I went to the Farm Team Fighters Festival this afternoon down in Kamagaya. Despite that the team is in the midst of spring training, and the top team even had a game this afternoon (where they beat the Dragons 4-3!), the farm team all came out for a big fan event this afternoon. Kamagaya is in Middle-of-Nowhere, Chiba Prefecture, and the Fighters Town Kamagaya stadium and practice complex have been there for about ten years now. I wrote about it when I wandered down there a few months ago.
First thing I learned is that getting there in the morning is a good idea. Not because of the event start time or anything (the opening ceremonies with the players was actually around 1:30pm, a little bit after I arrived), but because they will only sell/giveout passes for on-field events and for signings and picture-takings during the morning. (At least that's what they told me everywhere I asked... "sorry, we were only selling them this morning"). Since I didn't bring any markers with me and I'm not good at being pushy at these events, I didn't get anything signed. Oh well.
Second thing I learned is that Ryota Imanari is all levels of awesome and is officially going to be my favorite Fighters farm team player from now on. If the fact that he's a tall skinny catcher from Urawa Gakuin wasn't enough in the first place, he's also like another Hichori type, being silly and goofy all the time.
Anyway, here's what I saw/did, in a semi-photopost. I may add more pictures, I just cropped a few to put up quickly:
I arrived at the stadium around 1:25pm. They had a stage set up but I could hear that there was stuff going on inside the actual stadium area, so I pretty much just went there.
It was opening ceremonies! They announced all the players on the ni-gun Kamagaya team, and one by one each player came out, shook hands with Cubby the Mascot, and bowed to the fans. In some cases they did vague other things. Imanari came out somersaulting, wearing a ski mask and pretended to be some sort of Power Ranger. And Ugumori came out holding the Fighters poster he modelled for over the winter. Things like that.
There were a few opening speeches, including one by Shintaro Ejiri and Takayuki Kanamori. I love Ejiri, I'm a little sad to see him on the farm team, hopefully he can get back up to speed soon and go back to being the 7 in the Ejiri-Hisashi-Micheal bullpen ending combo.
There were several people there in Athletics shirts and a lot of us cheered when Kazuhito Tadano was called out. He was wearing high socks, too, which was pretty spiffy. Anyway, I was really glad about that because I feel like I was overly hyper about Tadano being signed but I wasn't really sure how Japanese fans felt about it. Fortunately, they seem to be as enthusiastic as I am:
There was a Quiz competition thing, which started with like 1000 people, and what would happen is, players would mention some detail about themselves and people had to decide True or False by moving to one side or another of this big rope, and the wrong people left the field, until there were a handful left to be winners. It started off with Tadano saying "My hometown is Chiba -- true or false?" which I put up my arms in a big X as did a bunch of others in the stands (he's from Tokyo), but we weren't playing. I guessed right on a lot of the questions (even silly things like Oda asking "My car is black. Is that true?"), but it's probably a good thing I wasn't down there on the field, I'd be too nervous.
They started lining people up for some weird relay races on the field and at that point I decided to leave the stands and go see what else was going on.
Fortunately, the first "what else" I ran into was the signing table and picture booths off to the side. UNfortunately, I found out I couldn't buy tickets to them. Which really sucked. The first signing booth had Tomoya Yagi and Keisaku Itokazu. TOMOYA YAGI! As in, the kid who was our Rookie of the Year in 2006, who won every postseason game he started last year, including that crazy 1-0 game against Kazumi Saitoh. Yes, that Yagi, sitting here at a signing booth for the farm team. Poor Yagi :(
(Tomoya Yagi, left, Keisaku Itokazu, right)
There were two photo booths where you could get your photo taken with players. One was normal with a baseball glove chair and baseball foot cushions, and the other was this weird "hinamatsuri" thing with cherry blossoms and whatever. During the first session, poor Yohei Kaneko was stuck in the cherry-blossom one (as some old lady was saying, "Oh, look how cute Yohei-kun is with all those flowers!")
I decided to go wander inside the Fighters indoor practice facility just to look around.
(People waiting to try the "struck out" 9-board.)
They had several events going on in there -- a "struck out" event which involved throwing balls at one of those 9-square boards to see how many you could knock out, there was a kids' area as well, and a speed pitch, and then something that said "ouen flag writing". I went up to that and saw many people writing messages for the Kamagaya Fighters on a big piece of cloth:
And I asked the attendant if I could write something. He said of course, go ahead, and I said "Hmm... is it ok if I write in English or in Japanese?" and he said either was ok. But so I thought for a minute about what I wanted to write, decided I wanted to write "good luck Tadano!", and so I crawled over, found an empty space on the flag, and wrote "Tadano-toushu, ganbatte!" in Japanese. I heard a guy comment, "Oh look at her, she asks if she can write in English and then can write kanji that well?" So I added in English, "You can do it!"
