Monday, December 31, 2007

Homemade Cellphone Calendars - Jan 2008

I was experimenting with making my own cellphone calendars because I was unhappy with the variety available to me from official baseball websites. I did a few in December, and now I just made a few more for myself for January and figure -- why not offer them up to the rest of y'all? Happy New Year!

These are from photos I took on October 7th in Yokohama. I've sort of tailored them to look right on MY cellphone, which is a Sanyo W52SA, but in theory they should look okay on any 240x320 screen. I tried to anti-alias the numbers because they looked weird on my phone when they were sharper.

Chunichi Dragons mascot, Doala.

Dragons youngster Ryota Arai.

Masahiko "Dragonbutt" Morino!

Oh yeah, and the highlighted dates in red are Sundays and national holidays, and the days in blue are all Saturdays.

I think the easiest way to put these on your keitai is to download them and email them to your keitai, if you don't have a web browsing plan. I'm not sure how to put them on non-Japanese phones.

Let me know if you have any requests, or comments... I'm going to experiment with more of them in the future. This is another excuse to take LOTS of photos during the 2008 season! Wheee!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Movie Review: Smile - Seiya no Kiseki (スマイル 聖夜の奇跡)

This movie is about hockey, not about baseball, but it does take place in Hokkaido, so maybe it's vaguely kind of sort of related to this blog?

Official Site -
Movie trailer on Youtube

It's Christmas. It's time for a feel-good story about Good winning another battle in the eternal struggle against Evil, with Love as the catalyst. Good has taken shape in the form of a rag-tag bunch of 12-year-olds in Hokkaido, a hockey team calling themselves the "Smilers". Evil is the "Thunderbirds", another schoolboy hockey team which dresses in black, moves like an army regiment, and is coached by an egomaniac.

Love... well, let's step back from this all for a minute.

Igaya Masaya is a professional hockey player who never smiles, for reasons we discover later on. It's Christmas 2007, and he comes back to visit the ice rink that he spent so much time at as a child. A few kids ask him for autographs, and then he sees a figure-skater on the ice. She's beautiful, graceful, and immediately reminds him of his first love, a figure-skater named Rena, who he met twenty years ago. He's transfixed by the skater on the ice, and gets lost in his thoughts.

Does that sound like a flashback to you? Sure does! We're whisked back to autumn 1987, where a 13-year-old Masaya is also watching a beautiful figure-skater on the ice at the same exact rink. She's beautiful, graceful, and he's completely struck dumb the way only a 13-year-old boy who has just completely fallen headfirst into a crush can be. The rest of his hockey team crashes into him and makes fun of him for staring at her like that, but she just smiles and skates off.

Meet the Smilers. They're just your average group of 12-year-old hockey players in the middle of nowhere in Hokkaido... kind of. We find out later that all of them have their own backstories and troubles; one of them has divorced parents, another has a sister stuck in a wheelchair, another has been endlessly bullied all through his life. Masaya's parents died in a fire when he was young. Undoubtedly their hardships is what brings them all closer together as a group.

Meet their coach. Shuhei (played by enigmatic screen and stage actor Mirai Moriyama) is an ex-tapdancer who moved up to Hokkaido to be with his girlfriend Shizuka (who, incidentally, is Rena's figure-skating coach). Shuhei wants to marry Shizuka (played by Italian-Japanese model/actress Rosa Katoh), but of course, there's a slight obstacle: Shizuka's stereotypically-strict father, who completely does not approve of a wacko like Shuhei. Shuhei says that he's come up to Hokkaido to be a teacher at a local elementary school, and Shizuka's father wants to know about his leadership skills -- and mentions that the ice hockey team's coach just quit, so Shuhei should take over. Shuhei replies, "Sure! Leave it to me, my hopefully-future-father-in-law!! I'll coach ice hockey!!" (Can he skate? No. Does he know anything about hockey? No. Has he ever coached a team? No. Does that matter? Apparently not.) Shizuka's father challenges Shuhei to have his team actually win a game and then maybe he'll allow the two of them to marry.

Naturally, Shuhei's lack of experience allows him to make "brilliant" decisions, putting the runt of the team in as the goalie, and coming up with offense plays based on tap-dancing rhythms. They win the game, and Shizuka's father says "I changed my mind. Win the CHAMPIONSHIP and I'll allow you to marry."

No problem, right? Well, as one of the kids points out, there is a very big problem: a hockey team called the Thunderbirds, who basically clean the floor with every team they face, every year. Their coach is a womanizing asshat named Tsurugi who is, of course, Shizuka's sempai from college and ex-boyfriend. He, of course, intends to get back together with Shizuka when his team defeats the Smilers and Shuhei is out of the picture. Meet love triangle Number 1.

Love triangle Number 2 sort of falls flat on its face early on in the plot, fortunately. See, there's a figure skater named Chinatsu who has a huge crush on Masaya, and she's really jealous of Rena. One day Chinatsu asks out Masaya, and he turns her down. As we find out, Chinatsu's ice skating talent is only matched by her ability to beat the living crap out of random guys who piss her off. So she punches Masaya's lights out, and he winds up in the hospital, and Shuhei invites Chinatsu to take Masaya's place on the team, where she can (and does) go beat up on opponents instead. Chinatsu is subsequently joined on the team by Shevchenko, a blonde-haired Russian exchange student who Shuhei recruits when he sees him Cossack-dancing in the hallway, and by Ichiryouta, a misfit from the sumo club whose size and skills work well for him on the ice. Yes, it's quite an assortment of characters.

