Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday Foto: Calbee or Not To Be

The shelf at the Sunkus had many bright snacks,
I glanced through the boxes, looked through the racks,
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a bag full of chips saying baseball is here!
My thoughts were all scattered, like crumbs on the floor,
As I purchased the goodies and bounced from the store.
Away to my workplace I flew like a flash,
Tore open the package and looked at the stash.
His bat was a-swinging, his gloves were so pink,
I knew in a moment it must be Hiroyuki Nakajima.

Seriously. Last year every time I opened a bag of Calbee pro yakyu chips I seemed to get Ogasawara's clean-shaven doppleganger, so this is a vast improvement. On the other hand, I hadn't eaten potato chips in a really long time, so this might be bad for my health. On the other hand, now that there are Calbee 2008 baseball cards, the 2008 season is officially started!

Other stuff happened today too.
Hideki Matsui got married, but he won't give any details about his new wife. Even on the Japanese news they basically showed only him, he had a wedding ring on and had a sketch of his wife and was like "sorry... she's shy, I'm shy, okay?" Apparently he had a bet with Derek Jeter about who would get married first, though, which is pretty crazy.

Masumi Kuwata decided to retire. He'll be 40 on Tuesday and has been playing baseball professionally longer than BOTH of tonight's starters in the Fighters-Seibu game (Wakui and Darvish) have been alive.

Speaking of which, the Fighters won tonight's game, but barely. It was still tied 0-0 going into the 10th inning. Darvish pitched 9 innings, and Hisashi Takeda handled the top of the 10th. Wakui continued into the bottom of the 10th. Sledge walked, Konta pinch-ran, Koyano bunted Konta over, and then they intentionally walked Itoi and Naoto Inada to get to Tsuruoka (for a double play?), except the Fighters had SECRET WEAPON SHINJI who singled home the winning run. Fighters 1, Seibu 0.

I got my plane tickets and hotel reservation for my Sapporo trip, so I'll be up there from May 1 to May 4. Woohoo!

Game Report: Red Sox vs. Yomiuri Giants - Burned, baby, burned

I went down to the Tokyo Dome on Sunday night (March 23) to see the Red Sox play against the Giants. It was a pretty bizarre experience, and sort of reminded me of when I tried the Outback restaurant in Shibuya a couple of weeks ago. Yeah, you're eating the steak and potatoes and it tastes like America, but you are still undeniably in Japan, and you can't figure out which half of your brain is rejecting the other. Even with the dudes behind you yelling "LET'S GO RED SOX" and clapping, and the announcers speaking in English, and the plethora of white guys on the field, there's still a message that flashes up for every foul ball and a pleasant Japanese female voice telling you to be careful of foul balls. And there's the drums and cheers coming from the right field stands. But wait, where's the left? Where's the balance?

Anyway, I got there about an hour early and watched some batting/fielding practice. Again, it was just plain surreal. Near me, several Giants were playing catch, such as 19-year-old rookie Hayato Sakamoto, Dark Lord Shinnosuke Abe, and Ogasawara's clean-shaven doppleganger. And further away from me, the second-string Red Sox were taking batting practice. Bobby Kielty's red hair caught my eye immediately; I wasn't aware he was on the Sox, but I'd recognize him anywhere.

Red Sox take batting practice, Giants take fielding practice.

Even the pre-game was a weird mix of normal Japanese game stuff and MLB mixed stuff. There was a flowers presentation for managers Terry Francona and Tatsunori Hara, and the ceremonial first pitch was by former Giants legend and recent HOF inductee Tsuneo Horiuchi. But then there was a big ceremony to introduce all of the lineups, and they played the Star-Spangled Banner, and Kimigayo, neither of which normally happens at games here.

Don't tell anyone, but I ended up cheering for the Giants. I'm a strong believer that there's no such thing as being completely impartial when watching a game, and in this case it seemed like Yomiuri were the underdogs. Also, I have no clue how to cheer for the Red Sox, but at least with the Giants there are nice regimented shouts and claps and all. Have I become brainwashed?

Besides, Tetsuya Utsumi is amazing. He struck out 5 Red Sox batters in a row -- and these aren't chopped liver, either, these were Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell, and JD Drew. All of these guys are star players in their own right, and Utsumi just mowed through them.

Dear Utsumi: I wish you weren't on the Giants and I wasn't morally obliged to hate you. Please switch to another team. You can bring Yoshinobu with you, too.

It wasn't clear the Giants were the underdogs at first, actually. Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield started for the Sox, and he throws slower than even most guys in Japan (he was averaging around 105 km/h), even with the movement. The Red Sox ran themselves out of the top of the 1st (Youkilis ran on Ortiz's strikeout and got caught in a rundown; Pedroia broke for home and Seung-Yeop Lee threw to the plate and got him), and then the Giants got off to a 1-0 lead in the bottom; Nioka was hit by a pitch and Ogasawara walked. Seung-Yeop Lee stretched to hit a pitch he had no right reaching and knocked it into a blooper in shallow center for a single, scoring Nioka.

The Giants got their second run in the 4th inning. Lee led off with a single, and Abe followed it up with another single. Lee should have run to third in the first place but stopped at second, until Drew fumbled the ball in the outfield so Lee ran to third anyway. Terauchi pinch-ran for Abe and stole second; but then with runners at second and third, Tani grounded out to second, Pedroia to Youkilis. Youkilis threw to third base and Lowell tagged out Terauchi for a double play, although Lee scored, so it was 2-0.

The Red Sox were scorelss in those first four innings due to Greisinger pitching the first two and the aforementioned Utsumi pitching the second two. Submariner Yushi Aida came in for the 5th and also got the Red Sox out pretty well.

But then Adrian Burnside came in to pitch the 6th inning for Yomiuri, and the floodgates opened. Youkilis led off with a single (and was pinch-run for by Moss); Ortiz struck out for the third time, but Manny Ramirez also singled (and was pinch-run for by Ellsbury). Mike Lowell walked, for bases loaded (and was pinch-run for by Lowrie). To be fair, during Lowell's at-bat, he hit a high pop fly foul in left field, and only Nioka ran for it -- not Ramirez, not Ogasawara, so it just landed. If that ball had been caught, it would have been huge -- two outs with runners at first and second is a lot better than one out with bases loaded, right?

Naturally, JD Drew came up after that and hit a 115-meter grand slam into the left field bleachers. 4-2.

A grand-slam hitter and three pinch-runners high-fiving at the plate.