Another guy read that and asked me if that was how you said 'ganbatte' in English. And I said kinda, not exactly, explained a little more, then said that I had followed Tadano's career in America and that I was really, really happy the Fighters drafted him, and he said "Yeah, so were we!"
I wandered back to the sign/picture booths after that. Now at the signing table, they had Yoshihiro Satoh and Takahiro Takaguchi. (I was at Takaguchi's first top-team game ever!) Alas.
However, I saw who was sitting in the glove chair for those pictures and then I got REALLY sad that I didn't have a ticket :
I wandered back towards the stage area, where there were also a ton of tables set up with various things. Some were food tables (one lady offered me a slice of an orange to try, for example), some were goods tables (one table was selling bunches of signed Fighters stuff, they even had a Yukio Tanaka bat, waaaaah)
And then I saw the booth for the Fighters fan club...
Little did I know, but the guy sitting down actually spoke fairly fluent English, he had studied in America for college. (Seriously, I don't know for sure, but I am pretty sure that I was the only foreigner I saw all day, unless you count half-Japanese players like Dass.) At first I was just going to ask how to join and try to get a little information, but when it became clear he actually DID really speak English, then I decided what the heck, it was a good idea to sign up while I actually had someone to help me with the forms. Plus of course it turns out you can't actually pay for the thing right there, you have to give them your bank account number and stamp it with your signature hanko stamp. Which, fortunately, I actually always carry with me for some reason, although I rarely need it.
This made me realize that, actually, I probably could never have joined the Fighters fan club when I wasn't living in Japan anyway, being as you needed a Japan mailing address, Japanese phone number, and Japanese bank account, apparently, to join it.
Anyway, the fan club guy, Shohei, helped me fill out all of the forms, gave me a bunch of information, and even found out answers for me about things like "can I get a discount on tickets at Seibu and Chiba, or only at Fighters 'home' games at Tokyo Dome and Sapporo Dome?" and "can I order tickets for Sapporo Dome games from Tokyo?" and so on. So, sweet. It seems that I should also be able to order tickets for Golden Week games through the fan club... which reminds me that I really ought to get my act together on that, argh.
As it is, I talked to him a bit more later on since his English is really quite good. I think I probably babbled too much but I was just really happy and surprised to have someone to talk to in English there, even if just for a little while. I'm still quite jealous. I wish I could work for the Fighters! Or for any baseball team for that matter! I gotta get cracking on studying for the 2-kyuu again...
Anyway, I went over to the main stage to watch the mini-concert after that. They had Kentaro Hayami, the guy who recorded the "Fighters Spirits" song for one of the Fighters music CDs, singing some of the Fighters songs, which was pretty cool (and like most people there, I clapped/shouted along appropriately). About halfway through one of the songs he was joined onstage by players Imanari, Toyohashi, and Kinoshita, who danced in the background and then did a little "talkshow":
(Mini-concert. F-I-G-H-T-E-R-S! LET'S GO!)
A bit later there was an "air guitar contest". I have no better way to describe it. I'm not sure exactly how the participants got chosen, but the three aforementioned players each had two fans on their air guitar team, and performed for a little while. Imanari's team was by far the best, they kept jumping on and off the stage and dancing, and he was just plain hilarious, and they did win the contest.
(Kinoshita's air-guitar team)
(Toyoshima with mascot Cubby)
And then the event pretty much came to an end with a closing ceremony out on the field. Manager Mizukami talked for a while and there were some other speeches and a lot of "We're all aiming for Sapporo, but please come watch us play here at Kamagaya!" and so on.
Farm team manager Yoshio Mizukami.
The field, the players, the end of the day.
I bought a green-and-orange bright Kamagaya cheering towel, and then I went and asked a staff member if I could take one of the Fan Festival posters that was hanging up, and not only was she like "oh, I don't see why not, go ahead" but she went to go get me some scissors to cut off the tape holding up one of them. Wheeee. And then I went home.
Rather than get on a super-crowded bus or wait 15 minutes or 30 minutes for a less crowded bus, I decided to just walk back to Kamagaya station, which took around 20 minutes, it's a little over a mile and mostly uphill. It wasn't a bad walk, and while I was walking I finally decided what I'm going to do with my Ogasawara #2 jersey now that Shinji Takahashi is wearing #2 -- I'm going to go try to get some material and sew a big "♥ Shinji ♥" and put that over the old name. Hopefully I can find material in reasonable colors for fairly cheap, we'll see. It's depressing having this Fighters jersey that I never want to wear anymore.
Anyway, I wonder what the bus situation is normally like after games. I really do have to try to get to a Kamagaya game sometime this year, hopefully...