Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Weekend in Fukuoka

If I try to write full entries about all this I never will, so here's me trying to summarize everything quickly, since I need to get on a plane back to Tokyo in the morning so I can be at work tomorrow afternoon. But, basically, I have now completed a tour of seeing all current 12 teams at their home stadiums -- when I tried to do it two years ago I left off Sapporo and Fukuoka. Now I guess I need to work on minor league parks, or independent leagues, maybe...

Sunday afternoon -- Marines 2, Hawks 3 at Yahoo Dome

First, I need to profusely thank batting coach Frank Ramppen for leaving me a ticket to this game. The Chiba Lotte Marines have been very good to me this year despite that I still refuse to stop being a Fighters fan first and foremost. So I went into the stadium, and despite my seat being out on the 3rd base line, I snuck down to the netting behind home plate during batting practice. I got Paul Pupo's attention and waved and yelled "PAUL!!! FRANK!!! BOBBY!!! HI THERE! THANK YOU!!!! GOOD LUCK!!!!"

Paul pointed up at me and Bobby and Frank waved to me. The people around me were like "Whoa! Bobby-manager waved to her!"

I wandered around a bit and took pictures, talked to some people (met a crazy Hawks fan named Yukawa, she was really funny), got a Kawasaki bento for lunch (it's labelled as "most popular lunch for women"), and watched the game. I was sitting with this family of people, where there were three boys that were all Hawks fans and the parents were all Marines fans. I was wearing a Watanabe #31 shirt and doing the Lotte cheers.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka led off the game with a home run off Tsuyoshi Wada. No joke. Then the next three batters struck out. The Hawks tied it up in the bottom of the first, and the game stayed at 1-1 for a loooong time, with the Marines finally going up 2-1 in the top of the 8th by essentially scraping together a run. As for Shunsuke, he almost got another complete game, but then with one out in the ninth, Hiroki Kokubo hit a home run over the centerfield wall to bring it to 2-2 and make the game go into extra innings, and I pretty much figured the Marines were doomed from that point on.

Oh yeah, and Shunsuke pitched his 1000th inning in that 8th inning as well, and they gave him flowers for it.

The Hawks' Mahara is back from the dead and pitched a decent inning, and Marines Yusuke Kawasaki also pitched a decent inning (now that I have stalked him, he will do well. Seriously) but then Ogino gave up the ship in the bottom of the 12th. Sigh.

One of the vendors came up to me in the top of the 9th and looked at me and took a deep breath and said in English, "Excuse me, would you like some lemon chu-hai?" and I said "No, that's okay", then told him in Japanese, "Your English is very good, perfect, I'm just not thirsty." He laughed and moved on.

Speaking of English, the Hawks have this blonde announcer/emcee named Max who does all of these announcements there, about 70% in Japanese and about 30% in English. His Japanese is fluent, although he speaks kind of funny at times, I think it's on purpose though. "Max Time", they call his segments. I'm not really sure what's up with them, if I have any readers who actually live in Kyushu, feel free to clue me in. (I see some stuff about "DJ Max" on their site but...) It's a bit weird to me because I couldn't believe the sheer amount of "OMFG A GAIJIN" treatment I got this weekend in Fukuoka, seriously.

After the game, to let off steam, I went down to the beach near the Dome, walked around a bit, and took some pictures. This one came out with an odd perspective, but I like it:


Sunday Night -- Mint Fukuoka

Yeah, look, I couldn't think of a better excuse to wander around the Tenjin area of downtown Fukuoka, so I went to hunt down their Mint store. A short review of it would be that it's nothing special, they did have some great old cards (saw a Bob Horner Calbee 1987 card for 1000 yen and cracked up), and a TON of Hawks stuff, naturally. I bought a Fukubukuro for 1000 yen since it's been a while and inside was a Carp pack, a Hawks pack, a Fighters pack, a normal BBM 2008 pack, AND a Takahiro Arai numbered 491/500 gold signature card from 2003 BBM 2nd. Nice. I got another Fighters pack and man, the first one I opened had Tadano on top and the second had Imanari. Two of my favorite guys! Win!