The Giants never scored another run in the game, and the Red Sox kept adding to their tally. Jed Lowrie led off the 8th inning with another home run, off Tetsuya Yamaguchi. 5-2. Kielty, who replaced Drew, walked after that, and two batters later Alex Cora grounded to Sakamoto, who made a fantastic play to head off Kielty at second. But even with two outs, Kevin Cash walked, then Dustin Pedroia walked, so it was another bases-loaded situation. Brandon Moss singled, scoring Cora and Cash. 7-2.

The Red Sox added two more runs in the top of the 9th. Kiyoshi Toyoda looked good to start off with two strikeouts, but then Kielty doubled, Crisp tripled, Cora singled, and soon it was 9-2, which is where it would end.

JD Drew was game hero. He seemed sort of confused by that.

The MLBization at the Tokyo Dome was pretty surreal to me. They did a "hidden baseball under the pagoda" trick in one inning, then did the Hot Dog Race in another inning ("Relish noooooo!!") and played That Neil Diamond Song Which Shall Not Be Named in the 8th inning. And despite that the scoreboard was completely in Japanese, the announcements were all in English.

Uhh... what?

Hideki Okajima pitched the 7th inning for the Red Sox, and they played that bizarre Okie-Dokie song for him. Flashes from cameras went off around the stadium with every pitch he threw (it reminded me of being at Ichiro's record-setting game in October 2004, but that's another story). The Giants fans behind me who had been cheering for all the players suddenly reverted to yelling "Okajima!!" instead of "Ohmichi!!" which was pretty weird.

Today was Yomiuri catcher Ken Katoh's 27th birthday. Katoh came into the game to replace Abe in the top of the 5th, but his first at-bat was in the 6th inning, right after Wakefield came out of the game. There was a long pause for the pitching change, so with Katoh standing at the plate, the ouendan trumpet players played "Happy Birthday To You", and half of the stadium sang Happy Birthday to him. I thought that was really nice of them.

Another great moment was the Giabbits showing off how many tricks and stuff they can do, and the Green Monster was just bowing down to them, green with mascot envy. Or something. Later in the game the three mascots danced together to "Gettin' Jiggy With It", which was pretty surreal.

Giabbits and the Green Monster get jiggy with it.

Actually, the most surreal thing might have simply been being at a game where one team had an ouendan and the other didn't.

Or, it might have been when I nearly ran, literally, into Shigetoshi Hasegawa and his posse when I was leaving the stadium (if I was looking where I was going, I would have been more careful to see the group of guards dividing the crowd, but alas, I just wanted to ESCAPE at that point)

Another crazy thing was how they marked the left field wall and the right field wall with signs saying "328 feet". I don't think they usually even have a "100m" sign up there, so that was kind of wacky.

Anyway, man. Utsumi. He's good. So is Hayato Sakamoto. News Zero did a short interview with him, and they showed how he and Masahiro Tanaka used to play youth baseball together. They're apparently the only two 19-year-olds in pro yakyu this year, or something like that. Crazy.

[puts back on her Anti-Giants hat and Ogasawara Doppleganger Repellent]

Shimizu goes west to end the game.

See all of my game pictures here, but keep in mind that the lighting in the Tokyo Dome is AWFUL.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Law

(So it's batting .900 or so?)

Things Darvish has

A new son! Born Monday at 2:01pm in Sapporo. Congratulations to Darvish and Saeko!

Things Softbank has

A five-game winning streak to start the season. Yikes.

Things Kyuuji has

Sights set on playing his "A" game elsewhere?

Things Morino has

A healed hand and a spot back in the ichi-gun lineup!! After 6 weeks with a broken hand he seems to have come back just fine (he was 4-for-12 in the last three open-sen games which he got to play in). Hooray Dragonbutt!

Things Kensuke Tanaka has

HE HAS THE POWER!!! Kensuke hit two home runs in tonight's 9-1 routing of the Seibu Lions. I might point out that he has now hit 3 home runs so far in the 4 games this season... having hit three home runs for ALL OF LAST YEAR.

Seriously, I'm not unaccustomed to the idea of a Fighters middle infielder named Tanaka hitting a ton of home runs. It's just that in the past, his first name would have been Yukio (287 career HR, you know).

Things Deanna has

Official Fighters fan club card!
One ticket to each of the three Fighters games in the Sapporo Dome during Golden Week!

Things Deanna does NOT has

Plane tickets to go to Hokkaido.
Hotel reservations in Sapporo.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Friday Foto: Fighters Faces!

Technically, it is still Friday in America, so here's a set of pictures that I took last week.

Photo set: Fighters at Swallows, March 12, 2008

Last Wednesday afternoon, I didn't have classes to teach until 5pm, so I went down to Meiji Jingu stadium to take in the afternoon Fighters-Swallows open-sen game. I got a seat in the front row and spent a lot more time taking pictures than anything else. (Besides, it was the SLOWEST GAME EVER. One hour in, we had barely gotten through one and a half innings. No joke.)

I was there with my camera and trusty zoom lens,
Just snapping some photos of players and friends...

Atsunori Inaba

Eiichi Koyano

Shinji Takahashi

When out by the bullpen there arose such a clatter,
I jumped from my seat to see what was the matter.
The voice through the speakers was talking away,
It said, "Starting, Darvish." The fans all said "HEY!"

The game started off with a Hichori smack,
The ball landed far in the right warning track.
He rounded the bases, for an in-park home run?
But got tagged out at home plate, which finished his fun.

Well, anyway.

The Fighters scored one run in the first inning -- Kensuke walked, Inaba singled, and Terrmel Sledge doubled. Shinji Takahashi walked, and the bases were loaded, but Yakult starter Muranaka struck out Koyano and Yohei Kaneko after that to end the inning.

Yakult also scored a run in the first inning; Keizo Kawashima led off by walking, then Hiroyasu Tanaka singled, and Norichika Aoki also walked, so bases loaded... and then... RIGGS ALSO WALKED! Which scored a run! Darvish looked really sheepish about that one. Guiel popped out to shallow right field and Tanaka couldn't score, and then Shinya Miyamoto also hit what should have been a sac fly to right after that, except Inaba NAILED Hiroyasu Tanaka at the plate. It rocked.

There were a lot of walks and a lot of sac bunts and a lot of people caught stealing bases, and even an ever-so-common 5-2-3 double play, but by the time I had to leave around 3:30pm to get back to work around 4, it was still tied 1-1 in the middle of the 6th inning. I believe that a bit later, Sho Nakata came into the game, and the Fighters eventually lost 2-1. Whether or not it has anything to do with Nakata is left as an exercise to the reader.

Oh, and I was seriously sitting so close to the field that I could hear the catchers talking to each other about who's gonna warm up who in the bullpen (Shinji was like "Bah, go get Ryota [Imanari]" at one point). Atsunori Inaba kept jogging up and down the field line, causing me to send a text message to one of my friends, "OMG Inaba just walked by me!!!!". When Ryan Glynn and Micheal Nakamura walked by at one point between the bullpen and dugout, I said in English, "Hey, good luck Michael, good luck Ryan," and they looked up at me, did a double take, and Ryan was like "Uhh... thanks!"

