Saturday, November 29, 2008

It's Because "Tora No Bancho" Sounds Stupid, You See


(Source photo here.)

Daisuke Miura is staying with the Yokohama Baystars!

It's not like I have as much emotionally invested in the Baystars like I do with the Fighters, but I did go to 14 Baystars games last year (and cheered for them at 11), and saw them play in every CL stadium in Japan. But after such a lousy season, and after they pretty much threw my favorite player Takuro Ishii out in the trash, and the idea of Miura leaving, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever come back to Yokohama to cheer. I like the stadium, and I'd miss Sign Guy and Westbay and Matt and all, but... no Takuro and no Bancho make Deanna something something.

But now, instead, I'm almost considering getting one of those newfangled Baystars jerseys with D. Miura 18 on the back, to replace my Takuro jersey.

I used to think Miura was just some wannabe ace who used way too much hair gel, but then I found out about all of the community service he does -- last year he even got a special service award for his work with sick kids in hospitals. There was one boy they showed on TV who was in a wheelchair and suffering from some terminal condition -- I forget what -- but Miura visited the boy many times in the hospital, even inviting him to come to Yokohama Stadium and play catch on the field before a game. He even went to the funeral when the boy died a few months later. Talk about a tearjerker.

And then seeing him work so hard this year despite how awful the Baystars were, you had to just feel for the guy.

He's always seemed to be so nice to fans, too. It's pretty much the exact opposite of what I expected the first time I saw him. Supposedly the main reason he stayed with Yokohama was the fan support, after spending all of the Fan Appreciation Day signing and chatting and taking photos and playing catch with the fans.

Besides, who else would post photos of the Baystars pitching staff in yukata on their blog? Just sayin'.

It's great that he'll finish out his career in Yokohama, or at least the next four years. They BETTER not just throw him away afterwards, though.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Random Post: Senshu-Kaicho Shuffle, Tryout Travelogue, the Knuckle-girl, etc

Happy Thanksgiving!

New Player Reps (新選手会長)

Senshu-kaicho doesn't really translate very well into English.  I mean, "captain" is not the right word, but "player rep" isn't exactly a direct translation either. It's sort of like "class president", but.

Giants: Shinnosuke Abe (taking over for Tomohiro Nioka, traded to Fighters)
Yakult: Masanori Ishikawa (taking over for Noriyuki Shiroishi)
Yokohama: Shuuichi Murata (taking over for Ryoji Aikawa, FA going... somewhere...)
Orix: Takeshi Hidaka (taking over for Hirotoshi Kitagawa, getting old?)
Fighters: Kensuke Tanaka (taking over for Makoto Kaneko... argh...)

Haven't heard of any other changes, though I have to wonder who the Softbank kaicho will be -- Kazumi Saitoh is still listed on the JPBPA site, though I could have sworn Munenori Kawasaki had taken over for him.

Chase Lambin Tries Out With Lotte And Lives To Blog About It

From NY Future Stars: Chase Lambin went to try out for the Chiba Lotte Marines and had quite an adventure. A fun read.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

They went to the Japan Series at Seibu one day after I did, for Game 5. Dang. Would have been funny to run into Bobby there, that's for sure. Though it was sort of amusing to read his stories about Bobby predicting all of the hits in Series Game 3 and thinking, "Wait a minute, I know exactly who he's talking about..."

Anyway, no idea whether Chase will end up on the Marines roster next year or not -- from his minor league stats he actually looks like a perfect candidate to succeed in Japan -- but, if he does, rest assured I'll do my best to stalk him next season.

Yes, I heard about Eri Yoshida

Actually, Simon mentioned it to me during the Asia Series, but I was too preoccupied cheering for the Lions to beat the Lions to think about it at the time.

So yes, the Kobe 9 Cruise team drafted a 16-year-old high school girl named Eri Yoshida. She throws a sidearm/submarine knuckleball, and was apparently inspired by Tim Wakefield.

(Youtube video here.)

I am a little bit unclear on whether she's really the "first professional female baseball player in Japan", namely because I don't really understand exactly what Ayumi Kataoka's status is per se. I mean, the Ibaraki Golden Golds are still probably a lower level team than the Rakuten Golden Eagles, but they do compete in the nationwide club/industrial tournaments. Those tournaments are run by the Japan Amateur Baseball Association, though, so perhaps the club players simply don't count as pros? I think Ayumi was still in college when she started playing for the Golden Golds, too.

The thing is, the independent leagues aren't exactly pro level either, and their players also have to have day jobs to make a living (there were stories of Shikoku Island League guys basically working in the fields during the week and getting paid in food, though I'm not sure I entirely believe that).

