Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Game Report: Dragons @ Swallows - Whither Ouendan?

Because it obviously wasn't enough for me to spend the afternoon watching Yakult's farm team play up in Urawa, I headed down to Meiji Jingu Stadium to watch Yakult's top team play against the Chunichi Dragons in the evening.

Okay, just kidding. I'd been planning to go to this game for quite some time, although the big question on my mind was, naturally: whither ouendan?

See, a couple of weeks ago there was a big deal when a couple of Chunichi ouendan groups that might have possibly had some yakuza ties got banned from all Dragons games and their cheering privileges revoked. In protest of this, and in some form of solidarity, many OTHER Chunichi groups decided that they would ALSO not lead cheers. So for a while when I'd watch the nightly news, the Chunichi sections were awfully quiet. Eerily so. Where were the trumpets? The drums?

The answer is: I don't know, but you can't stop the fans from yelling. That much is certain.

At Jingu on Sunday night, there was definitely some sort of ouendan group -- I only saw maybe three different leaders -- but they were out there and they were getting the crowd to yell, mostly in unison. They didn't have drums or trumpets, though, just one guy in front with a happi jacket and a really loud whistle. Now, Jingu always seems to have this issue with everyone getting out of sync, but things were actually mostly good with this acapella cheering for the most part...

...until we got to a point that called for chance music.

For those that don't know, the Dragons have three main chance music themes:
1) Uchimakure, which actually HAS words although most people don't sing them, they just bang sticks a lot until the part where we all yell "utte, utte, utte, utte, utte utte uchimakure!"
2) Nerai Uchi, which is pretty much a trumpet melody with people occasionally yelling "HEY!" between lines of it, and a little bit of "let's go let's go [name]", and then everyone singing "NERAI UCHI" after yet another fanfare.
3) uhh... I dunno what you actually call the third one but I think it's technically named "Get Get Victory". And it's basically a whole bunch of fanfares with people banging sticks for like 4-5 stanzas, then "GOGO [name], GOGO [name], kattobase [name]!"

So in case it isn't obvious, when your chance music theme is 90% trumpet fanfares and 10% people yelling things, it's really not going to work without, well, trumpets.

But, even when we did Uchimakure -- the one that is most doable -- thanks to not having drums to keep everyone in time, you ended up with, at any time, the following happening:
- 40% of the people were yelling "utte! utte! utte!" completely randomly
- 30% of the people were singing "ai to kibou no, yume wo dakishime..."
- 20% of the people were just banging cheer sticks and being unsure of what was going on
- 10% of the people were looking around confused trying to figure out how to catch up to the general crowd and/or the surrounding people

Aside from that, though, things were pretty good, even without trumpets. During the Tyrone Woods fanfare, basically, people just did "clap-clap-clap T!" over and over, with a few people actually singing the song behind it. (If only I had a kazoo... I swear...) And in general, since Japanese people seem to be fairly in tune, it wasn't a problem to sing the other player songs without trumpets and drums and all.

Though, my subgoal for the evening was to learn Norihiro Nakamura's new cheer (I'm not sure how many people know this, but ALL YEAR last year the song for him was just the "player we haven't bothered making a song for" song), and Kazuhiro Wada's. Wada's I actually managed to start picking up after 2-3 times; it's a little tricky but it's got a followable rhythm. Norihiro's, however, has a FANFARE which was completely impossible to pick up because nobody was ever in sync for it (I even took a video with my little camera to get the sound, and on my video, you can hear how one group finishes, then a second or two later the other group finishes). Oh well, I'll get them soon enough I'm sure. (You can see the lyrics here; I'd like to do a Dragons ouenka post sometime when I have, you know, time.)

Anyway, whatever. The outfield was FULL OF PEOPLE yelling and singing, and as it turns out I managed to find a seat in the middle of a bunch of really nice people (and down the row from another crazy Morino fan). And oh, there was a game, too, to go with all the yelling. Honest. Yakult's starter was the young sometimes-hotshot Tatsuyoshi Masubuchi (he turns 20 next week), and the Dragons put up Kazuki Yoshimi, who has been more than outstanding this year, nearly untouchable. Exciting!

In the top of the second inning, Kazuhiro Wada led off by walking, and then Morino came to bat for the first time. I got up and held up my Morino towel and yelled "MORINOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" A few people around me laughed (this is normal). So we yelled a bunch of cheers ("bring us a home run!", "smash the ball to right field!" etc), did his cheer song, and then BAM! He hit a home run into right field!!!

So I start cheering like crazy, and everyone starts high-fiving everyone around them as the players round the bases, and someone behind me said "Wow, you must be really happy! Good for Morino!" 2-0!

Yoshimi was perfect through three innings, striking out 5 in that time as well. Then Keizo Kawashima -- that is, former Fighter and all-around little bouncy dude Keizo Kawashima -- came up to bat and hit a home run off Yoshimi that pretty much landed in like the second row in left field. Sheesh. 2-1. A bit after that Aoki grounded out to first and Tyrone actually got the ball and ran in with it, and the guy next to me was like "Wow, now THAT's a rare sight, eh?"

Morino led off the top of the 6th by singling! Then he advanced to second on Norihiro's groundout, and advanced to third on a wild pitch during Tanishige's at-bat, with Tanishige ultimately getting hit by a pitch. Ow. Anyway, Yoshimi comes up to bat... and they do a SUICIDE SQUEEZE! Awesome! Yoshimi bunts up the first base line, Morino comes crashing home, Tanishige runs to second, and in the meantime Adam Riggs runs in from first to get the ball and throw it home, but Morino slides in under the tag! Wheeeee! 3-1! That ends up being curtains for Masubuchi and instead we get another former Fighter, Jun Hagiwara, on the mound (except that unlike Kawashima, Hagiwara usually kind of sucks). Araki hits a pop fly out to right and then Ibata singles. Tanishige attempts to score from second on Ibata's single... and he makes it to the plate around the same time as the ball, and is tagged out. Doh!