Former Waseda lefty Ken Miyamoto.

Ryan Glynn.

Hisashi Takeda!

I wish I could sit next to the field on a beautiful sunny day more often. It was really a treat. There were less than 4000 people at Jingu that day, which made it really nice and relaxed, though not particularly quiet (the ouendan were still out in force for the most part). And a lady even gave me a free ticket to the game -- it seriously was a pretty perfect afternoon in most ways.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Opening Day Liveblogging

If it wasn't raining all through Kanto, I would be at Jingu right now learning the new Dragons cheers and singing my lungs out. But instead, I'm stuck at an internet cafe watching the Fighters-Marines opening game, because it's not on non-cable TV and I can't watch it on my Frankenlaptop.

Baseball status right now:
Open-sen: Dragons-Swallows cancelled, Baystars-Giants cancelled, Carp-Tigers tied at 2-2.
Pacific League Opening Day: Orix 1, Seibu 1, fifth inning; Rakuten 3, Softbank 0, fifth inning.

Fighters-Marines game:
Lineups, LL-style (but without the cool border, using 2007 pitching numbers):

Nishioka SS Hichori CF
Hayakawa CF Kensuke 2B
Fukuura 1B Inaba RF
Saburo RF Sledge 1B
Ohmatsu LF Koyano 3B
Zuleta DH Itoi LF
Satozaki C Tsuboi! DH
Ortiz 2B Tsuruoka C
Imae 3B Kaneko! SS
---------- ----------

Kobayashi (13-3, 2.69) Darvish (15-5, 1.82)

Marines, top first: I got here just in time to see Fukuura ground out for the last out of the top of the first. Darvish threw 12 pitches.

Fighters, bottom first: Hichori strikes out. Kensuke strikes out swinging, pitch in the dirt, throw to first. Inaba also strikes out, pitch in the dirt, throw to first. Kobayashi threw 14 pitches.

Marines, top second: Saburo strikes out swinging, Ohmatsu grounds out to second, Zuleta also strikes out swinging. Darvish threw 11 pitches, total of 23.

Fighters, bottom second: Sledge grounded out, Eiichi Koyano struck out swinging so hard his hat fell off, and Itoi -- who is so new we don't have a player theme for him yet -- grounded out to second. Kobayashi threw 14 more pitches for a total of 28.

Marines, top third: Satozaki leads off by getting the first hit of the game, a low fly ball which bounces in shallow center for a single. Jose Ortiz is called out on a third strike that just brushes the outside corner at the knees. Imae grounded out to short, and Nishioka -- who apparently still gets the "Tsuyoshi" cheer -- also strikes out swinging. WHOOOOOOSH. Ok, 22 pitches this inning, 45 pitches for Darvish through 3 innings, game is still scoreless.

Fighters, bottom third: Tsuboi grounds out to third. Tsuruoka hits a fly ball to short right field, Ortiz going back, Saburo coming in... Ortiz making the catch (the announcers even said "Er... who caught that? Oh... it was Ortiz.") Kaneko grounds to third, Imae making the stop and throwing to first and THE BALL GOES FLYING OVER FUKUURA! Kaneko runs to second base on Imae's throwing error. Hichori hits a nice long fly ball out to center-right but Daisuke Hayakawa runs out there and makes a pretty great catch at the wall. 10 more pitches for Kobayashi, total of 38 on the day so far.

Marines, top fourth: Hayakawa strikes out swinging on a slider (though I noticed more that Darvish threw an unbelievable curve to start off the inning). Fukuura also strikes out swinging on a pitch that curves high and outside at the last second. Saburo ALSO strikes out swinging on a 148km/h fastball down the middle. 15 pitches this inning for Darvish, 60 total, and that was his 8th strikeout, if you're counting... not that I am, of course.

There's a whole lot of Chiba fans out there at the Sapporo Dome and they are quite loud. They're all wearing black shirts that say "CHIBA" in white letters, and no, the shirts do not do a gradient down to white at the bottom.

Fighters, bottom fourth: Kensuke Tanaka leads off the inning with a single to center that bounces in front of Hayakawa! Yaaaaaay! Inaba hits a really high pop fly, Imae making the catch between third and short. And then arrrrrgh Sledge grounds towards second base, where Ortiz throws to Nishioka at second, who gets out of the way of a sliding Kensuke in time to make the throw to first to catch Sledge in a double play. Doh. Only 7 pitches that inning for Kobayashi, for a total of 45 so far. Game is still scoreless.

Elsewhere, the Carp have gone up 4-2 on the Tigers in the 5th inning, Seibu and Orix are still tied 1-1 in the 7th, Wakui and Kaneko still pitching, and the Eagles are still beating the Hawks 3-1 in the 8th, with Sugiuchi and Iwakuma both still in as well (wow! good for Iwakuma!!)

Marines, top fifth: Uhh... Darvish walks Ohmatsu on four straight pitches??? Zuleta strikes out swinging on a ball that dives down and looks pretty far outside. Whoosh. Satozaki nearly KILLS Darvish on a foul tip with a broken bat that goes flying up the middle, but Darvish ducks out of the way in time. Satozaki then singles to right, Ohmatsu advancing to second. Ortiz hits a pop fly up to short, Kaneko making the catch near second, Ohmatsu sliding back into the bag as to not be caught off. Imae also singles to center, but Hichori makes a nice throw in and Ohmatsu can't score, the third base coach holding him up at the last second. But, the bases are loaded... Nishioka hits the ball up the rightfield line but in fair territory, Sledge diving to stop the ball up the line; Darvish runs over to cover the bag and it LOOKS like maybe they got there at the same time, but the umpire calls Nishioka out, ending the inning (and Bobby comes out to yell about the call). I have to admit that even on replays it's unclear exactly what happened, it was a really close play.

18 more pitches for Darvish, making 78 total, and one VERY yabai situation.

(Hey, is that ex-Marine Morozumi coaching at first? Cool.)

Fighters, bottom fifth: Koyano strikes out swinging. Itoi grounds out to short. Tsuboi hits a high fly ball which lands in the vast expense of foul territory at the Sapporo Dome... or more specifically, lands in Imae's glove. 10 more pitches for Kobayashi for a whopping 55 through 5. Wow.