While injured, Masaya runs into Rena at the hospital, which if you've watched enough Japanese doramas and movies, signifies that Rena has been diagnosed with Something Fatal and is Destined to Die by the end of the movie. However, Masaya doesn't know that, and so he finally gets up the guts to go out on a date with her. They date for a while. She becomes sicker and faints and has to go into the hospital, naturally right before the Big Hockey Tournament starts.

The team -- even Chinatsu -- comes to support Rena in the hospital every day, first by visiting and later by banging their hockey sticks on the ground at night and shouting her name. (At first this evokes the ire of a security guard who chases them off, but when he finds out what's going on, he even helps them find her when she's transferred to intensive care for chemotherapy.) Rena's bedside table has exactly two items on it: the music box Masaya gives her, and the tournament bracket with the Smilers' progression marked with it. By day, the team is working together, training together, winning together. Shuhei still never actually learns to skate, resulting in hilarious scenes every time he tries to run out on the ice to high-five his team.

You can pretty much guess the ending -- heck, if you saw the previews at all you should know what's going to happen before you even sit down in your seat at the theater. However, this movie is so funny and lively and wonderful and poignant all at once that it really doesn't make a difference. I laughed, I cried. I enjoyed every minute of it and encourage you to go see it too, if you are in Japan.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Photopost: Fighters Town Kamagaya

It's Christmas, I suppose, but it's just a normal work day for me, so I haven't given it that much thought. I just watched Sennichi Hoshino as the Bistro SMAP guest on the SMAPxSMAP Christmas special, though, and that was really awesome. I'll talk a little more about it when I can get a copy of the episode and some screen shots like I did when Shinjo was on the show last year. Suffice it to say that all of the members of SMAP seemed to be huge Hoshino fans, and he's so naturally charismatic that it was really entertaining.

Anyway, I was busy the last few days entertaining some friends who were in town for the weekend, but then this morning they left to go back to America, so I had nothing to do for the afternoon today, so I decided to go see if I could find Fighters Town Kamagaya at long last.

The backstory here is that the Fighters set up this great minor-league stadium and training complex in Middle-of-Freaking-Nowhere, Chiba Prefecture, about ten years ago. I suppose that even back then it must have been a little weird that the Fighters were in Tokyo and had their farm team in Chiba, and the Chiba Marines had their farm team in Saitama, but now it's even weirder because the Fighters are in Hokkaido.

I took the train to Kamagaya Station, which involved going to Funabashi first and then taking the Tobu Noda line into the countryside. Lest you think I'm joking, take a look at the map of where I went today:

I am sure there are plenty of people living in Kamagaya proper, but the place where the Fighters stadium is located is in the middle of a bunch of tree fields and other farmlands, and is about a mile from the station, give or take a few hills.

To get there, you exit Kamagaya station at the west exit, and you turn left onto a street called "Pear Street Kamagaya". You know you're in the right town because plenty of shops have Fighters signs up all over the place:

You walk down Pear Street for a while. There's only shops and stuff for about two blocks, and then the sidewalk becomes super-narrow and there's a few houses and a lot of trees and some blank land, and just when you're wondering, "Am I still going the right way?" you see a helpful signpost saying "Fighters Stadium" to the right...

There's a REALLY confusing interchange after that right turn, though. You need to follow to the RIGHT of this temple:

And then you walk for a bloody long time, mostly past these bizarre fields where they're growing trees all sort of connected with each other. Just when you're AGAIN wondering if you're ever going to reach the stadium, you hit a big downhill slope with ANOTHER helpful signpost:

And you realize the blue thing in the background is the stadium! So you go down the hill and turn right, and find out that yes, you are in the right place:

("Fighters Stadium")

("Nippon Ham Fighters Town Kamagaya")

(I want this car.)

("Ganbare Fighters!")

Just inside the gate, there is a dilapidated information sign. Currently, it has the names of the recently-drafted Fighters players. Earlier this week there was apparently a New Players Ceremony there, but of course I was at work.

Now, to be honest, there was a sign on the gate that said something like "関係者以外立入禁止", which means something like "Unauthorized personnel forbidden", but at the same time the gate was OPEN. And when I was just standing there taking pictures of the stuff outside the compound, an older guy even walked out of the gate past me and said "Hello," in a friendly voice, so I figured, what the heck, I'll just walk in and take pictures, and if anyone gets angry I'll claim I couldn't read the sign and the gate was open after all.

There's a sign with information about the stadium in front. The grandstand was under construction and I didn't really try to go into it.

I walked up around the right side of the stadium. There was a gate to the field, but these guys are much smarter than those other minor league parks, and know to lock their gates or risk random gaijin wandering onto the field:

And here is the outfield seating. Though I'm not actually sure whether anyone sits out here during games (they didn't list separate prices for outfield seats):

I walked around to the centerfield scoreboard and took a picture of the infield from there. It really looks like a VERY nice stadium compared to all of the other minor league ballparks I've seen here so far. I wonder what minor league attendance is like in general -- something I ought to check out at some point.