Everyone is in pretty good spirits as we hit the top of the 7th and our "Lucky 7" time:

The balloons go a-flying in the Jingu night.

In the top of the 7th, Lee leads off with a single, and then Tyrone Woods hits this monster shot into centerfield -- it ends up not being a home run, but bounces off the back wall. However, Aoki is fast and Tyrone is slow, and thus the ball actually arrives at second base a split second before Tyrone does, and he's out trying to stretch into a double. Oops. Wada hits a liner that Hiroyasu "Beavis" Tanaka is lucky enough to catch, and then Morino is up to bat again, and I stand up and yell...

...at which point the ouendan come up with yet another crazy stunt. The leader yells instructions, most of which I can't hear from where I am, but he says "Sore wa daisakusen!" and everyone yells "DAISAKUSEN!!!" ("Big plan!") Then they're all silent. The ball gets pitched and as it flies to home plate they all yell "OI!" Then everyone laughs. Naturally, on the next pitch they try it again. "DAISAKUSEN! ... ... ... ... OI!" Repeat about six times until everyone's laughing too hard to continue, and Morino hits a pop out to shortstop anyway.

Somehow most of the stadium sings along to Tokyo Ondo in the middle of the seventh inning, although I get the impression the words the people around me were singing were not, erm, the real words.

Aoki leads off the bottom of the 7th with a double, and then two players later (including a superb running catch by Morino in shallow center -- "there's your boy again!"), Shinya "Captain Japan" Miyamoto also hits a double up the right-field line, scoring Aoki. 3-2.

Yoshimi batted for himself even in the top of the 8th inning, and also pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the 8th, including when Takeuchi hit a liner back towards the mound. Yoshimi pretty much put up his glove hand and ducked and somehow managed to end up with the ball in his hand. Crazy.

Masahiro Araki (!?) led off the top of the 9th with a home run which also went about two rows back in left field, off another former Fighters pitcher, Takehiko Oshimoto. :( 4-2. And then for the bottom of the 9th, we got to see Hitoki Iwase pitch, which naturally brought on even more yelling from everyone -- at first lots of "ganbare Iwase!!" but then we went into a chant of "ato hitori!!" ("One more batter left!") when Aaron Guiel was up to bat with two outs. (Yeah, you could say we're ripping off Hanshin fans or whatever. Who cares?) We also started a chant of "ato ikkyu!" ("one more pitch!") when it was up to two strikes, and then... and then there ended up being something like three balls and a few fouls until finally Guiel hit a pop fly out to right field and that was the game!! Dragons win, 4-2!

Everyone yelled and cheered and sang and was generally pretty happy out in the left field bleachers.

"Morino's gonna be game hero, isn't he?" I remarked. "He hit that awesome homerun in the first inning and then scored the other big squeeze run..."
"Probably," said the people around me.
I thought it was great how last time I came to Jingu and cheered for Chunichi and went nuts as a Morino fan, Morino was the game hero that day. So it would be fitting to have it happen a second time.

But, it was not to be.

Kazuki Yoshimi, your game hero.

In all honesty, though, I can't blame them for making Yoshimi the game hero. He kicked butt and has continued to kick butt so far this year. If he keeps it up he's going to end up having a year somewhat like Naruse's last year, the difference being that Yoshimi actually throws in the low 90's and isn't left-handed.

We all stayed around in the stadium singing for quite a while -- first we had to do the lineup, and several times through the Ochiai song, and then a few refrains of Moeyo Dragons, and then a song for Morino for his big home run, and another song for Araki for his home run, and then another song for Yoshimi for being game hero, and a song for Morioka for some reason I didn't catch, and then another refrain of Moeyo Dragons, and in the meantime the Jingu staff has been politely giving us all looks of "Go home" and turning off all of the stadium lights. If you can imagine what it's like when a bunch of Japanese people are trying to politely kick out a group of 2000 singing Dragons fans, that's about what we were going through.

On my way out of the stadium I was still wearing my Morino jersey and a few people came up to me and were like "Wow, you're a Morino fan?" sort of surprised, and I was like "I'm a HUGE Morino fan, I love him!" "Well, his home run today was great!" "Yeah, I am really happy about it!"

I decided to walk to Sendagaya station after the game just to prove that I could, and I only got mildly lost doing so. I did, however, avoid the craziness that is Gaienmae Station after the game, so I think it worked out for the best.

So, now it is Monday night (ok, Tuesday morning) as I write this, and in the morning I'm heading to Nagoya for the day! Yay! I'll be going to the Nagoya Dome store and trying to keep myself from buying a ton of stuff, and wandering around Nagoya a bit, and then heading out to Gifu to meet up with Jeff-the-photogeek and his wife and go see the Dragons take on the Baystars at Nagaragawa Stadium, for one of their "play in random local other places" games. Then Tuesday night I'll be taking the Moonlight Nagara night train back to Tokyo. I can't wait -- I'll get to see a new stadium AND try out a new train line! (Although I'll probably be completely zonked when I go to see the Fighters play in Chiba on Wednesday night -- and then Thursday I'm heading up to Hokkaido...)

Golden Week is awesome.

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