This past week or so has been a blur. On Sunday I originally had plans to go to the Giants-Dragons game at the Tokyo Dome, but those fell through. I could have gone to Yokohama for the Carp-Baystars game, but skipped that because the Carp fell out of contention and it was unlikely I'd get to see Yuki Saitoh pitching, PLUS I am EXTREMELY ANGRY at the Yokohama front office for getting rid of Takuro Ishii (I'd rant more about it here, but I'm not sure I have all the details straight), so I see no reason to give them any money to watch their games any more this year. I'll miss Sign Guy, and getting to see Uchikawa and Murata win batting titles, but that's about it.
But, I had seen news on the Fighters website that they were going to have a kouhakusen (red-white split squad) practice game at Kamagaya on Sunday! Now THAT sounded like fun!
So I emailed some Fighters friends, it sounded like a lot of people were going to go, so I would go too. Good thing, too -- tickets went on sale at 10am and the stadium opened at 11am, for a 1pm game, and I arrived around 10:40 to find that my friends had bought me a ticket AND saved me a spot at the front of the line. Knowing the Kamagaya "boss" is definitely a bonus :)
We ran into the stadium and staked out a front row section over the third-base dugout, got out our cameras, and went totally snap-happy, because oh, what a wonderful sight beheld us on the field! ALL the Fighters were out there! Top players, minor-league players, old guys, young guys, foreign guys, you name it! I know some people question my dedication to the team because I also sometimes cheer for other teams, but if you could have seen my face light up when I saw the Fighters working out... I just kept babbling the Japanese version of "OMFG THIS IS SO COOL!" over and over again.
I went up to the bullpen just to see if anyone was out there, and oh man, I saw DARVISH! And Hisashi Takeda! But the minute I saw Darvish I ran back down, grabbed my friend Hiromi, who is the world's biggest Darvish fan, and said "BULLPEN! DARVISH! NOW!! COME ON COME ON COME ON!" So we both ran up there, giggling like schoolgirls, and went to watch him throw, and take photos, and all. To see the bullpen you have to look through two fences, but that's okay:
Another friend of mine found me, and a bit after that Hiromi said "hey, I just saw Sweeney-pitcher go by, you should go talk to him," so I ran down to the dugout and yelled "HEY! BRIAN SWEENEY! WHAT'S UP??"
Sweeney, who is both the nicest guy on the planet AND apparently not entirely sick of me stalking him yet, looked up and was like "oh hi! how are you?" and I said "great! congratulations! are you psyched for the playoffs?" and he said "hell yeah!" We chatted for a few minutes... about the playoffs (I said I'd do my best to go to Osaka to watch the team), about practicing (apparently he and the other foreigners were headed back to Sapporo that evening, and there would be another Kouhakusen in Sapporo on Wednesday), about Kamagaya (he spent a few weeks there during the 2007 season when he got sent down, so it was interesting to be back, but DAMN is it a pain to get there from Tokyo, which I fully agreed), and about sleeping late (neither of us are morning people, so we were lamenting having to get up super-early to get to Kamagaya). I asked him if he'd pitch today as usual, and he said no, just bullpen throwing -- he was actually going to go do some fielding practice, too. Which he ran off to do at that point. It was awesome and I took some photos of him.
As usual, a bunch of people were like "Wait, are you friends with him?" and I'm like "not exactly, but he knows who I am since I'm probably the only totally crazy AMERICAN Fighters fan who follows the team around the country, so he is nice enough to talk to me." They were like "Yeah! He always seems like such a nice guy! What were you talking about, anyway?" and I said "Err... actually... nothing in particular." Which was (mostly) true. "I told him good luck and all that stuff."
Brian Sweeney takes fielding practice.
So I hope the Brian Sweeney fans out there will be happy to get an update!
After that I mostly just ran around and took pictures. I went back and forth between the first base side and third base side a few times; my friends were all sitting on the third base side, but the first base side was a lot better for taking pictures. All of the pitchers were out there by the first-base bullpen during BP, and then during fielding practice they had different groups at different positions, so Botts and Sledge were at first with Sho Nakata, which was pretty funny. Kaneko and Kensuke and Hajime Miki and Takaguchi and some others were taking practice throwing to first base from second, and so on.
Golden Boy Sho Nakata tries to multitask.
Micheal Nakamura hanging out with Brian Sweeney by the bullpen.
Masaru Takeda explains it all.