Anyway, so far this new Kansai league has four teams (Osaka, Kobe, Akashi, and then Wakayama), and I get the feeling they want to have two more teams in Nara and Shiga, to bring the league to six like the other independent leagues.

Yoshida, for the record, lives in Kanagawa, near Tokyo, so it seems she'll have to transfer schools to somewhere in Kobe if she wants to play with this team.

I think it's pretty cool, of course, given that one of the worst days of my childhood was when my mother informed me that little girls can't become professional baseball players when they grow up.

I was already making a goal of seeing Shikoku Island League and Hokushinetsu League games next year, so I'll just have to add the Kansai ones to my list as well. I wonder if Yoshida will actually play regularly though, or if she really is just a publicity gimmick for the new league and team. I'm sure plenty of people come to Golden Golds games hoping to see Ayumi and don't get to.

Unfortunately, this is definitely going to put even more of a damper on "throws like a girl" jokes. Not that Yukiko Ueno didn't do that already, but still.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Random Post 1: Fan Fests, Chono-baka and other assorted stuff

So, I've been back in the US for about a week now. I was in Seattle for a few days, now I'm staying with my father in Philadelphia for the next few months. (He has cancer. I'm here to cheer him up.) Anyone who wants to hang out and talk about Japanese baseball while I'm here is welcome to drop me a line. I'm planning to head back to Japan the first week in February.

I'm still sometimes reading news and trying to catch up on stuff, but it's really weird not being able to watch the Japanese sports news or read Shukan Baseball and other sports magazines. I try watching the sports news here, but being as I'm in Philly, it's all about the Eagles, despite that they apparently suck this year. I think there are a FEW people in town aware that the local baseball team won some big games a month ago, but aside from the big display at Modell's, and a bunch of people in red jackets, I haven't seen too much evidence thereof.

(I really want a "Phinally" t-shirt.)

So, back to NPB, what can I say that hasn't been said already?

The 2009 Schedules are out. Lots of Fighters games in Kanto during April. I'm looking forward to it.

One important thing that happened in the last week is that Brian Sweeney re-signed with the Fighters for next year. Yay! That made me really happy to hear -- both because he'll be good for the team, and because I'll get to harrass him for another year.

And of course, now we're going to start calling him a "blue-eyed Dosanko" instead of a "blue-eyed Samurai", I think. Dosanko meaning someone or something born in Hokkaido; I don't know whether "I am Dosanko" was what he said or what got put in the translation of his comments, though.

(I forget if I ever mentioned it before, but Consadole Sapporo, the soccer team that the Fighters share the Sapporo Dome with, took their name from the word Dosanko -- if you turn it around in Japanese syllables, you get ko-n-sa-do, which they added "Ole!" to the end of, to make their team name. I still think it's the coolest soccer name in Japan by far.)

That stupid trade seems to becoming official as I write this; Nioka is supposed to be taking uniform number #23 from Ozaki, in theory. I'm still in denial about the entire thing. I'm just glad they didn't make him armwrestle Tsuboi for #7 or anything. (EDIT: New Player press conference says Nioka did indeed get #23 and Hayashi is taking #19, last used by failed Hanshin tradee Yasuhiro Nakamura before he got released. And apparently Ozaki will wear #53, Kudoh's old number. That's not good for him. Tsuda-kun moved up from #48 to #70 as well.)

Fighters Fanfest happened last weekend. Darvish dressed up as a bee and ran bicycle races against Sho Nakata, or something. Of course, Imanari dressed up as a... umm... I don't know. I really gotta find someone who actually WENT to Fan Fest to explain to me what was up there.

Either way, I vaguely doubt it could be as nuts as what apparently happened at Yakult's fan fest, where Norichika Aoki, backed up by Kawashima and Okamoto, sang the title song by baka-band Shuchishin as part of the player Karaoke event.

(No, really. Check out the Youtube video. It's not great quality and was filmed from the stands, but it's FUNNY if you know the original. Of course, it's a bit more disturbing to see this one of Yoshinori and Masaru Satoh in drag...)

The Yokohama Baystars and Shonan Sea Rex fan fests happened last weekend as well. Westbay blogged about them. I can't decide how I feel about them -- whether I'd have gone if I was in Japan still or not, that is. I had a really good time at Baystars fanfest last year, but that was before they had this abysmal year and also released my favorite player on the team.

Speaking of my favorite player on the team, Takuro Ishii, he was infact signed by the Hiroshima Carp, and had a press conference last week to be introduced as a new team member. I'm glad he found a place to go, and I might have to actually make it to more than one Carp game next year as a result, assuming they actually PLAY him. He's wearing uniform number 25.

