It rains, but fans are bright and cheery.
The flags are waved from the outfield stands,
Songs are sung to claps of hands,
And the day is dark and dreary.
My original plan for Sunday involved going down to Yokohama and seeing the Baystars play against the Dragons, but that plan got ditched when the skies decided to open up and rain upon the Kanto region. But, the Lotte Marines Mind Control Task Force was kind enough to call upon the Seibu Dump Improvement Squad and so I was able to go to the the Marines-Lions game and even sit in GOOD seats for once. I think they are trying to convince me that it is not, infact, a dump.
So, the thing is, they ARE improving the place quite a bit, using some of the Matsuzaka money. The outfield screen actually does look really nice now -- it's one big screen that can be partitioned into whatever parts are necessary for lineups, scores, replays... they even did split-screen displays during the hero interview, things like that. There's a new set of bathrooms, and they're rebuilding part of the stands to have new seats (picnic seats? I'm not sure) and a way to get to the bathrooms that doesn't involve climbing up 50 rows of stairs. The box seats behind home plate, which I saw for the first time, look really nice. And for the players, the bullpen area looks like it had a total makeover in the offseason; the fans get a better view of it now as well.
The only catch is, the outfield visitor's area sucks as much as it ever did. And I mean, it makes perfect sense to do the most improvements to the most expensive seats, so I understand why they're focusing on improving that part. And of course they should be catering to the Lions faithful above all others. But since I usually see games there from the left field "stands", it's still coloring my perception of the place.
I will say though, the food choices are a LOT better in the infield :) I had a fantastic yakiniku bento box for lunch, and the ice cream lady came around with like 10 flavors of ice cream cones (I had strawberry cheesecake).
Anyway, that aside, yeah, I spent this game sitting with various Lotte folks; I got to meet Mary Valentine, who is every bit as kind and funny as her husband, and I was sitting next to Julio Zuleta's girlfriend, who goes to EVERY game he plays in. On my left was the inimitable Larry Rocca, who always has a good story to tell, none of which I can ever repeat :)
Also, the Lions were spending this weekend wearing throwback Nishitetsu Lions uniforms. I actually think they were really cool -- the logo looks vaguely like the Yankees logo, but the uniform is nice and simple. Before Lions at-bats they would display "Lions" on the board in the old gothic font:
The Lions starter was the veteran Fumiya Nishiguchi, who has pretty much been around so long that he might be the only current Lions player who was actually alive when the team was Nishitetsu. The Marines starter was Hiroyuki Kobayashi, who started the last Marines game I went to as well.
Anyway, the Lions got ahead pretty much from the start, when leadoff batter Yasuyuki Kataoka doubled, moved ahead on a bunt, and was scored on a single by Hiroyuki Nakajima. 1-0.
Tomoya Satozaki came up to bat to lead off the second inning, and I was babbling to Larry about how I used to be such a huge Satozaki fan, and how great it was having him as a cleanup batter again, and how he was really kicking ass, and he had hit two home runs this weekend against the Lions, and
Satozaki took the first pitch he saw and launched it into the left-field bleachers.
"Okay, make that three," I said. 1-1.
Of course, the Lions weren't going to stand for that. Chubby Takeya Nakamura singled, the ball bouncing off of pitcher Kobayashi towards second, and then Taketoshi Gotoh, another one of those 1998 Yokohama HS kids, came in and slammed a home run to right-center field, Daisuke Hayakawa getting his first chance of the day to climb up on the Seibu outfield wall and fence and watch the ball go flying past. 3-1.
Satozaki walked on his second at-bat, in the 4th inning, and then this time it was Shoitsu Ohmatsu's turn to hit a home run over the centerfield wall. 3-3!
Going into the bottom half of the inning, Larry said, "I have a prediction. If Kobayashi can get out of this inning without a run scoring, we're going to win. If he can't, we're going to lose."
Gotoh came up to bat again. He hit a looooong fly ball.... which was caught in right field. One out. Toru Hosokawa came up to bat, to his traditional song of Kiyoshi no Zundoko Bushi, and the Lions fans were even yelling "Kiyoshi!" at the appropriate time, which is really stupid if you think about it, but that's another story. I was saying how Hosokawa gets on my nerves because he always seems to come up big against teams I like... but then he struck out. Okay. DH Yoshihito Ishii, another one of those Urawa Gakuin guys, struck out on a checked swing after that too, for a 1-2-3 inning.
"Well, good, I hope your prediction comes true!"
Alas, it was not to be. Kobayashi got MAULED by the Lions in the bottom of the 5th.
Kataoka walked, and then Takumi Kuriyama hit a ball which went out to centerfield and bounced against the back wall for a double, Kataoka scoring from first on the play. 4-3. Nakajima struck out -- that was good -- but then Craig Brazell, who just hit an actual out-of-the-park home run in Omiya the other day, hit a grounder up the middle that took a bad bounce and turned into a single as well. Kuriyama scored. 5-3. GG Satoh singled to right ("Kimochiiiiiiii!!!" I yelled as a joke), and then that Takeya Nakamura kid came up, and BLAM, he hit a ball out to center and Hayakawa climbed the wall to watch it go sailing over for a monster 3-run homer. 8-3.
"What the heck," I said, "Why does Kobayashi ALWAYS run into these roadblocks and give up? Does he think Hayakawa LIKES climbing the centerfield fence?"
As if to answer my question, the NEXT batter, that Taketoshi Gotoh guy who hit a home run in the 2nd inning, came up to bat and hit ANOTHER home run over the centerfield wall. Hayakawa climbed up AGAIN, but of course it was to no avail. 9-3.
So, we waved goodbye to Kobayashi, and Satoru Komiyama came in to pitch, and he got out of the mess with no further damage.
I guess Larry picked the wrong inning.
Anyway, the Marines did add runs in the 6th and 7th inning, to bring the score to 9-5, which is where the game would eventually end. Funny, all of their runs for the game were either scored by people who walked, or by people who hit home runs. A neat thing was seeing Satozaki throw out two would-be base stealers in the bottom of the 6th and 7th, too. But that's really about all I have to say about the rest of the game. It was kind of cold, and dark and dreary. I bet the stands were wet and beery.
Gotoh was the game hero and he dedicated the home runs to his wife, who apparently just gave birth to their first child on Saturday.
I have this feeling that maybe Hiro-chan would be better off spending some time as a relief pitcher.
In Fukuoka, Takeshi Yamasaki gave two home runs to Eagles manager Katsuya Nomura for his 73rd birthday, and Hisashi Iwakuma chalked up another win as the Eagles completely clawed out the Hawks for a 15-2 win on 20 hits. Ouch.
In Osaka, Masaru Takeda finally came back from the DL after two months and got the win for the Fighters. Yay.
In Akita, Norichika Aoki hit a big 2-run homer as the Swallows stole a game from the Tigers. The Swallows also recently lost pitcher Danny Rios, who got busted for failing a drug test.
In Hiroshima, Koji Uehara pitched a 1-2-3 inning for his first ichi-gun appearance in 2 months, and the media nearly had a collective heart attack.
In Yokohama, it rained a lot and nobody played any baseball. Boo.