Anyway, while I was loitering behind the centerfield scoreboard I heard a familiar sound -- the sound of a baseball hitting a glove. And then at that moment I realized that beyond the LEFT field side, there were some people throwing a baseball back and forth. I have no clue whether they were minor league players doing personal training, or random team personnel, or what, but I had this feeling that it was probably a better idea for me to get out of there than to go try to talk to them. I mean, for all I know they'd be cool about it, and maybe there IS more to this "Fighters Town" thing that fans are actually allowed to go to, but just in case, I really had no particular desire to spend Christmas Eve in a Chiba prefecture police station trying to explain why I was trespassing on a minor league ballpark, or spying on baseball players, so instead I just left. Yeah, I'm a wuss.

I'm going to go back there sometime for a minor-league game, I hope, but it's not really the sort of place I feel like going to just for the heck of it, especially since it takes like 2 hours to get there with the walking. Still, it was interesting to see a more rural part of Kanto, I suppose.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

NPB Roundup: Kleenex Stadium Miyagi?

On Tuesday, Daisuke Matsuzaka went to play golf with Ryo Ishikawa. I can't really think of a good way to explain this to people who aren't up on Japanese sports and media, but Ishikawa is basically a 16-year-old kid who is currently practically THE face of the golfing world in Japan. They call him "Hanikami Oji", which means "bashful prince". He's very shy and mature, and is also on the news practically every day, even if it's just something like "Ishikawa Ryo goes to play golf with his siblings" or "Ishikawa Ryo takes off his shoes and goes into the water to get a golf ball" or whatever. He's popular. He's cute. He's sweet. And the idea of putting Baseball's Golden Boy and Golf's Golden Boy together in one places makes me imagine an explosion of camera flashes. It'd be kind of like if you had Roger Clemens and Tiger Woods get together to play golf... back in 1991 or so.

I'm still fairly sure I am Masahiko "Dragonbutt" Morino's biggest non-Japanese fan, but I discovered an awesome Chunichi fan site a few days ago where the girl running the site is just as big a Morino fan as I am, if not bigger. There are lots of fantastic pictures of the team from spring trainings and events and whatnot; very cool stuff to check out if you're a Dragons fan (though it's all in Japanese). Sadly, right after finding it, I lost my Morino cellphone charm (the Chunichi victory one that I got right after the Japan Series that might be irreplaceable). Argh.

Speaking of Dragons, there are a whole bunch of upcoming player appearances if you are in the Aichi-Gifu-Mie-etc area of Japan.

The Baystars are looking for interpreters and office staff. So are the Marines.

In case you are wondering how to make a Deanna die of envy, it is apparently to get invited to Koshien by the Hanshin Tigers owner and be made into an honorary Tiger. I mean, I'm not even a Hanshin fan and I think that's the coolest thing ever and am everlastingly jealous of Sara. I wonder if the Fighters management even has any clue that someone like me exists?

Speaking of the Fighters, something really weird happened: they switched Shinji Takahashi's uniform number to #2. I'm sort of torn on how I feel about this. It's definitely less anger than I felt at them giving Yukio Tanaka's #6 to hotshot kid Sho Nakata, but it's still sort of strange. I mean, does that mean I can start wearing my Fighters Ogasawara #2 jersey again? Do I need to rip off the name and sew on "Shinji"?

I'm surprised I haven't seen this anywhere in English yet, but the Rakuten Golden Eagles have had their stadium renamed. The official name is 日本製紙クリネックススタジアム宮城 (Nippon Seishi Kleenex Stadium Miyagi) and it will be known as just Kleenex Stadium Miyagi. I know there's got to be a good joke about them always blowing their leads in there, or being a nose ahead, or wiping out, or whatever...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Friday Foto: Big Egg, Little Camera

I have no point here, I just felt like saying "Temple of Dome".

Tokyo Dome by day. Taken with a W52SA cellphone camera.

Tokyo Dome by night. Taken from the top of the ferris wheel
in Tokyo Dome City with a Canon Powershot S410.

I go to the Tokyo Dome awfully often for someone who despises the Yomiuri Giants so much, I suppose.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Signings, Santas, and Stars

Yomiuri Giants pitchers Koji Uehara and Hiroshi Kisanuki went and visited sick kids in Kanagawa today, dressed as Uehara Claus and Roshi the Red-Nosed Reliever. Okay, I'm making those nicknames up, but still. I'm sure the kids were very happy to meet them.

(This is on the heels of yesterday how several members of the Softbank Hawks went to visit hospitals in Saitama. Seven players in total went, including current Hawks such as Munenori Kawasaki, and former Hawks such as... Tadahito Iguchi.)

The Hanshin Tigers have really acquired Lew Ford. It's on their official site now. I've always liked Lew so I hope he does well, even though I'm not a particular Hanshin fan or anything.

Kazuhito Tadano is going to wear Satoru Kanemura's old #16 for the Fighters. That can't be good.

In the depressing news, Yu Hanai, a former outfielder for the Nishitetsu Lions and broadcaster for Asahi, died today of some complication from blood poisoning (I think). He was from Gifu, was a star at Koshien in the late 1940's, went to Keio University and then played for Nishitetsu during their glory days when they were winning pennants left and right. He was a teammate of the legendary Kazuhisa Inao, who just died last month. How very sad. Hanai was 75 years old.