Then I wandered around downtown Fukuoka for a while. Ended up in the underground mall maze and found a sushi place and tried some random stuff I'd never heard of, all of which was good, at least.

I got home and saw the last inning of the Dragons-Tigers game on TV, and saw Iwase close it out, and MASA 199!!!!!!! I'm so, so, so excited for him, and so glad I got to see him pitch this year!

Monday afternoon - Gannosu, Dragons farm team vs. Hawks farm team

You know how CJ Nitkowski occasionally complains about how much the minor leagues suck here? Well, he's totally not kidding. Dear god, Gannosu stadium officially ranks near the top of my "I went to the middle of freaking nowhere for baseball" list. I thought Fighters Town Kamagaya was pretty bad since it's like in the middle of fields and farms 2km from the station, but at least Kamagaya station has a STATION. You know, with station-y things like bathrooms, and ticket gates, and an office, and buses and taxis. Gannosu stadium is like 15 minutes from the station, and Gannosu station is like... a bench on either side, with a box that says "please put your ticket here". There is basically nothing near there. There's a taxi "station" a bit down the road and it basically says "here's a phone number to call if you need a taxi". It all looks like it's straight out of the 1960's there.

Which is actually COOL in a way.

But not on a day when it's 36 degrees out (that's 97 to you guys on the other side of the pond). I walked to the stadium and arrived just as the game was starting, and sat down on the Dragons side. The people were at least nice -- one girl chatted with me since she's from Aichi, and is a big Masa fan, and I told her I love Morino and today was his birthday and all, heh. She asked me whether I like baseball better in Japan or in America. I told her Japan; she couldn't believe it, but I was like, "It's more fun here, cheering for teams. And it doesn't feel like it's all about money. I enjoy going to baseball games here more than I did in America."

I took pictures of many young Dragons players, especially the Donoue brothers, and I also saw Jason Standridge start the game for the Hawks and Mike Restovich was the Hawks DH. I couldn't stand the heat after about an hour and a half though -- my towel was completely drenched with sweat and I had drunk both bottles of water I brought. I did get up and go over to the Hawks side for a bit on my way out but so many kids were like "omfg there's a gaijin" that I just gave up and left. I had hoped to see CJ Nitkowski and say hello, but after reading his blog that he accidentally put the wrong gas in his car this morning, it's probably a good thing I didn't see him.

Also, old men yelling rude things in Japanese at foreign players, and then justifying it with "He doesn't understand me anyway", really piss me off.

Oh, also, just as a side note, I was astounded that Gannosu Stadium actually DID have one western toilet stall in the bathroom (even the Yahoo Dome toilets are primarily Japanese-style, I swear), BUT it had a huge spider web in it, complete with huge spider. Gross. It reminded me of summer camp.

It took me over an hour to get back to the hotel here -- after walking back to the station and literally drinking two more bottles of tea and sports drink on the way -- I had to take the JR Kashii line from Gannosu to Kashii, transfer to a real train on the Kagoshima line to Hakata, then at Hakata transfer to the subway line, get off at Tojinmachi, and then I took a taxi here, because I realized I had all the symptoms of heatstroke going on -- big headache, dizziness, big thirst, etc, so walking 20 minutes in the sun seemed like a dumb call. I spent an hour or two at the hotel just trying to cool down and rehydrate and all, then headed over to the Yahoo Dome.

Note: The JAL Seahawk Resort Hotel is really AWESOME if you want to come to Fukuoka just to see baseball games. It is not so great if you want to do OTHER things around town and don't have a car, because the nearest subway stop is 20 minutes away, and even the buses take like 30 minutes to get to Hakata station, so I've taken more taxis this weekend than in my entire time living in Japan, I think. But seriously, it's a very nice hotel and there's plenty of stuff to do nearby, and it's neat to be able to just walk back and collapse after a Hawks game without having to brave any transit systems or whatnot.

