

(It should probably strike me as sad that I've learned the Hawks 7th inning fight song the same way I learned the Lions fight song a few years ago from the internet broadcasts.)

Shibahara starts off the bottom of the 7th by striking out. After one crazy high pitch that almost was headed to Hokkaido, Darvish also strikes out Ide. Inamine comes up to bat and... and ALSO STRIKES OUT! THAT'S THE SIDE! GO DARVISH! 102 pitches for Darvish, 13 this inning, and that's eleven strikeouts, too!

I hope he can finish out the game so the freaking bullpen doesn't choke up the game again. There's no way in hell Darvish should still not have won a game pitching the way he has been.

Eighth Inning:

Nitkowski's still out on the mound for the Hawks, and he gets Shinji Takahashi to ground out to short. Naoto Inada's got to be due for a hit by now... and... no, after several pitches he grounds out to second. Andy Green on the other hand doesn't seem to be due for much of anything yet, and yeah, he grounds out to third eventually. Nitkowski's thrown 37 pitches total, 19 this inning.

(My attention is wandering to other stuff. Banana Power Seguignol! Or... I need a better caption for this than just "My curve breaks THIS BIG".)

Okay, lots of changes. Yuuji Iiyama comes in to play third base since Green's not doing so great. And no big surprise, but Honma is pinch-hitting for Matoba. He grounds the ball up towards first but Inada and Darvish don't make the play in time on the speedy Honma, so it's an infield single. Ohmura then hits the ball into the right-field wall for a single, which moves Honma to third. Lots of loud Hawks fans cheering for Kawasaki and OKAY ARGH, so Kawasaki grounds to second, Kensuke to Kaneko to get Ohmura, but Kaneko's throw to first is wide and Kawasaki is safe, and in the meantime, Honma scores. 3-2 Fighters, with the Hawks catching up. Oh THANK god, okay, Darvish strikes out Buchanan with a 93mph fastball that barely crosses on the low and outside corner. Aaaaaand... they're intentionally walking lefty slugger Nobuhiko Matsunaka with the intention of going after righty Hiroki Kokubo, maybe setting up a double play, I dunno. 119 pitches to Darvish so far, this could be one wacky showdown. First pitch foul... second pitch... flies up and INADA CATCHES IT! Whew! 121 pitches total for Darvish now, through eight innings, and the score is still 3-2.

Ninth inning:

Alright, let's see. Michinao Yamamura is on the mound for Softbank. Honma stays in at second base and Yamazaki is catching. Nitkowski's line: 2 innings, 37 pitches, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts, nothing else.

Kaneko reaches base for his fourth time today, hitting a single through to right. Hichori comes up looking to bunt, but isn't doing such a good job of it and DAMMIT HICHORI grounds out to short. At least Kaneko was already running so it didn't become a double play. Yamamura leaves the mound and lefty Kouji Mise comes in. Kensuke Tanaka hits a long fly to center which Ohmura does an over-the-shoulder catch while running towards the wall. (Kaneko doesn't tag up though.) And then... okay, Tsuboi grounds towards second, Honma runs in to field the ball and throws to first and Tsuboi LITERALLY THROWS HIMSELF DOWN ON THE GROUND AND SLIDES HEADFIRST INTO FIRST BASE AND IS OUT ANYWAY ARRRRRRRRGH and I nearly have a heart attack.

Darvish appears to still be on the mound for the bottom half of the ninth. Toshimasa Konta takes over in left field -- I wonder if that's for defense or because Tsuboi wants to clean himself off after taking a faceful of dirt. Sheesh.

Shibahara tries to waste a bunch of pitches but eventually grounds out to third. Shotaro Ide strikes out and... Oh-kantoku comes out to put in a pinch-hitter? Ah, Yuichi Honda (lefty batter) And it gets to a 3-2 count... (on a REALLY close low pitch) and now Darvish's 138th pitch of the night + HONDA STRIKES OUT WOOOOOOOO THE FIGHTERS WIN!!!!!