Sigh. Kazuo Fukumori signs with Texas for two years, this being on the heels of them non-tendering Akinori Otsuka. Back when I was doing Japanese player blog translations for a while I would often pick on Fukumori's blog to translate because he always cracked me up. Like talking about Ryan Howard's nose and hanging out with the MLB guys during Nichi-Bei. Either way, I am sad. I really like Fukumori and I will miss seeing him play with Rakuten next year. I also wonder what will happen to Otsuka, since I like him a lot too. (Getting to meet him for a few seconds during BP earlier this year was one of my favorite pregames ever.)

I really want to talk about Hawks closer Takahiro Mahara for a bit. I hadn't really mentioned it here, but I developed a gigantic crush on Mahara this year. It's always the Hawks pitchers, I swear. Anyway, Mahara continued the trend of baseball players marrying former female broadcasters when he recently married Yuriko Hatano, who was an announcer on TV Nishinippon. Hatano apparently went to Waseda and was a classmate of Tsuyoshi Wada. She and Mahara are both from Kumamoto originally. Anyway, the other exciting thing is that Mahara apparently is making his acting debut in a Kyushu-based TV dorama called Fukuoka Ren'ai Hakusho. The episode will air on February 8th, although I have no clue whether it'll only be viewable in Kyushu or not. Crazy!

I was watching TV when I got home from work tonight and the show "Our Music" was on. For whatever reason, the crossover was that they had the pop group EXILE on, talking to... Daisuke Matsuzaka. No, really. You see some pretty funky things on TV here sometimes.

I bought the Chunichi 2008 calendar this morning, to go with my Fighters and Baystars 2008 calendars. Kosuke Fukudome is the poster boy for January on the Dragons calendar, which is pretty funny. I'm just happy that Masahiko "Dragonbutt" Morino is the poster boy for May, my birthday month.

Also, open-sen schedules are up now too! My first game of the year could potentially be March 9th! Awesome!

(Apologies for lack of and/or laziness in translations.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

All That Glitters

So, on Monday there was a big ceremony for presenting various NPB awards from this season; best nine, golden gloves, etc. As you can imagine, all of the players showed up dressed in nice business suits. Well, almost all, that is.

Hichori Morimoto decided to pay homage to another person who used to wear a shiny glove, by dressing up as Michael Jackson circa Thriller for the ceremony.

He's so awesome. End of line.

In more things that "glitter", so to speak, a few weeks ago on November 28th, four Fighters players did a Fashion Show event at Marui Imai department store in Sapporo, where they proceeded to be incredibly embarrassed in front of a crowd of around 400 people, mostly middle-aged women.

Your Fashionable Fighters: Kensuke Tanaka, Naoto Inada, Shinya Tsuruoka, Makoto Kaneko.

Kaneko wore a $4000 coat and sunglasses and joked that fashion sense is sorely undervalued on the Fighters. No wonder they miss Shinjo so much.

(Speaking of Kaneko, he's still doing Weekly Mack radio broadcasts and they are still entertaining, if you have time to listen to the archives. I'm still torn over who my favorite Fighter really is these days. I tend to say Hichori when asked, but I think Kaneko is way up there as well.)

Man, I wonder, if only I lived in Sapporo, would I get to go to all of the cool player events? Inaba's going to be at the Asahikawa Aeon mall next week :( Actually, it does seem like there are a few minor leaguer events in Kamagaya -- but I still haven't made it out there to Fighters Town at all. I suck.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

More about the Master's League Game

Writer's block continues. I literally wrote this entry for a whole week, doing a few paragraphs a night, and at this point figured I should finish it rather than delete it, just for my sake.

So, yeah, last Sunday I went down to the Tokyo Dome to check out this Master's League thing since I'd been genuinely curious since a few weeks ago when we noticed they were playing a game following the Dragons Fan Fest. I was again the only non-Japanese person I saw in the stadium, although this time it made a lot more sense. Why would anyone come to see a bunch of 50-year-old ex-baseball players waddle around, unless they had sentimental attachments to these players from years and years ago?

I came in, bought a program, got a lineup list, found a seat about 30 rows back near first base, and then wandered down to the field to see the warmups (it was possible to just go up to the screen down in the outfield). Only catch is, I had brought my little camera and I had forgotten to charge the battery. Whoops. So I got about 10 pictures total before it died.

Tokyo Dreams coach Tomoh Wakoh. Great uniforms, huh?

A fan gets Sapporo's Sohroku Yagisawa to sign something. Rope tricks are pretty common here.

I waited around for a while until the starting lineups were announced. There were several things to note about these:

1) Several players on the team have the same uniform number, which I didn't realize until I was writing them down
2) When they announced a player they not only had to give the position they were playing today, but practically announce their entire life history, where they were born, what high school or college they played for, and what professional teams they played for, and so on and so forth, and usually would add a sentence explaining "why you should remember this guy".

And then the pre-game festivities started. They had cheerleaders come out -- yes, this league has a group of cheer girls called the Tricolore Lancers. The girls danced to a couple of songs -- all American oldies, which was pretty funny to me.

For the record, some of the girls in the cheerleading squad are young enough to be the granddaughters of several of the players on the team. Yeah, there's a 46-year-old on the squad (Kuroda Yukari, whose day job is apparently being a teacher, and she even wrote a book about being a 44-year-old cheerleader a few years ago), and a few girls in their early 30's, but some of them are as young as 19 years old.