Monday night, Fighters 10, Hawks 2 at Yahoo Dome

So yeah, I got here around 4:20 right when the gates were opening, went to the left field unreserved seats, which is essentially the "opposing team cheering section". Fukuoka has the same thing going on as Sapporo, where they're the local team on ANOTHER FREAKING ISLAND. So they kind of own the baseball fandom here, and thus 95% of the stadium is Hawks territory. I didn't expect to see a lot of Fighters fans down here, to be honest. But, I came in and saw other people wearing Fighters gear, and asked if there were free seats, and a lady was like "Yah, come sit here in the second row", so I did.

I went down to the top of the outfield wall to take pictures of pitchers. I saw Tadano and Darvish playing catch with Miyanishi, which was fun enough, but then the CRAZIEST thing happened. I yelled down to Brian Sweeney as he was walking by and waved. "HEY BRIAN!!"

He looked up. And even weirder, he walked over towards the outfield wall to talk to me! "Hey," he said, "I know you, don't I?"

"You do?"

"Yeah! You're the blog chick, aren't you!"

"Yeah, I am!" I said, thinking to myself, WAIT A MINUTE, THE FIGHTERS GUYS KNOW ABOUT ME AND MY BLOG? "I'm Deanna."

"Nice to meet you," he said. "Don't you live in Tokyo?"

"Well, yeah," I said.

"What the heck are you doing HERE?"

"Oh, you know, the usual, stalking you guys around the country. I'm going to Sendai next weekend too."

"Is this your first time here?"

"Yeah. Well, yesterday was..."

"Well, great, enjoy the game today!" he said.

"You too! Good luck! Thanks a lot!" I said, as he waved and ran off.

I turn around, my heart pounding, and there's literally a whole group of people (in Hawks jerseys) gaping at me. I kind of blushed and nodded. An older lady smiled and said to me in Japanese, "Is he your friend?"

"No, that is the first time I ever talked to him!" I replied in Japanese. "I write a website about Japanese baseball and the Fighters, so..."

"Wow, you speak great Japanese! And great English! Good for you!"

That was REALLY surprising. But cool. But surprising. Even hours later I'm still kind of stunned at myself for actually talking to him, and even more stunned that he knew who I was! Wow! (I mean, sure, I'm sure they all think I'm a total nutcase, but you know, in Japan, travelling halfway across the country to cheer for your team is a perfectly NORMAL way to be a sports fan. Really.)

I ran off and wandered around the stadium some more, got a Wada bento for dinner this time, and settled down to cheer the opening lineups and whatnot.

The Fighters got off to a super-quick 3-0 lead after the first inning, and it just escalated from there. We even got to see MAKOTO KANEKO HIT A HOME RUN in the 6th which was seriously awesome and surprising. The Fighters just totally kicked butt and murdered Hawks starter Jeremy Powell, whereas Fighters starter Masaru Takeda, despite running into a few bumpy points, did awesome overall, 7 innings, striking out 8, walking 2. The lady sitting next to me was a huge Masaru fan so she was super-happy.

Also, we got to do the Inaba Jump, and lots of fun cheers, and it was just generally pretty awesome being out in the Fighters cheering section and cheering my guts out. AND I was on the big screen TWICE with crazy Fighters fans during the Lucky 7 singing/etc. I was the only one in total Hichori Green, so I really stood out. And I also got a text message from Hiromi like "How's Fukuoka? I just saw you on TV!" I wonder if I can get ahold of that somehow :)

There was a crazy old guy they were calling "Ham Oyaji" who was just plain nuts and would run around and yell a lot despite not being officially ouendan. He came over and talked to me for a while about my scorecard. Oh yeah, and Shinjo's parents or godparents or something like that were sitting a few rows behind us -- he's from Fukuoka afterall.

After the game we all went outside to do the postgame cheering. That seems common at the Yahoo Dome, the Hawks fans did that on Sunday too. Was fun though. The ladies who were sitting around me during the game said to please come back and cheer with them again someday, so we'll see.

I'm like the Jolly Green Giant-hater.

Now uh... err... well, I need to wake up in like 6 hours to fly back to Tokyo. Yikes! I promise there'll be lots of pictures and videos sometime.

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