Marines, top sixth: Uh... WTF? Hayakawa bounces a grounder in the dirt which goes off down the leftfield line, through Koyano, and it appeared to HIT THE UMPIRE and go fair... for a single? Okaaaay... Fukuura shows bunt all the way, Sledge coming in get the ball and throw it to Kensuke covering first, advancing Hayakawa to second. Hayakawa attempts to steal third AND TSURUOKA PEGS HIM, so that's two out, although the announcers replay it and aren't clear on whether Koyano actually made the tag or not (hmm... maybe he got him on the arm coming in, I think). Then Saburo hits a flyball into the vast expanse of foul territory near third base and Koyano makes the catch. 9 more pitches for Darvish, total of 87 through six innings.

Hm... I really don't want to feel like the umpires might have screwed up this game.

Fighters, bottom sixth: Tsuruoka leads off with a single up the middle. Kaneko shows bunt all the way and... bunts, advancing Tsuruoka to second. Hichori hits the ball kind of back to the mound, but it bounces off of Kobayashi's glove and goes flying. Nishioka recovers it at second -- or DOES HE? The ball glances off of Nishioka's glove as well and by the time he recovers it, Tsuruoka is safe at third, Hichori at first, and OH MY GOD KOBAYASHI JUST HIT KENSUKE TANAKA WITH THE BALL WTF. Bases loaded and it is time for a good old Sapporo-style Inaba jump (not for me, I am at an internet cafe). Even the camera is jumping, heh.

and uhh... after two strikes and a ball to Inaba... Kobayashi appears to have hurt his leg, or hurt something, so he is coming out of the game. Yikes.

Hiroyuki Kobayashi's line: 5.1 IP, 66 pitches, 3 hits, 5 strikeouts, 1 HBP, no walks, and... (edited): one run, but I think zero earned runs.

WHOA!!! Satoru Komiyama is coming in! COOL!

Ok, Inaba grounds to short, Nishioka making the 6-4 throw to second to get Kensuke, but Inaba is safe at first, beating out the double play throw. Hichori is safe at third and Tsuruoka scores the first run of the game, making it 1-0. Sledge grounds towards second base, where Ortiz is playing perfectly to get it and throw him out at first, ending the inning. Komiyama threw 4 pitches.

Over in Kurashiki, Takahiro Arai just hit his second home run of the day, bringing it to 4-3 Carp in the eighth inning. Over in Tokorozawa, Daisuke Katoh just got his first save of the year as the Buffaloes won 2-1. And down in Fukuoka I DON'T FUCKING BELIEVE IT but Domingo Guzman and the Eagles choked up their 3-1 game and managed to lose 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th when HIROSHI SHIBAHARA hit a 3-run game-winning homer. What the hell?

Marines, top seventh: Ohmatsu grounds to third, where Koyano makes a big looping throw to... Naoto Inada (!!!!) who apparently is in playing first now. Zuleta hits a loooong fly ball to center, where Hichori bounces back and back and makes the catch. Satozaki hits a big pop fly ball into foul territory, where Naoto tries to do a reprisal of his "hungry bull looking for food" routine, but dives just short of the ball instead. Satozaki ultimately hits a pop fly to right field, Inaba making the catch. 15 pitches for Darvish that inning, he's up to 102.

Fighters, bottom seventh: Koyano grounds out to third but then collides with Fukuura at first, whoops. I don't think it was on purpose (he was like "oh crap" and tried to help Fukuura up) but uh, that looked pretty bad, he was running full speed into him, they both fell over. Erm... Fukuura comes out of the game. Masato Watanabe comes in to play second and Jose Ortiz moves over to first.

Itoi hits a long fly ball to center, Hayakawa making the catch. Tsuboi grounds out to first and that's the inning. Komiyama threw 10 pitches through 1.2 innings.

Marines, top eighth: My attention is wandering a little, so I heard Ortiz get a foul fly out, and I saw Kaneko make the catch of an Imae fly ball to short. Then Nishioka smacked a liner to first and Naoto Inada managed to make a jump and grab the ball and keep holding onto it. Dang, that was a lucky one. 110 pitches for Darvish through 8.

Winston Abreu comes out to pitch for Lotte.

Fighters, bottom eighth: Tsuruoka leads off with a hit again! Kaneko shows bunt the entire way and... bunts. Tsuruoka advances to second. Hichori grounds back to the mound, but Tsuruoka held to second so the only play is at first. Kensuke grounds to second and that's it for the inning. 8 pitches for Abreu.

Darvish is... still pitching. Holy carp!

Marines, top ninth: Hayakawa grounds out to second. Tasuku Hashimoto comes out to pinch-hit. Darvish strikes him out high. One more! And here's Saburo...

Saburo grounds back to the mound, ALSO sending several shards of bat over to try to kill Darvish, but he ducks again, gets the ball, throws to first, and has won a 124-pitch complete game! Oi, oi, Hokkaido! Hokkaido, oi!

Nashida gives a winning manager interview and then they bring out Darvish and Tsuruoka as the winning battery (game hero, I assume) for more interviews. Although actually if you were going to pick game heroes these ARE the goddamn game heroes -- Darvish for pitching, Tsuruoka for getting 2 out of the 4 Fighters hits AND scoring the only run.

Darvish: 9 IP, 124 pitches, 0 runs, 4 hits, 1 walk, 10 strikeouts. About average ;)

(EDIT 11:30pm>)
I have a few things to add:
1) I spent the evening working on my boxscore translation program -- they changed the displays from last year so I have to change my scripts, and input all the new players, and so on. I promise to have English boxscores up by the end of the weekend, though.
2) Senichi Hoshino was in Sapporo, and he's on News Zero Live, and they're talking about the game, so the announcer says to Hoshino about Darvish, "Complete game, 10 strikeouts, that's great, ne?" and Hoshino replied "Oh, that's totally normal for him. I expect nothing less." (A bit later they showed Katsuya Nomura talking about Domingo's meltdown and he's like "Yeah, this might be a big problem. Heavy, man.")
3) I still don't care about Orix or Seibu, but I suddenly have a desire to go watch Chihiro Kaneko pitch. How weird.
4) It has been pointed out to me that the Lotte Marines has won the Nippon Series every year they have lost on opening day under Bobby Valentine. That's fine with me... I want more of the postseason to be in Kanto this year, dammit!

(EDIT 2:30AM >)
I finished rewriting my Japanese->English box score translator! Now 2008-season compatible!
I think it'll work in general, but I won't know for sure for another day or two.
I uploaded the new version of the code to Westbay's site and ran it, so here is your English boxscore of today's Fighters game: Fighters 1, Marines 0.
I hope people appreciate it :)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Game Report: Baystars @ Marines - Takurowned

Sunday was the last day of open-sen for the Pacific League, and for Lotte, it wrapped up a 6-game homestand as well. A crowd of 19,516 came out for the Sunday game, which is really not a bad turnout at all for a preseason game. It was certainly enough to make the rightfield seats shake with the force of several thousand jumping Lotte Marines fans.