After that they had a ceremonial first pitch, but I totally didn't hear who it was by. I was too preoccupied watching them have Elf-chan, the Chiba Lotte Marines' ball-carrying dog, bring baseballs out to the mound. I think Elf's gotten a lot better trained in the last few years :)

They announced all of the players who were playing and not playing, just so they could come out and be applauded and all. Several players got huge rounds of applause -- notably, when coach Yutaka Enatsu came out there was a bigger round of applause than for anyone else, I think, although Choji Murata also got a pretty good reception of course, and various other guys too.

I had been wondering why I saw so many people in various Yakult Swallows jerseys running around before the game, since I didn't really see ANY fans wearing jerseys for the most part, but that became evident when they announced Ken Suzuki, who just retired from the Swallows this year. Despite that only one of them had an actual K.Suzuki jersey (I saw a K.Ishii, two Miyamotos, an Aoki, and a Furuta, among others), they were all quite happy and quite vocal to see him there.

The game started pretty close to on time. The Tokyo Dreams took the field. The first thing I noticed is that Norihiro Komada is really pretty chubby these days -- not that he was a small man by any means when he still played, but I think he hides it really well when he does TV appearances and whatnot, usually wearing a suit and sitting behind a table. I'm a pretty big fan of his post-career since he usually makes me laugh (he's a commentator on Megaspo sometimes, and he was in movies like Mr. Rookie), but wow, I really had no idea. 1B-DHes really don't age so well.

The second thing I noticed is that former Fighters heartthrob Yukihiro Nishizaki (who is now 43 and still pretty cute) was throwing like 100 km/h on average. Yikes.

Anyway, CF Masahiro Takahashi, one of maybe four people in this game who can still run fairly fast, led off with a double for the Sapporo squad, but that was all they'd get in the top of the first. The DH and third batter was 60-year-old Tsutomu Wakamatsu, the Yakult Swallows legend, and he could barely get the ball out of the infield.

I noticed that there was a small oendan in the left field seats -- maybe about 10 guys cheering for each player. I wondered if there would be an oendan in the right field seats as well, but in the bottom of the first inning, that same group of guys in left field started cheering for the Tokyo team as well! It took me a while to figure it out, but they were pretty much either doing the actual player cheer songs, or doing cheers in the style of the team that player spent most of their career with. (It became notable mostly when they started doing the Seibu Lions running cheer and later on when they broke out Yakult umbrellas.)

The starter for Sapporo was another Fighters pitcher from the 1980's, a guy named Hiroshi Tsuno, whose name had surfaced a whole bunch at the start of the 2007 season. Tsuno was drafted by the Fighters in late 1983 and was their Opening Day starter in 1985, a few months shy of his 20th birthday. Yu Darvish was the first guy since Tsuno to be a Fighters Opening Day starter within 3 years of graduating high school -- and Darvish wasn't even alive when Tsuno did it. Crazy. Anyway, Tsuno, who is now 42 years old, was topping out around 125-126km/h, which seemed vaguely unfair to me at the time, as the first three batters for Tokyo (average age: 47) grounded and flew out fairly quickly. The entire first inning took a whopping 9 minutes total.

I had seen some recaps of games saying that most Master's League games only took around 100-140 minutes tops. I was beginning to understand why.

51-year-old Hiroshi Masumoto replaced Nishizaki after one inning on the mound. Masumoto threw around 105-120 km/h. A group of women cheered for the Sapporo team batters from behind the homeplate net, but the inning went 1-2-3, ending with a foul fly near first base, and Norihiro Komada waddled out to make the catch. In the bottom of the 2nd, Tokyo catcher Tatsuo Omiya singled, but that was it. The second inning ALSO took 9 minutes.

The third inning took a whole 20 minutes, though. Yasutomo Suzuki led off with a walk, and then Makoto Takada hit a single to right, and then Masahiro Takahashi, who had led off the game with a double to left hit ANOTHER double to left! Suzuki and Takada scored, making the game 2-0. Since Takahashi had spent 13 years of his career in Yokohama, the oendan guys in the outfield sang the Yokohama Bay Stars song to cheer for it, despite that the other two guys had no affiliation with Yokohama. I was starting to figure out the rules of their cheering, see. Anyway, Takahashi advanced to third on a wild pitch a bit later, but other than that there was no scoring for the rest of that half inning. Wakamatsu hit another weak pop fly and I felt kind of bad for him. Tokyo didn't do much in the bottom half though -- another former Yokohama guy, Kaname Yashiki, hit a single to left, and then Tsuno tried about five times to pick him off first but failed. He didn't really need to do it anyway as he struck out Nakano and Hourai, both swinging, hitting upwards of 130 km/h on his fastball.

And thus the first third of the game passed in 38 minutes.

58-year-old Yutaka Saotome pitched the top of the 4th for Tokyo, and actually managed to get a 1-2-3 inning out of the Sapporo squad. Tsuno had to abdicate the mound for Sapporo and was replaced by -- get this -- Yoshinori Satoh. Only it wasn't the flame-throwing 17-year-old Sendai Ikuei kid recently drafted by Yakult (佐藤由規), but the 53-year-old legendary Hankyu/Orix pitcher (佐藤義則). This Satoh got the first two batters quickly (including a super-lazy Norihiro Komada who didn't even bother running up the line at all when he hit a grounder to first), but then Tatsuo Omiya got a single.