(But now I'm torn -- if I do get a Carp jersey, do I get a Takuro jersey or still go with Yuki Saitoh, #21? I'm still tending to think the latter.)

On another note, there have been a lot of people going on about this guy:

Junichi Tazawa

Yeah, I took that shot of Junichi Tazawa at the semi-final at the All-City industrial league tournament back in September before all of this stuff started. Seems he's getting the heck out of Japan fairly soon, and signs point to Boston. I don't know. I don't really like the situation -- mostly the money disparity between the two nations.

I could rant about it, but what my opinion comes down to is that it's not the NPB's problem to get more money and pay their players higher salaries; the problem is that MLB players are simply paid too much. I'm never fully convinced that the exodus really has that much to do with the "challenge", but more to do with the money.

(I should perhaps make it clear that the preceding statement is not really about Tazawa but about the situation in general. I should perhaps also mention that I greatly dislike discussing this stuff.)

As for why I didn't really write much about watching Tazawa at the tournament games: first, I'm not a scout, second, I was mostly there to watch the marching bands, and third, I was too busy booing this guy:

Yes, Hisayoshi Chono seems to have a goal of making half of the fanbases in Japan hate his guts, as this time he apparently decided he will not play for Lotte.

This follows two years after the Fighters tried to draft him out of Nihon University and he said he'd only play for the Giants, invoking the ire of Fighters fans everywhere for the snub. He then went on to play for Honda Sayama's team, and has been a fairly standout player in the industrial leagues, at least judging by the amount of space he's given in the magazines and such. (When I saw him play, he did pretty poorly, but that might have just been karma.) Now, he's turning down Lotte. Does he really expect to get drafted again in two years? I think he's basically screwed over his chances at a pro career -- I doubt a 26-year-old outfielder will be worth all that much by the time he comes up again, and the Giants really have no reason to take him.

Something funny: my Japanese cellphone automatically completes, if I type 長野 (Chono), it suggests that the next thing I want to say is 馬鹿 (Baka). That should give you a good indication of how many times I typed it when discussing the draft in Japanese.

I guess this does solve one problem for me: I didn't think I'd be able to watch him at Lotte's minor-league park next year without getting an urge to boo him, so this way I don't need to worry about it.

I'm about halfway done reading the Wally Yonamine book; I slept more on my flights home than I intended to. Alas.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Asia Series, Day 3: Photopost

I apologize for this one, but I am in an internet cafe and running out of time, and I basically fly back to America in about 36 hours. So here is Saturday's Asia Series antics, basically told as a series of photos and a few videos.

I actually woke up on Saturday with a terrible sore throat and a headache. I spent the day basically running off of adrenaline and DayQuil, and only stayed at the Dome until an hour or so into the second game of the day, before going home to sleep for 12 hours.

Watched the afternoon game of the Seibu Lions vs. Tianjin Lions from the leftfield stands with Westbay and Matt, hence very few real usable photos. Not much to say about the game either, really. The best part was probably when Okawari-kun Nakamura got his first hit of the Asia Series -- and BOY what a hit -- it was a home run that nearly hit the ceiling of the Tokyo Dome, no joke, and after sailing in a huuuuuge arch over the field, it hit the back wall in the SECOND DECK of the leftfield stands and bounced back onto the field. Yikes. Later on Ginjiro also got a home run off the left-field foul pole, which was interesting to see, and made me understand better how it was possible to have a difficult call on those in the games on the first day, because even sitting 15 feet behind the foul pole I didn't quite see Ginjiro's ball hit it.

Seibu won 16-2, much to nobody's surprise in particular.

Tianjin outfielder Chao Wang.

Seibu outfielder Takumi Kuriyama.

The Seibu stands, viewed from the leftfield foul pole.

Okawari-kun hero interview.

We wandered around Jimbocho looking at old baseball book stores with Westbay and a friend of his, and after that Matt and I returned to the Dome for the evening game. I had no intention of staying there for more than an hour, to be honest, and mostly took photos and hung out.

This is what the Tokyo Dome looks like at night during Christmas lights season.

This is Fu-Hao Liu. He hit 3 home runs in the Asia Series, including two during this particular game, for a total of 6 RBIs in the game. Crazy.

Catcher Chih-Kang Kao, who hit back-to-back home runs with Liu in the 4th inning.

One of the many mascots this team had.

Cheng-Hua Kao with Yi-Cheng Tseng. Tseng was the interesting 3/4 delivery pitcher from Friday night who would also play a major part in Sunday's final game.