However, I was sitting on the other side, where there was also a decent sea of blue and a lot of singing as well:

I got to sit in my favorite spot in the Lotte leftfield bleachers, actually -- right in front of the band, almost above the visitor's oendan platform, and in the back row of the front section so I could lean against the railing. The one downside to outfield seats is that they often don't have any backs, so it can get pretty tiring in a long game.

I was pretty thrilled when I saw the starting lineups. The pitching matchup was Yokohama's Terahara vs. Chiba's Karakawa. You see, my original algorithm for deciding which Kanto-area team to go cheer for on Sunday morning had gone something like this:

"It's sunny!" - ok, that takes out Tokyo Dome and Seibu Dome and leaves Jingu and Chiba
"I've been to Jingu twice this week! And I can walk to Costco after a game at Chiba!" - ok, so heading to Chiba, but who to cheer for?
"They had Shunsuke pitch yesterday and Naruse the day before!" - ok, maybe I will not be cheering for the Marines then
"Yokohama will probably have Hayato Terahara!" - hey, that's exciting...
"My Marines t-shirt is in the laundry but I haven't worn my Baystars shirt since November!" - oh, that's even more convincing...
"I probably won't be at a game in Yokohama until sometime in May, but I can come back to Chiba way before then. I need to practice the Yokohama cheer songs." - sold.

My brain works in strange ways.

To be fair, I still don't quite know all of the words to all of the Baystars cheers even after learning most of them last season, but that actually makes me kind of happy, since I like learning new words. I'll try to make an ouenka post with them and the Dragons cheers sometime (though I first need to go learn the new ones for Wada and Norihiro before I can do that).

Uh, anyway, so, Karakawa and Terahara. For background, Karakawa was one of the highly prized high school prospects in this year's draft. He's from Chiba prefecture, even, from Narita high school. Terahara, on the other hand, was also a prized high school prospect about 6 years ago, after setting the speed gun record at the summer Koshien tournament (his record was eclipsed by now-Yakult rookie Yoshinori Satoh), and while he was kind of all over the place with the Hawks, he seems to be settling down pretty nicely with the Baystars.

Naturally, Karakawa pitched a flawless first inning, striking out Toshihisa Nishi and Takuro Ishii, and getting Yuki Yoshimura to pop out to second.

Terahara wasn't about to be upstaged by some kid, and he also pitched a 1-2-3 inning. I was thinking this was going to be a pretty nice pitcher's duel, except then Karakawa was taken out of the game and replaced by Yasutomo Kubo. DOH!

Shuuichi Murata apparently felt the same way, and he led off the second inning by hitting a grounder off Kubo's leg, which Imae then fielded and threw to first in time (Murata is not exactly a fast guy). But then Takahiro Saeki, who also is not particularly fast, beat out a CLOSE throw to first by Jose Ortiz. Saeki moved to second on a groundout by Aikawa but that was it.

The Marines didn't do anything in their half of the second, although I noticed that Saburo did NOT change his theme music from Yuzu's "Eikou no Kakehashi", which is good, because I pretty much always think "That's the Saburo song!!" whenever I hear it. The odd part is, they stopped the song as usual after a line or two of the chorus. Now after the speakers stop at "tadorizuita," you'd usually hear the Marines fans singing "ima ga aru. dakara mou mayowazu ni susumeba ii, eikou no kakehashi he to", except instead, the song stopped and there was just DEAD FREAKING SILENCE. Huh?

Masaaki Koike led off the top of the third with a single, but then catcher Toshio Saitoh laid down such an awful bunt that Satozaki was able to snap it up and fire to second to catch Koike in a double play. Whoops. Nishi popped out to right field after that.

As I was thinking that Terahara had just had a nice two innings, Jose Ortiz hit a ball up the middle and Nishi had to field it pretty deep in the hole, so the throw was close but a little late to first base. After that, Kazuya Fukuura grounded to first base, where Saeki tried to head off for a double play, except his throw somehow got past Takuro Ishii at short and rolled into the outfield, so instead of two outs, there were no outs and Ortiz at third and Fukuura safe at first. (It was ruled an error, which makes sense.) Imae came up after that and hit a long sac fly ball to centerfield; Koike made the catch easily but his throw in was too weak and was picked up by Ishii at short, who saw it was too late to get Ortiz and didn't throw home. 1-0. Tsuyoshi Nishioka hit a high pop fly that Murata caught out by the Baystars dugout, and then I thought Daisuke Hayakawa grounded out to second, except he was apparently called safe at first. This started off the cascade of bouncing Lotte fans, but then Julio Zuleta struck out to end the inning.

I stood up and held out my Takuro Ishii name towel at the start of the 4th inning and yelled "TAKUROOOOOOOO!!!" The guy next to me also yelled "TAKUROOOOOOOOO!!!!!" So naturally Ishii went and got a single! Yuki Yoshimura followed that up with another single, and so did Murata, and before you knew it, all of those singles added up to a run as Ishii scored! 1-1. Saeki hit a foul fly out to third after that, but Aikawa managed a looooooong fly ball to right field. Saburo caught it in the corner in foul territory, but it gave Yoshimura enough time to run home from third base. 2-1. Takanori Suzuki hit a big fly ball out to center to end the inning.

Ohmatsu singled in the Marines' half of things, but Satozaki grounded into a double play after that (5-4-3). Nishi and Ishii may be the oldest middle infield in Japan at a whopping combined age of 73 years, but so far they seem to be holding up pretty well.

The 5th, 6th, and top of the 7th innings were naptime. Literally:

(This kid was so cute. He also came up and cheered with us.)

Terahara finished up 6 strong innings, giving up no earned runs and striking out 5. Kubo finished up 4 slightly-less-strong innings, giving up 2 earned runs and striking out 1. Winston Abreu pitched the top of the 6th and was also pretty good, with a strikeout and a lot of help from Tsuyoshi Nishioka at short, especially after Abreu also took a grounder off the leg (I swear the Baystars weren't aiming to take out the pitchers. Really!) Takagi and Ogino shared duties for the top of the 7th.

(J.J. Furmaniak came out to DH in the 7th and I yelled "JJ, HISASHIBURI!" which got a funny look from the people around me, but hey.)