Yoshinori Tateyama, sittin' pretty.
Sledge tries to teach Sho Nakata about fielding. I'd love to hear THAT conversation...
Jason Botts taking grounders at first base.
Makoto Kaneko at second base.
And Kensuke Tanaka.
Shugo Fujii. I really want to nickname him "Shaggy", but I get this feeling nobody will get it.
Shinji Takahashi has unnaturally white and straight teeth. I wonder if he took advice from Shinjo.
Kensuke Tanaka again. I don't usually get to see him so close up!
Terrmel Sledge heads in from fielding practice.
The first-base side stands.
The third-base side stands.
I ran into my friend Minako and her husband by the first-base fence. Mina was encouraging me to cheer the gaijin players, and so when Micheal Nakamura came by she nudged me so I was like "hey Micheal, good luck" and he waved, and then when Ryan Glynn walked by, I waved at him and shouted, "hey Ryan, what's up?"
He looked up and waved back. "Hey, it's you! I read your interview with Seguignol!"
I nearly fainted. "REALLY?"
"Uhh.... thanks! Wow! Uh, good luck! Congrats on the playoffs!" I said, as he walked off.
Minako's like "What did he say? Something about Seguignol?"
I tried to explain, but since my heart was beating in my throat, I think I stumbled over the words. Most of the Fighters fans I know think I'm totally nuts anyway, although I think most of them think it's in a good way.
The players, well, I *know* they think I'm completely nuts.
Since there were no more interesting people to take photos of on the field, I made the mistake then of going to get food. The line was HUGE, around 12:30pm, and it took a while to get through. I wanted yakisoba, and believe it or not, the person in front of me bought the last one they had prepared, so they were like "err... well... we will have more soon... if you want to wait..." So I got yakitori. Which is good, but which makes your fingers extremely messy for taking photos if you're not careful, and naturally I'm not. I was washing my hands when they announced the starting lineups.
I think this is why I never went to Kamagaya on a weekend before -- too crowded. Weekdays are so nice and relaxed!
As it is, the White Fighters' starter was Kazuhito Tadano, so my friends and I held up the "多田野" poster I brought from a few months ago. That was cool. I'm a big Tadano fan.
The starter for the Red Fighters was Shaggy Shugo Fujii:
The managers assembled on folding chairs behind some nets placed behind home plate to watch the action, right on the field.
And well, here, I'll type in my scorecard so you can get an idea of who played and how they did. The game was only 7 innings, and a bunch of special exhibition rules were in place, which is why you see things like the first baseman becoming the DH and other such things:
Sunday, October 05, 2008 - Fighters Town Kamagaya
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
Red Fighters 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 6 1
White Fighters 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 2 9 0
Red Fighters AB R H RB K BB SH SB E 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
K.Tanaka, 2b 2 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 KS .. S9 .. .. .. ..
Miki, 2b 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. S9 .. ..
Kudoh, cf 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 G6 .. d4 .. F8 .. ..
Tsuboi, lf 2 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 KS .. .. KS .. .. ..
Murata, ph-lf 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. F7 .. ..
Sledge, 1b-dh 3 1 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 .. D9 .. KS .. KS ..
Takahashi, c 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. G4 .. S8 .. F6 ..
Watanabe, c 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Koyano, 3b 3 0 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 .. S7 .. S8 .. F9 ..
Oda, dh 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 .. F8 .. BB .. .. ..
Ichikawa, pr-1b 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. KS
Konta, rf 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 .. KS .. F9 .. .. ..
Ugumori, rf 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. F9
M.Kaneko, ss 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. .. KS .. .. .. ..
Yoh, ss 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. G5 .. F9
White Fighters AB R H RB K BB SH SB E 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Morimoto, cf 3 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 KS .. F8 .. S7 .. ..
Satoh, rf 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. KS
Inada, 3b-1b 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 S9 .. G6 .. b5 .. G3
Inaba, rf 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 KC .. F7 .. .. .. ..
Y.Kaneko, lf 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. HP .. KS
Botts, dh 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 G6 .. .. G5 F9 .. ..
Itoi, lf-rf-cf 3 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. F7 .. D8 KS .. ..
Tsuruoka, c 3 1 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 .. H7 .. S7 .. G6 ..
Iiyama, ss 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. S9 .. F9 .. F8 ..
Takaguchi, 2b 3 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. S7 .. S9 .. F7 ..