Tongyi starter Yueh-Ping Lin.

Wyverns starter Byung-Yong Chei. He was HUGE. It even said in the book that he weighs like 100 kg, which puts him around the same range as Okawari-kun.

The Uni-President Lions ouendan. They were nuts. There were also a ton of Japanese people supporting them.

The nice people playing the brass instruments for the Lions ouendan.

And an abundance of cheer girls and mascots, of course. See? They actually DO have a Lion in there. Honest.

And here are a few videos of the Uni-President Lions ouendan...

Doing the Seibu running chance theme. At least, they use the same tune. Note the dude in the Seibu jersey who is DOING the Seibu running theme.

I swear this is like the Graduation March or whatever. Quite surreal.

One of their more generic cheers, but I thought it was neat how even in Chinese they had the "GO! GO! GO!" at the end.

Here's what's interesting. I only stayed until the 4th inning, so I didn't get to see it unfold, but the Lions beat the Wyverns 10-4.

What that meant is that actually, due to the tie-breaking rules -- based on how many runs the team gave up -- the Wyverns would not advance to the finals. All three teams were 2-1 in the tournament, but Seibu gave up 7 runs, Uni-President gave up 10, and SK gave up 13. Oops. SK could have lost the game 6-4 and still advanced to the finals, but that homerun by Liu pretty much clinched the spot for the Taiwanese squad.

And onward they went.

I won't have time to post about the final game for a while if at all, so I'll just say that it was CLOSE, it was 0-0 for most of the game until a walk and a sayonara double in the bottom of the 9th for Seibu. Seriously, crazy close game. Congrats to Seibu, but congrats even moreso to the Uni-President Lions for not only surviving their own league but then putting in such a great showing in this tournament, and to their fans as well.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Asia Series: Day 2, Game 2 -- Kishi Tames Tongyi

When last we left our heroes, we were getting lunch between the two games on Day 2.

I returned to the Dome before the rest of the gang, because I was meeting up with one of my friends from the Fighters ouendan. He wanted to come see Taiwan's team play; if the Giants had been in this game he was seriously going to go sit in left field and cheer for them, but since it was Seibu, he decided to sit in right field with me. I think in reality he thought the Taiwan fans were just really entertaining to watch, which is quite true.

He also brought Krispy Kreme donuts. Apparently they just opened a new location down in Kawasaki.

Eventually we reassembled most of our gang in right field; Matt and Simon were there at the game's beginning, and Pau joined us a bit later and Simon's dad a bit after that.

As for my Fighters friend, Simon had brought extra Seibu flags and offered them to us. I gladly accepted because I like waving things around and yelling, but my friend steadfastly refused, claiming that as a Fighters fan he could cheer for Japan but not for Seibu.

(Instead, we spent a while getting trash-talked at by Pau about the recent Fighters trade, which became official that morning. Our basic attitude has been "NIOKA. DO NOT WANT.")

Anyway, this game was also really close. The first three innings were scoreless both ways, with Seibu getting a few more baserunners than Uni-President. Infact they even had two runners out there with no outs in the third inning, but Kuriyama utterly failed to sac bunt and Hirao mostly failed to get a hit, so the runners were stranded.

Finally, in the top of the 4th, Uni second baseman Sen Yang led off with a double to right, and advanced on a groundout to the pitcher. Jiminez Brito hit a monster shot to center field, which Shogo Akada caught near the warning track, but it was more than enough to score Yang, who tagged up and ran in to make it 1-0. Kuo-Ching Kao followed that up with a double to left, but Tai-Chi Kuo struck out to end the threat.

So in the bottom of the 4th the Seibu Lions responded in kind. Yoshihito Ishii hit a double out to center, and Tomoaki Satoh grounded out attempting to bunt, moving Ishii to third. Hiroyuki Ohshima singled to center and that scored Ishii to tie the game at 1-1. Then Ginjiro Sumitani -- who hadn't gotten a hit all through the Japan Series, but seemed to be hitting his stride in the Asia Series -- doubled to center. Ohshima attempted to score from first, and got NAILED at the plate by the throw in from center. Oops. Two out. Shogo Akada then chose that moment to actually HIT THE BALL though, and he ALSO doubled to center, which scored Ginjiro, making it 2-1.

Which is where the score would end up remaining for the rest of the game.

The game was actually INSANELY short -- it did go the full 9 innings, but it was over around 8:35pm. Kishi struck out 10 batters in 8 innings, and Hoshino and Onodera finished ou the 9th inning for him.