Futoshi Kobayashi replaced Terahara on the mound for the Marines' Lucky 7 inning. Or more appropriately it could have been called the E7 inning. Nemoto grounded out and Satozaki singled, and Takehara popped out. It seemed like it'd be a quick enough inning when Fukuura hit what looked like a routine pop fly to left field. Except that Hiroaki Ohnishi, who had just come out to play left field... lost the ball in the sun? Or something? I don't know, but it landed just inside the fair line, and then as he tried to recover it, he fumbled the ball more, so by this time Satozaki had already run all the way around the bases and scored, and Fukuura ended up at second. The scorers called it a double for whatever reason. 2-2. Naturally Imae followed that up with what looked like a normal single to left-center, except Ohnishi fumbled that TOO and so Fukuura scored and Imae made it to second. 3-2. At least this one actually got called an E-7 by the real scorers. Nishioka walked, and Benny Agbayani hit a single to center. Imae scored, but Nishioka tried to get from first to third on the play, and ended up getting caught in what I have noted as a 8-5-4-3-5 rundown which ended the inning, but not before the run counted, so things were at 4-2 as we headed into the 8th inning.

Yusuke Kawasaki came out to pitch for Lotte in the 8th, and things started innocently enough with Koike grounding out to short. But then Kazunari Tsuruoka singled to center, Toshihisa Nishi walked, I held up my Takuro Ishii towel, and the trumpeters started playing chance music! (Which, amazingly, I remembered the words for.) And Takuro Ishii hit a shot out to right field, way into the corner, and started running. Benny had to go chase after it, and while he did, Tsuruoka scored! Nishi scored! Ishii got to third! Wheee! That tied things up at 4-4 and there were a lot of high-fives and cheers in our section. Yoshimura hit a sac fly after that, scoring Takuro. 5-4. Murata grounded out after that, but the Baystars had amazingly pulled ahead. The guy leading Baystars cheers was so excited about it that he fell off the platform. No joke.

Takeharu Katoh shut down Lotte pretty well in the bottom of the 8th, and Brian Sikorski (!) shut down the Baystars in the top of the 9th. I was kind of surprised when they put Matt "Mattwhite" White in to pitch the bottom of the 9th, but hey. He started off by walking Koichi Hori, but remember I mentioned that old-but-awesome middle infield? They got Takehara on a 4-6-3 double play, and then Fukuura grounded out to second as well, and that was the game at 5-4.

Bobby and the gang came out to make a speech after that, about some of the improvements that were made to the stadium (a party area up on the 3rd base side, a stadium-wide light board) and to the team (wait a minute, he claimed the new uniforms were an improvement...) and said he hoped all the Lotte fans would enjoy the new stadium until the very last game of the Japan Series.

I wasn't surprised there was no game hero given that this was open-sen, but the Baystars ouendan started up the music and cheers for the after-game victory songs... and then another Lotte video started showing on the big screen. So we waited for it to finish. And waited. And waited. And finally I think we just gave up and sang through the player fanfares, the Baystars song, the "Winning Ball" song, and then the leader yelled "And because we would not have won the game without Takuro Ishii, who scored many runs and hit in many runs and played really well, let's sing Takuro's theme a few times to recognize him". So we did. And I waved my towel, and was generally happy. I like Takuro.

After the game I wandered around the stadium to see what stuff was around. I went through the Marines museum (most of which hasn't changed since I was first there) and saw the Johnny Kuroki exhibit, which I already wrote about a bit. I also found out that in the grand scheme of Chiba Marines 2005 hands, my hands are apparently much smaller than Satozaki's but just about the same as Kosaka's, which should be no surprise since I am basically around the same size as him (he's a little shorter/lighter than me, actually). Kosaka. Sigh.

They had a weird little Bobby shrine that people were posing with, and a guy asked me if I could take his picture by it, he was holding up a Kuroki jersey, so I figured what the heck, and asked him to take my picture by it too. Pretty bizarre. I think I stood on the wrong side now that I look at it, though:

And then I headed off to Costco, where I went shopping and ate the same crappy Costco pizza that I hated when I was living in Seattle, but which I now covet because it TASTES LIKE AMERICA! I saw plenty of people wearing Marines and Baystars gear in Costco too; it's really only a 10-minute walk from the stadium, so I wouldn't be surprised if people sometimes plan their afternoons to include baseball and a Costco run afterwards. (I guess for the new "party" area, maybe people could go to Costco first for beer and snacks, of course. I'm not sure tailgating culture really exists here per se.)

Next time I come down to Chiba I'll be cheering for the Marines. (I may be in a lot of trouble otherwise.) I'll have to find out exactly what goes into those Lotteria burgers that causes the spontaneous bouncing, though.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tomohiro "Johnny" Kuroki Exhibit

Johnny was a pitcher
But Johnny is now done
'Cause Johnny's shoulder hasn't healed
Since late 2001.

I'm really not the right person to talk about Tomohiro "Johnny" Kuroki. You want to ask the legions of late-1990's Lotte Marines fans, or BigManZam, and so on. Kuroki's injury happened around the same time I was getting into Japanese baseball, so in my time he's always been "The injured former ace".

But dammit, I know what it's like when a player means a lot to you and they get injured, and you keep hoping the guy's gonna bounce back and heal and be himself again. Heck, I still get angry when I remember how Bobby Madritsch got his arm blown out by the Mariners and then pretty much fell out of baseball. And he was just around for one season with us! So I fully sympathize with the Lotte fans.

I was down in Chiba today for the Baystars-Marines game (which I'll talk about a little bit more later) and went through the Marines museum after the game, where they had a Johnny Kuroki exhibit for this entire week, since there was an open-sen game at Chiba Marine Stadium every day. (Sadly, I believe they lost the actual game that was his retirement ceremony, but hey, whatever.) The exhibit was a really nice gesture and I think a lot of fans enjoyed it.

Sorry for the crappy cellphone picture quality, but I didn't go down today as a photographer, just to watch some baseball and hit up Costco afterwards.

(That says, by the way, "Norihiro Nakamura vs. Johnny Kuroki". Heh.)

(I wish they'd bring back Pacific League Mondays! Also grrr Ogasawara.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Game Report: Lions @ Swallows - Katoh-strophic

The first Open-sen game in the Kanto area was at Meiji Jingu stadium on Sunday. It was a beautiful afternoon, sunny and bright, not a cloud in the sky. A surprising number of fans turned out to support both teams; the bleachers were filled with jerseys and flags and signs appropriately. Most people in Japan hail the start of springtime with the arrival of cherry blossoms. Personally, I mark it by the arrival of baseball. The difference is that the cherry blossoms will all be gone in a few weeks, but baseball will carry on into November. I think I win.