And then the Yakult fans got to be REALLY vocal as Ken Suzuki came into the game t pinch-hit for Hiroshi Satoh, avoiding the Satoh-Satoh matchup. The Yakult fans did Suzuki's real cheer song and were really excited when he also hit a single! His first single in the Masters league! Wheee! But with runners at first and second, Shinya Ashizawa hit a long pop fly out to left field, chased down by Masahiro Ishii, who lost his hat going after it. Both teams' left fielders were really having a pretty tough day of things.

That inning also took 15 minutes.

The next inning, however, was full of excitement and would take 26 minutes all by itself.

It started simply, with Hirofumi Kohno pitching for Tokyo. He got one out, then that pesky Takahashi guy hit ANOTHER double to left -- his third of the day. Kamikawa grounded out, and then it normally would have been Tsutomu Wakamatsu's at-bat, but they decided to do one of these matchups that this league is pretty much entirely set up for.

Assistant manager Isao Shibata came in as a pinch-hitter for Sapporo. Shibata basically used to be the leadoff hitter for the Oh-Nagashima dynasty of Giants teams.

So Tokyo countered by putting in pitching coach Yukio Ozaki. Ozaki would have probably had a pretty great career if he hadn't pitched ninety bazillion innings per year from the time he was a 17-year-old rookie and blown his arm out.

But, either way, they were both Koshien stars (and huge rivals) back in their day... that is, in 1960 and 1961. Shibata's team usually beat Ozaki's.

Which is fitting, since in this Masters' game, now that both men are 63 years old, Ozaki pitched to Shibata, and Shibata hit a double to left, scoring Takahashi, to make things 3-0.

The best part is, though, the excitement didn't stop there. Ozaki came out of the game, and people were all murmuring about who would come out next. The people down the row from me were even like "Do you think it will be Enatsu? That would be so great!!"

It was better than Enatsu.

It was Choji Murata.

Murata is a pretty legendary pitcher in Japan for various reasons. First, he was the first player in Japan to have Tommy John surgery done. Second, he had a weird high-kicking windup. Third, he was a four-decade player (1968-1990). I'm sure there's even more, but you get the idea. Murata is 58 years old now, but he can apparently still throw amazingly fast.

He did throw a ball clear over the catcher during his warmup, and then ended up walking the first batter he faced (after which he bowed down on the mound like "Oh no!!"). The next batter was Hirose, and after a couple of semi-normal pitches -- which were still going across the plate at 130 km/h (which is 80 mph to the metrically challenged), Murata paused and stood in his trademark stance for a minute. Then he kicked up his leg, reared back, and let the baseball fly.

The crowd went, "Oooooh."

The ball went, "Whooooosh."

The catcher went, "Oh crap," as the ball flew way the hell over the plate.

The 50-year-old runner on first base went, "Oh, my aching back!" as he ran to second base on the wild pitch.

But eventually Murata struck out Hirose. I was wondering if they were just keeping him out there for one batter as a gimmick, but no, he came out the next inning too and faced 5 batters total. He walked one, struck out three, got a groundout from another, and his pitches all averaged 130 km/h (I think 135 was the highest I saw). Seriously, maybe I'm easily impressed, but there are guys half his age who can't throw that fast, y'know? Either way, it was pretty awesome that I got to see him pitch for real.

Kazuyoshi Ono came out to pitch the 5th inning for Sapporo, and after two normal outs, something really funny hapened. Satoru Nakano, the Tokyo right fielder, hit a low looping fly ball to left field. Masahiro Ishii, who as I mentioned was getting quite a workout -- all of these right-handed batters could only hit the ball to left field now -- went to chase down the ball. He ran in to get it but missed by a foot or two, and dived (well, or more likely, he just fell over).

Normally this would mean a double for somebody as the fielder got up and retrieved the ball and/or the centerfielder backed them up or something, but instead, Ishii couldn't get back up. Nakano wasn't the fastest guy on the planet or anything but by the time another fielder came out there and retrieved the ball from the corner, Nakano had rounded the bases and run home. He even slid into home plate headfirst for the hell of it, getting up in the middle of a pile of dust with a big grin on his face. 3-1.

For whatever reason, the cheerleaders were interspersed with fans when dancing on the field between the 5th and 6th innings. It was sort of bizarre.

Tokyo picked up another run off Ono in the bottom of the 6th. Motonishi led off with a single, and then Kakiuchi -- a fairly recent retiree who was apparently very popular at some point, as he had many people cheering for him and bouncing up and down -- hit another single. Ichikawa hit a sac bunt, and then there was Ken Suzuki again, coming up with one out and runners at second and third. He hit a line drive to right field, but amazingly Seiji Kamikawa was in the right place to make the play and he caught the ball, so it was just a sac fly, as Motonishi scored. 3-2. A pitching change to Matsunuma and his gigantic mustache saw a pop fly out by Ashizawa to end another 15-minute inning, for a total of 94 minutes at that point.