Finally, Darvish gets a win :)

(9 IP, 138 pitches, 5 hits, 14 strikeouts, 2 walks, 2 runs, both earned.)

Here is the box score -- Fighters 3, Hawks 2 courtesy my Perl scripts and Michael Westbay's website.

Darvish is unsurprisingly the game hero. He's happy about finally getting the win, glad he can help the team, had a good slider and curve, glad he got out of the 8th inning pinch, and I wasn't really paying close enough attention to catch the rest of the interview.

(The stadium is totally emptying out and yet the Fighters cheering section is still there singing songs. 進めファイターズ勝利の男!)

I think I am going to go back to sleep. Wada vs. Glynn at 9pm Seattle time tonight...

Friday, April 06, 2007

Game Report: Mariners vs. A's - Morrow Less The Same

This is more of a personal diary of Tuesday evening's game, which I already wrote a silly entry about. I sort of intended to make a Friday Foto out of the pictures I took, but as it turns out, this entry will serve just fine for linking them.

I think I need to first make something clear: I write a Mariners blog, I live in Seattle, I root for the Mariners, but first and foremost I'm a Phillies baseball fan, which means that I often end up with various loyalties to other individual Utleys players. Occasionally many of them will happen to be on the same team. And over the last year or two I became something of a closet A's fan; I think they're a pretty good team, I think they're a pretty interesting team, I think they're pretty fun to watch, but another element also grabbed me -- one that most bloggers around here couldn't care less about -- the personalities I observed, mostly during batting practice. Scutaro's a goofy little dude who's always smiling. Swisher used to hug just about anything in his path (and changed his facial hair daily). Chavez and Kotsay are great at talking to kids. Rich Harden's the nicest guy on the planet. Even Brandon Buckley, the A's bullpen catcher, did things like dressing up a pitching dummy as Huston Street (including a hand-drawn "longhorns" symbol. No, really. I have proof.)

So basically, I showed up on Tuesday at around 5:45pm because I wanted to watch the A's during batting practice because I find them entertaining. Also, I find them to be one of the most photogenic teams out there, and as a huge camera geek, I figured that Game 2 would be a nice empty day where I wouldn't have to fight people to get down to the field.

Sure enough, it was actually a pretty great time to just hang out and watch people. Danny Haren, the opening day pitcher, was actually chasing fly balls in the outfield. Nick Swisher was wearing high socks and pretending to play golf or croquet or something with baseballs in shallow center. There were some little kids on the field running around in the sun with the rest of the team, having the time of their lives. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Brandon Buckley was pitching batting practice, and I even caught a glimpse of Todd Walker trying to hit a few baseballs.

Another awesome thing about batting practice is teams like the A's, who will have several players come over and chat and sign stuff. I'm not a huge collector or anything, but I love getting ticket stubs signed in particular, and I've kept all of the ones I've gotten. To me, it's like a series of papers representing brief moments, funny little interactions with players. Things like complimenting Tim Corcoran on his handwriting, or Eric Byrnes on his hair, or thinking it was funny how Billy Wagner and Barry Zito both sign right-handed. Or thinking how pretty much everyone on the Angels except Scot Shields is a meanyhead.

I was really psyched when Milton Bradley came over first, since I'd never really seen him come by before. He was really nice to everyone, even posing for pictures and all. Next to come by was Swisher, of course -- Swish always comes by, he's a crazy man with endless energy who seems to love talking to fans.

Other fan: Hey Swish, your hair looks great!
Swisher: Thanks, so does yours!
Me: Those high socks are AWESOME, Swish, you really should wear them more.
Swisher: [laughing] What? Me? With these skinny-ass legs?

I got Milton and Swisher to sign Monday and Tuesday's tickets, and then I noticed that King Richard the Brokenharden was also holding court further down the foul line by the outfield. So, even though I didn't really have anything left to get signed, I figured I'd wander down there and say hi and take pictures or something.