First thing I have to do is congratulate Jingu on its makeover. I thought at first it was just the cool new screen in place, but when I went home and looked at old pictures I realized that they seriously changed a lot -- the field surface, the dirt between the basepaths, and I just read that they moved the fences back from 91m in the corners to 101m. (This didn't stop Mikinori Katoh from giving up three home runs anyway, but I'll get to that in a bit.) Seriously, though, contrast and compare these pictures I've taken:

Meiji Jingu Stadium, March 9, 2008

Meiji Jingu Stadium, October 22, 2007
(Hosei University vs. Meiji University)

Even with the difference in view between third base and first base, you can tell it's seriously changed. And oh, the screen -- it's so much nicer now:

Final scoreboard, March 9, 2008

Final scoreboard and hero interview, September 17, 2007

Masao Kida pitching change, March 9, 2008

(I wasn't just bringing that up to remember that awesome game where I cheered for Morino until my lungs fell out and then he was game hero. Honest. Which reminds me that Morino broke his left-hand middle finger a few weeks ago and might not make it back in time for Opening Day and I am pretty much freaking out about that. The same thing happened two years ago when he broke his right pinky and had to start the season in ni-gun. Ganbare, Dragonbutt. You're still MY hero.)

I went to this game with Chris, who posts to the forums from time to time as "hillsy", and his wife Rachel. They were kind enough to bring me Velveeta Shells & Cheese, which is the kind of crazy thing you request from people after you've been living in Japan too long. They were also kind enough to put up with me babbling out my brain about every single person on the field. (Perhaps the moment I should have realized I was getting carried away was when I started explaining the backstory of Yakult's PITCHING COACH. "Okay, so the guy on the mound is Masao Kida. He used to be on the Mariners. And then the coach is Daisuke Araki. He was a big Koshien star in highschool, and Daisuke Matsuzaka is named after him, and that's probably going to be more of a legacy for him than his own pitching career... umm... anyway...")

We got into seats around 12:30pm, and over the loudspeakers they announced the starting pitchers: Kazuhisa Ishii (#61) for Seibu, and Mikinori Katoh (#16) for Yakult. There was a lot of cheering all around for this; Yakult fans were overjoyed to see former Swallows pitcher Ishii, and also overjoyed to see new young hotshot Katoh. The irony of having the former lefty #16 facing the current lefty #16 was not lost on this crowd, I hope.

To me, the strange part was that last time I saw a game at Jingu, Mikinori Katoh was a starting pitcher, for Keio University during the Waseda-Keio deathmatch (and I saw him pitch a 12-inning complete game shutout). The last time I saw a Swallows game at Jingu, Kazuhisa Ishii was the starting pitcher as well. I think he's just following me around.

Uh, anyway, so I brought my camera to Jingu, and all I got was this lousy left-handed kid warming up:

Katoh looked pretty good for the first inning, although he almost took a grounder in the arm off Seibu leadoff batter Yasuyuki Kataoka, who was shortly thereafter retired on a double play.

The Swallows even got a lead in their half of the first inning. Keizo Kawashima, who I used to adore on the Fighters, was leading off for the Swallows. ("KEIZOOOOOO!" I shouted, "WHY DID YOU CUT YOUR HAIR?") Kawashima hit a weak grounder up the left side which just rolled up the line and somehow managed to stay fair, so both sides started off the game with an infield single. Hiroyasu Tanaka, doing what EVERY second baseman named Tanaka does best, laid down a sac bunt after that, except Kataoka, covering first, had to jump to get the ball, and thus both batters were safe. Norichika Aoki was DH for this game ("What's a shimeidasha?" "It means designated hitter. I didn't know that before I moved here either."), but he didn't do much of anything in this game, starting off with a popup to short. But Adam Riggs, wearing high socks, hit a solid single to left field, scoring Kawashima. 1-0.

("Do you have an umbrella?" I asked Rachel. "No, why?" "Well, get out your camera..." I said, as the strains of Tokyo Ondo started and the umbrellas started dancing all around us.)

Guiel popped out to second after that, and Shinya "Captain Japan" Miyamoto walked the bases loaded, but then Yasushi Iihara struck out to end the inning.

Before you were even aware that the second inning had started, Craig Brazell launched a ball into the right-field bleachers. BLAM. 1-1. Third baseman Takeya Nakamura, who I think is on a grand quest to look like Norihiro Nakamura, singled, and veteran Akira Etoh walked. After a mound conference, they tried to pick Nakamura off second base unsuccessfully, and then Takayama sac bunted the runners to 2nd and 3rd, so catcher Tooru Hosokawa could hit a sac fly to right, and even Nakamura could lumber home on Guiel's throw. 2-1. Kenta Matsusaka, who has been ON FIRE this pre-season, continued flaming with a single to left, scoring Etoh. 3-1. Of course, he got caught stealing a few pitches later. I don't particularly care for Seibu on general principle, but I kind of hope this Matsusaka kid succeeds just because it amused me to no end when he introduced himself on a TV show the other day like "Hi, I'm Seibu's Matsusaka. Yes, same kanji as that other guy. No, I'm not a pitcher. Sorry."

Fukukawa led off with a pop-up to first or second, depending on who you ask (but apparently you should ask Kataoka). Then Ryuuji Miyade came to bat! I love Miyade, he's so damn tall. Miyade actually got a hit, a single to right. Yay! But then during Kawashima's at-bat, either a hit-and-run got screwed up, or Miyade missed a signal, or something, but either way he totally got picked off trying to steal second. Err, okay. But Kawashima singled and so did Hiroyasu Tanaka. If Miyade hadn't gotten caught, it would have been one more run scored and one less out, but alas, when Norichika Aoki struck out called -- on what looked like a ball almost aimed at his neck -- the inning ended, with no runs scored.

Katoh imploded in the 3rd inning. Pop out, walk, Nakajima home run (5-1), single, groundout, Etoh home run (7-1), single, popout. Ouch. Nakajima's home run barely cleared the wall in right field, but it was legit, moreso counting that the wall had recently been moved back 10 meters.

Swallows 3rd inning: Groundout. Groundout. Groundout with Kataoka making a fantastic play. Whatever.

Kenta Matsusaka led off the 4th with a bounding double to left field ("Dammit Miyade!" I yelled), advanced on a Kataoka grounder and scored on a Tomoaki Satoh single. 8-1. Inning ended with Katoh neatly fielding a Nakajima grounder back to the mound. And even with Fukukawa walking and Keizo Kawashima getting his THIRD single of the day, the Swallows didn't manage anything in their half of the inning. Katoh came out, his line being 4 innings pitched, 8 earned runs, 10 hits, 2 walks, 1 strikeout, 3 home runs. Ouch.

Former Orix and late of the Fighters pitcher Jun Hagiwara pitched the 5th for Yakult, and naturally he still has no idea where he's throwing the ball, nearly beheading Nakamura, but besides walking Etoh the rest of the inning was scattered popouts. Ishii allowed a single to Guiel and a double to Miyamoto but that was it as he completed 5 innings with a much more respectable line than his counterpart: 1 earned run, 8 hits, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts.