Hideyuki Awano pitched the 7th and 8th innings for the Tokyo squad, and actually looked like a real pitcher for it. Apparently he also fooled the Sapporo guys into thinking that, because they went down easy in the 7th and semi-easy in the 8th (after Ken Suzuki dropped a liner to third, with one runner at first, he was able to throw the ball to second and start a double play. I feel like the infield fly rule should have applied or something, but maybe not).

Matsunuma's facial hair got the first two guys out in the 7th, and Hisao Niura struck out Nakano -- on big, looping, 80 km/h pitches that were practically eephus at times -- but then things got weird.

63-year-old Sohroku Yagisawa pitched to Hourai and got a pop fly out, and then 55-year-old Kojiro Ikegaya pitched to Motonishi and he singled up the middle, between the middle infielders. Then Hisanori Yokota came out to pitch for Sapporo, and got beaten up by the Tokyo nine. Kakiuchi's crazy fans bounced even higher when he hit a single as well, and then Ichikawa walked, so the bases were loaded for Ken Suzuki to come up to bat. The Yakult fans also went crazy, and then went even crazier when he almost hit a home run to right field -- it bounced off the wall and scored Motonishi and Kakiuchi and moved Ichikawa to third. 4-3. The best part was that the Yakult group all broke out their umbrellas and started the Yakult Umbrella Dance for the runs, and even the guys in the outfield, someone had an umbrella and did likewise.

Given the nature of this league, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the next thing they did was pull off a squeeze bunt, Ashizawa successfully bunting home Ichikawa AND managing to be safe at first. 5-3.

I'm not quite clear on what happened next. I had thought it was another squeeze attempt, but I think in reality, Ken Suzuki missed a signal and ended up running home independent of anything being hit, and was tagged out pretty easily, although Ashizawa somehow got to second on the play. Maybe it was just a missed bunt. (I really don't know. Muraoka was still at bat, Suzuki was out, Ashizawa was at second, when the dust settled.) Muraoka singled to right and Ashizawa scored from second, making it 6-3. Kaname Yashiki then grounded out to third to end the inning, though he did a somersault into first base trying to slide in, which was pretty funny.

The game had taken 2 hours and 10 minutes to that point.

37-year-old Hiroshi Ishige, who was a closer for the Giants in the early 90's, came out to close out the game. He was also throwing in the mid-130's, but it's not as impressive as it was for Murata, I think. Anyway, Masahiro Ishii led off with a long hit into the gap in centerfield, and he ran, and ran, and... tried to make it a triple and ended up getting himself tagged out at third. Whoops! One down. Yoshinaga walked, but then Yasutomo Suzuki hit a pop fly out to right, and Makoto Takada hit a pop fly out to center (amidst some cheers of "Ato hitori!"), and the game was over.

Ken Suzuki and Choji Murata were the game heroes, which was pretty funny. Suzuki was all like "I'm so glad I could join all of these great players and help the team!"

Unlike a normal game, with a normal oendan, there weren't really big groups of people staying around to cheer team songs or anything like that, so I pretty much just left, amidst some more weird looks from people like "Why is an American at this game? It really doesn't make any sense," to which I just smiled at them and walked onwards. I came home and watched Hoshino Japan beat Korea in a pretty narrow game. It's really nice having baseball to watch in the offseason, although I think this might have been a rare weekend of it, before the big winter drought starts.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Stuff happens

I have writer's block. Sorry.

Japan got a spot in the Olympics by beating the crap out of Taiwan and the Phillippines and slapping Korea. The real benefit of all this is that Senichi Hoshino was on TV a lot, and he's really funny. Well, and it's pretty exciting stuff, too, although that final game was really close for a while, and I lost track of how many guys got hit by pitches.

This is the time of year when guys are resigning contracts with their team and you can see who got raises and who got salary cuts. Most of the guys listed aren't the big name players though, but the ni-gun types and others who don't really have much to negotiate. We'll undoubtedly see a few interesting salary negotation stories popping up in the news soon enough (like last year when I was following the stories of Sekimoto, Morino, and Satozaki, as they all used different negotiation tactics (crying, laughing, yawning) with their respective teams).

Ex-Mariner Hiram Bocachica will be playing for Seibu next year.

Seibu also signed Craig Brazell and Matt Kinney.
Scott Seabol will be playing in Hiroshima next year.

The Fighters officially seem to have gone into post-Seguignol mode, as they reissued number 5 to Naoto Inada, and they also signed Terrmel Sledge.

The biggest OMGYOUHAVETOBEKIDDING move is that Yomiuri signed Marc Kroon, who spent the last three years closing for the Bay Stars. At first I was pretty surprised over it, but now that I've had time to think about it it not only doesn't surprise me, but it seems almost like something I should have expected to happen. Have I mentioned recently that I hate the Giants?

Lew Ford, one of my favorite baseball nerds, is supposedly pretty close to signing a deal with the Hanshin Tigers.

Yokohama seems to have signed a bunch of foreigners as well, among them Dave Williams and JJ Furmaniak and Mike Wood.

Yakult seems intent on sucking next year. I don't really understand why.

On the MLB side of things, a few big trades have gone down. Some are awesome. Some are frightening.