Rich Harden
A Rich Harden smile cures all ills. Really.

While walking down along the field towards where Harden was, suddenly a ball went rolling fast towards the stands, right where I was! Wow! There wasn't really anyone around me at the time, so I bent over onto the field, hands outstretched to grab the baseball...

...and when it was about half a foot from my hands, a guy about a foot taller than me with a longer armreach ran in with a glove and pushed me and swooped up the ball.

I was devastated. I'm sure there was a look on my face that was about half "I am going to KILL YOU" and about half "I am horrendously horribly sad and am about to cry".

I don't really know the exact rules of baseball snagging -- perhaps nobody except Zack Hample really does -- and I'm sure there's no way this guy could have known that the only other baseball I have is a "training ball" that was thrown to me after BP last May by Willie Bloomquist -- but I guess I guilted him into giving me the baseball with my sad face. Maybe it's because he felt bad swiping a ball from a girl.

Anyway, the cool part was that I realized I actually had an excuse to stand with the crowd asking Rich questions about his hockey preferences, because I had something (the ball) I could ostensibly get signed, rather than just standing there like a dork with my camera. So I got a signature *and* a smile from Rich Harden, and well, I could have gone home happy right then without even seeing the game.

But, fortunately I didn't.

For one, I discovered that Joe Blanton wears contacts. I never really thought about that before -- I figured one of the requirements of being a pro baseball player is having good vision, since as a hitter you need it to pick up the ball, and as a pitcher you'd need it to have good control of where you were throwing the pitches, as seen by Rick Vaughn in the Major League movies with his big thick glasses. So now I'm vaguely curious about the percentages of major leaguers with subpar vision and how they deal with it (I know various guys have LASIK and other surgery done, among other things).

Second, I got to see things like rifle-twirlers and other ceremonies for Armed Forces Night.

Third, I got to see another RICHIE SEXSON FUNK BLAST WOOOOOOO.

Fourth, I found out that Kenji Johjima has good taste in videogames.

Fifth, I got to see the major league debut of Brandon Morrow (and his first mound conference and post-game interview!)

Sixth, after a topsy-turvy game involving the M's actually giving an undeserving Jarrod Washburn a 2-run lead, Mateo choking it up, and Calero choking even worse, Morrow managed to pitch a scoreless 9th inning (despite some control issues or nerves) and thus the Mariners actually won the game!

Seventh, I got to see what life-sized bobbleheads of Johjima, Raul, Ichiro, and Felix would look like, and now I'm going to have nightmares for weeks.

Eighth, I got to see Dave Niehaus's 4600th Mariners game. Think about that one for a second -- 4600 days is over 12 years. My oh my.

Ninth, I noticed that Jose Guillen's at-bat music was a remix of In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida, and I think that's pretty silly, as In-a-Gadda-da-Vidro would make a lot more sense.

Tenth, they forewent a lot of their normal Stupid Stadium Tricks (tm) in lieu of Armed Forces Night stuff, which was good. Even the normal tricks were geared towards it -- for "Ask the Mariners" they basically said "What would you say to the folks in the military?" and they had a clip of "Moose Basic Training", and the music trivia song was American Woman, and stuff along those lines.

After the game ended I ran towards the dugout to try to see Morrow, who indeed was in an interview with Shannon Drayer, but alas, it was at a bad angle. Still neat, though. So now I've been to the pro debut of our 2005 #1 draft pick Jeff Clement, up in Everett, and to the major league debut of our 2006 #1 draft pick Brandon Morrow, here at Safeco. And I suppose I was at our 2003 #1 draft pick Adam Jones's first appearance at Safeco (the game last year where Jamie Moyer gave up 5 home runs to the Red Sox). That's pretty neat. Or maybe I just really go to way too many baseball games.