At this point the parade of one-inning pitchers getting game time took place. Yakult followed Hagiwara with Masao Kida!!! and then with crazy pudgy bespectacled lefty sidearmer Masaru Satoh, and then former Fighters reliever Takahiko Oshimoto, before handing over the last inning to fireballer Ryota Igarashi, who still could use a haircut. Seibu countered with two innings out of Minoru Yamagishi, one from Koji Mitsui, and then the last inning from former Chunichi setup man Shinya Okamoto.

(Since it was Okamoto following Oshimoto I was just like "Oh, stab me in the heart now, why don't you." Combine that with the way I had been singing the chance music for Yakult, and Rachel asked, "I thought you weren't cheering for a team?" "Well, no, technically I don't really care about Yakult or Seibu, but I mean, we're sitting on the Yakult side, I'm wearing my Furuta shirt, and most of Yakult's team now is guys I used to like on OTHER teams...")

Fast-forward to the bottom of the 7th. Yamagishi had looked good in the 6th, but he started off the 7th by walking Hiroyasu Tanaka and ex-Giant Takayuki Saitoh. Adam Riggs naturally hit into a 6-3 double play, but with Hiroyasu on third, former SEIBU player Kazuki Fukuchi pulled off a crazy squeeze up the left side which rolled up the line but stayed fair for Hiroyasu to score. (Homefield advantage of this new Jingu turf? 8-2.)

In the bottom of the 8th, Tomohito Yoneno got a double, barely beating the throw to second (he's a catcher, what do you want) and then Miyade (!!) got a single up the middle, scoring Yoneno. 8-3. Keizo Kawashima followed that up with yet another hit, making him 4-for-5 on the day. But the Swallows failed to capitalize on yet another set of chance music and went emptyhanded.

After Igarashi struck out 2 out of 3 guys he faced in the top of the 9th, Shinya Okamoto came out for Seibu, and though Takeuchi led off with a double, that was all that happened. Yasushi Iihara stepped to the plate and we were talking about the great difference between Japanese and American baseball fans -- here it is, a preseason game, bottom of the 9th, two outs, runner on third base, the home team is down by 5 runs... and what are the fans doing? They're yelling "YASUSHI!!!" at the top of their lungs as if it's a close game and the season's on the line. "In Seattle," we think, "Nobody would have bothered to stay past the fifth inning, aside from the diehards and the beer snobs."

I point out that Iihara's accomplishments so far today include three strikeouts in a row and a foul popup. So it's not particularly surprising when he pops out to left field to end the game, Seibu winning 8-3.

Dear Seibu: You can't go wrong by taking another kid named Matsusaka, right?
Dear Yakult fans: It's gonna be another long season, isn't it? I've heard the beer is better out in the bleachers, at least...
Dear Jingu: Love the makeover. That shade of green goes GREAT with your eyes.
Dear Miyade: You are tall. But that does not mean you are fast. I still like you anyway.
Dear Katoh: Hey, look on the bright side, at least you got roughed up BEFORE it counts. Get it out of your system now.
Dear Riggs: High socks! Woohoo!
Dear Chris and Rachel: Thanks for putting up with me during the game! See you in Safeco someday!
Dear Baseball: Thank you for starting again. It was a LONG winter.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Fighters Fan Club!

I was about to leave my apartment for work when I heard someone coming up the stairs outside, so I figured I'd wait in case it was either something for my neighbor or something requiring a signature or whatever.

And then I heard a thump in MY doorway.

My Fighters Fan Club package arrived!

I haven't had a chance to go through it yet, so I'll try to edit this after work when I go through everything, but for now it seems to have the Fighters magazine, a catalog of Fighters goods, some ads for coming to Sapporo, the 2008 schedule in a neat poster, and some information about the club.

Sunday I took a ton of pictures at Jingu during the Swallows-Lions game and I also stopped by the bookstore to buy the Doala Book and hopefully I'll get a chance to talk about both of those more later as well.


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Hideki Matsui Baseball Museum Photos

I went to the Hideki Matsui Baseball Museum back in January, during a weekend excursion to Kanazawa with some friends. (They went off to seek some ninja shrine, and I went off into the middle of nowhere to seek some baseball shrine, essentially. This is just how things work, you know.)

Anyway, I had resized/selected/cropped a bunch of the pictures I took, and then my hard drive died. Fortunately, I backed them up to a flash drive, but the process of actually describing/thumbing/etc them got thrown to the backburner until I basically wrote a Perl script to manage photo albums for me (it should look the same as my Photothumb albums). Yay!

So, here's my pictures from the Matsui museum. There's over a hundred of them -- essentially a photo tour of the place, minus the stuff that said "no photos". Basically, did you ever wonder: what happens when a guy wins every baseball award in existence, several times over? Does he just throw all of his trophies and plaques and certificates and photos and such in a box in an attic? Does he make a special "I am awesome" trophy room?

Apparently, if he is Hideki Matsui, his family builds a museum and puts all of his awards in there, along with random other things like old gloves and baseballs and bats and photos and uniforms, so that all of his fans can come see the stuff rather than having it just sit in an attic somewhere. It's a rather impressive collection when you think about it, and it took me around an hour and a half to look through and read through and snap pictures of everything there.

The museum itself is technically in Nohmi-city, which is very close to Komatsu and the Ishikawa airport. From Kanazawa, I had to take the Hokuriku train down to Terai station, which cost about 400 yen and 30 minutes. The museum is a little more than 2 miles from the station; if you're lucky you'll catch one of the three buses a day that goes there and costs 100 yen. In my case, I got a taxi, which cost 1350 yen. Entrance fee to the museum is only 300 yen, though. I was lucky to have the right timing to catch the bus back to the station afterwards -- it takes around 25 minutes and goes through the Neagari area where Matsui grew up. If you ever really wanted an excuse to ride a bus around the middle of nowhere in Japan, this is a pretty good one (second only to Fighters Town Kamagaya, of course).

I'm not sure whether I'd recommend this trip for the casual baseball fan -- if you went from Tokyo or Osaka it'd probably take you several hours to get there (infact, you really can't do it as a day trip from Tokyo unless you fly), but if you're going to be anywhere near Ishikawa prefecture and you really like baseball, or really like Hideki Matsui, or really like the Yomiuri Giants, it's definitely worth going to.

I'm off to Meiji Jingu stadium for my first game of open-sen in a bit! Hooray!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Kamagaya Fighters Fan Fest 2008

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!")

(Yohei Kaneko)

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.

(Takahiro Takaguchi)

(Yoshihiro Satoh)

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...