Oh yeah, the thing that makes me most happy is that the Pacific League finally released their 2008 schedule. You can now find both Central League and Pacific League 2008 schedules on the official NPB site. I'm already starting to decide which games I want to go to, although the biggest disappointment for me is that it looks like I wouldn't be able to realistically hit both Sapporo and Fukuoka during Golden Week, alas. Sadly the first time the Fighters will be anywhere near me on a Sunday isn't until April 13th (well, there's March 30th in Sendai, but honestly, going to Sendai in March and getting snowed out? DO NOT WANT). The Dragons also won't come to Kanto on a Sunday until April 20th, which is sadly against the Bay Stars. Argh.

Still, it looks like I'll probably spend the first two Sundays of the baseball season out in Tokorozawa, oddly enough.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Choji Murata is still awesome

Tonight I went to the Tokyo Dome to see the Sapporo Ambitious play against the Tokyo Dreams. No, these aren't new teams, they're old teams; that is, "old" in the sense that all of the players are old guys who used to play pro baseball, and are now in this Professional Baseball Masters League. I think the youngest guys playing tonight were 37 and the oldest were 63, to give you an idea about it.

But because I just spent the last hour transcribing my scorecard and am very tired, I'm just going to leave you with that for now and write a little bit more about the game tomorrow night.

Though, just to mention the coolest thing I saw, it would be that I saw legendary Hall of Fame pitcher Choji Murata pitch and not only did he do his traditional crazy windup but he was throwing strikes at 130-136km/h. (That's 80-85mph, for the metrically challenged.) HE'S FIFTY-EIGHT YEARS OLD! FIFTY-EIGHT! And he throws faster than some of today's normal NPB pitchers half his age! He struck out three out of the five guys he faced! (Average age 45, but still!) That was awesome! I wonder what he could do against normal NPB hitters!

Anyway, I did this boxscore by hand from my written scorecard, not by my scripts, so it doesn't have the normal coloring. Here's the key for the score codes I use, though. It should be noted that Nakano's home run in the 5th inning was inside-the-park... but I didn't have a good way to denote "inside-the-park-due-to-slow-old-left-fielder-falling-over", so.
                      1  2  3   4  5  6   7  8  9   R  H  E
Sapporo Ambitious 0 0 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 3 6 0
Tokyo Dreams 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 4 X 6 12 0

Ambitious AB R H RB K BB SH SB E 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
M.Takahashi, cf-ss 4 1 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 D7 .. D7 .. D7 .. KS .. ..
Arai, rf 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 G4 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Kamikawa, ph-rf-2b 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. F9 .. G6 .. G4 .. ..
Wakamatsu, dh 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 f3 .. F4 .. .. .. .. .. ..
Shibata, ph-dh 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. D7 .. .. .. ..
Katoh, dh 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. G6 ..
Ishige, ss 1 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 F7 .. BB .. BB .. .. BB ..
Matsumoto, cf 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Hirose, 2b 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. G6 G4 .. KC .. .. d5 ..
Hagiwara, rf 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Ishii, lf 4 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. F7 .. KS .. G4 .. .. D8
Awaguchi, 1b 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. f3 .. F9 .. .. .. .. ..
Yoshinaga, 1b 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. KS .. .. BB
Y.Suzuki, 3b 3 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 .. .. BB F8 .. KC .. .. F9
Takada, c 4 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. S9 .. F8 .. G5 .. F8

Total 31 3 6 3 5 5 0 0 0

Dreams AB R H RB K BB SH SB E 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Nakano, rf 4 1 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 G3 .. KS .. H7 .. KS .. ..
Hourai, lf 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 F7 .. KS .. G6 .. F8 .. ..
Motonishi, 2b 4 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 F6 .. .. G5 .. S8 .. S8 ..
Komada, 1b 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. F7 .. G3 .. .. .. .. ..
Kakiuchi, 1b 2 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. S8 .. S7 ..
Ohmiya, c 2 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. S7 .. S7 .. .. .. .. ..
Ichikawa, pr-c 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 .. .. .. .. .. b3 .. BB ..
H.Satoh, 3b 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. KC .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
K.Suzuki, 3b 2 0 2 3 0 0 1 0 0 .. .. .. S7 .. s9 .. D9 ..
Ashizawa, dh 4 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 .. f2 .. F7 .. F4 .. S1 ..
Muraoka, ss 4 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. F6 .. G4 .. G6 S9 ..
Yashiki, cf 4 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. S7 .. G6 .. G4 G5 ..

Total 33 6 12 6 4 1 1 1 0

Tsuno 3 11 0 0 2 0 3 0 0
Y.Satoh 1 5 0 0 2 0 0 0 0
Ono 1.2 8 2 2 3 0 0 0 1
Matsunuma 1 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Niura 0.1 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Yagisawa 0.1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ikegaya 0 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0
Yokoda 0.2 6 3 3 4 1 0 0 0

Nishizaki 1 4 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Masumoto 2 10 2 2 2 2 0 1 0
Saotome 1 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Kohno 0.2 3 1 1 1 0 0 0 0
Ozaki 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Murata 1.1 5 0 0 0 1 3 1 0
Awano 2 6 0 0 0 1 1 0 0
Ishige 1 4 0 0 1 1 0 0 0

I was also a bit weirded out seeing Ken Suzuki playing in this league given that I swear I just saw him at Jingu in a Yakult uniform a few weeks ago, but whatever. He had a pretty big cheering section of Swallows fans anyway.

If you know who more than half of the guys are in this game are, then you're an even bigger dork than me. :)

Okay, more tomorrow. I promise.