Nakata, 1b-3b 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. G6 .. G6 .. D7 ..
Red Fighters IP BF H HR K BBH RA ER
Fujii 2 9 4 1 2 0 1 1
Sakamoto 2 9 3 0 0 0 1 1
Miyanishi 2 9 1 0 1 1 0 0
Itoh 1 3 0 0 2 0 0 0
White Fighters IP BF H HR K BBH RA ER
Tadano 1 3 0 0 2 0 0 0
Toyoshima 2 8 3 0 2 0 1 1
Uemura 2 10 3 0 2 1 0 0
Kikuchi 2 6 0 0 2 0 0 0
Tadano only pitched the first inning, a 1-2-3 inning, striking out two and getting a groundout. When the second inning started and they already announced "Pitcher changing to Toyoshima", we were all like "Awwwww." Some people were hoping to see his eephus pitch, I think.
Toyoshima's a cute kid (he's 18, I can call him a kid), but the first thing he did was give up a double to Terrmel Sledge, which was almost a home run, it looked kinda like Inaba somehow jumped and pulled the ball onto the field. Sledge advanced on a groundout and scored on a line-drive single to left by Eiichi Koyano. 1-0 in favor of the Red Fighters.
The weird thing about having your team playing split-squad is that it's REALLY unclear who you are supposed to be cheering for! It's both great when your players get hits AND terrible that the pitcher gave up a hit! Or great for the pitcher to get a strikeout and terrible that a batter struck out! So we were both like "Hossha-kun... ganbare!" but at the same time, "Koyano! Yay!"
There was no ouendan, for the record. Some of the usual suspects cheered for their particular favorite players -- and naturally ALL of us on the 3rd-base side were waving and yelling hello at Hichori every time he came back to the dugout -- but there was no particular organized cheering, unless you count when Hiromi and I broke into the "Jason Botts" version of Gake no Ue no Ponyo.
With one out in the bottom of the second inning, White Fighters catcher Shinya Tsuruoka came to bat. A small guy from Kagoshima, Tsuruoka's cheer song includes the line "Tsuruoka Shinya, home run, aim for a home run" and he basically almost never hits home runs (I was surprised to discover he actually hit one this year since he hit zero in 2007). But somehow this day he discovered some hidden power, and BAM, amazingly, he sent a home run soaring over the left-field wall. 1-1. People were laughing and cheering... and yelling things like "PLEASE DO THAT IN THE REAL GAMES TOO!"
Yuuji Iiyama singled to right, and then Takaguchi singled to left. And well, it took Tsuboi a bit to get the ball in from left, so Iiyama tried to make it to third base, and was thrown out. Oops. Takaguchi made it to second on the play.
The funniest moment of the game (for me, anyway) happened next. Sho Nakata was up to bat and he got out to a 0-1 count, and then hit this hiiiiiigh towering fly ball to right field, and Konta ran to get it, and I swear, one of my friends (I forget who) yelled, without thinking, "OTOSE!" ("Drop it!")
And sure enough, Konta got the ball... and dropped it. We were all laughing for a while about how she jinxed Konta.
Sho-kun grounded out to short anyway, but it was pretty amusing nonetheless.
Tsuruoka also batted in what would be the winning run of the game in the 4th inning, singling off Yataro Sakamoto, to make that final score of 2-1. If there was a game hero for the day, it would certainly be Tsuruoka.
But, in the end, there wasn't, because it was just an exhibition game. It ended with basically very little ceremony at all; Youhei Kaneko struck out, and Jason Botts walked back to the dugout from the on-deck circle.
I suppose you could call this "Ironically Batless Takahito Kudoh"?
Shinya Tsuruoka high-fiving Yuuji Iiyama, after hitting the home run.
Atsunori Inaba in the on-deck circle.
Sledge has a weird batting stance.
Hichori being all goofy over at third base.
After the game, pretty much every fan there wanted to get on a bus and get back to civilization, so the line was insanely long. While hanging out with a bunch of people, a spontaneous plan to go to Yakiniku Erika (the restaurant run by Hichori's parents) emerged, and so I ended up going there for the evening. We watched the Eagles-Softbank game and Iwakuma winning, and then the tail end of the Tigers-Swallows game, and it was altogether a fairly fantastic day overall. Fighters fans rule.
This Sunday morning I'm going to get on a train to Osaka and see the Fighters in the Pacific League playoffs, at the Osaka Dome. I CANNOT WAIT.