As for Taiwan, their starter Wei-Lun Pan lasted the first 6 innings before being replaced by Yi-Chen Tseng, who had a really interesting delivery, kind of a 3/4ths motion that reminded me of the Fighters pitcher Tateyama. When Tseng came in the next two batters immediately grounded back to the mound, even.

We spent a while being amused by the Taiwanese cheering section; I missed Thursday afternoon's game so this was my first time seeing them. They did a whole variety of typical high school marching band songs, like Popeye and Old McDonald and Johnny Comes Marching Home and whatnot.

Also, we were sitting in the same exact place from Thursday, which meant all of the same nutso Lions fans were right behind us doing the Macarena dance and cheering for Mizuta when he came in to pinch-run and whatnot.

A few photos from this game:

Lions mascots in the field. Leo did 16 back flips. (My friend counted, then said something to the effect of, "Take THAT, Doala!")

I really wanted a better picture of the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions away uniforms -- the home ones have the Tongyi logo but the away look kind of like Oakland uniforms except that they say 7-Eleven on the front. Alas.

The fans sitting behind us had a variety of signs. I liked this one.

In the midst of the Blue Blue and Blue flags.

Final score. Shogo Akada was game hero for that go-ahead run, though honestly, I would have gone with Kishi as game hero... I'm biased, though.

Asia Series: Day 2, Game 1 - Wyverns Whomp Tianjin Lions

I must admit that I went into the Asia Series with an attitude of, "I spent 4000 yen for this Passport, and I'm going to get the most I can out of it." Since the Japan representative was not a team I normally cheer for, I ended up treating the series mostly as a social event. Which, to some extent, it was.

For the first game on Friday, the matinee featuring Korea's SK Wyverns taking on China's Tianjin Lions, I attempted to meet up with Michael Westbay when I arrived at the dome. I was about 15 minutes late to the game; he told me to join him in the seats behind home plate... of course, you can't actually GO there with a jiyuu passport, so I gave up and found a slightly better vantage point -- first row behind the SK Wyverns dugout.

Eventually, me and my camera were joined by Westbay, Matt, and Simon, and we watched Korea pretty much stomp the Chinese representatives into the ground. Eun-Beom Song started for the Wyverns, and Wei Chen for the Lions.

The score held at 0-0 for two innings, and then the Wyverns just broke open the game in the top of the 3rd, batting around the entire order and scoring 7 runs in the process, stealing bases at will.

After that the Chinese team sort of seemed to lose concentration on the game and not only made terrible fielding errors but even simple baserunning errors. In the bottom of the 4th, there was a runner at first with one out, and the batter hit a pop fly out to left field. The runner had already gotten past second base, so when the ball was caught he started sort of jogging/walking back to first base. We were all like "DUDE, WHAT ARE YOU DOING, RUN RUN RUN" but he didn't, so the Wyverns left fielder threw in the ball and the runner was tagged out.

The game was called after 7 innings on the mercy rule with a score of 15-0. Jae-Hyun Kim just added insult to injury by blasting a home run into the empty right-field seats in the top of the 7th.

To be fair, Tianjin's players have some potential -- some great outfield arms there and a lot of speed. They just sort of gave up way too easily.

Some photos:

Wyverns starter Eun-Beom Song.

Lions starter Wei Chen.

SK Wyverns cheering section in the infield.

Jae-Hyun Kim hits a huge pop foul in the 3rd inning.

Lions catcher Min Ren goes after the foul ball and gets it.

Wyverns catcher Sang Ho Chung.

Lions pitcher Wan-Jun Zhang.

Wyverns pitcher Song is airborne for some reason.

Zhi-Cheng Liu strikes out.

Pitcher Eun-Beom Song again.

Wyverns relief pitcher Byung-Doo Jun. (I don't know why, but the lady sitting a row behind us who also had a huge camera was really excited when he came out to pitch.)

Final lopsided score.

Song was the game hero, apparently.

We were kicked out of the stadium after that, and adjourned to have lunch with Aaron from EWC and his boss. I learned many interesting things, none of which I can blog about.

And then back to the Dome for the night game, which will be in the next entry.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Game Report: SK Wyverns vs. Seibu Lions @ Tokyo Dome -- Lion Down on the Job

I went to the evening game of the Asia Series tonight. The Korean champion SK Wyverns beat the Japan champion Seibu Lions 4-3.

In all honesty, I don't have a lot to say about this game. And I only have ten minutes or so to say it anyway, so here goes, in points:

- If you have a jiyuu passport for the Series, you will have to change it in for an actual passport card, at one of the ticket selling booths, NOT at the entrance. So go do that first.

- Security is heightened. You will be scanned by a metal detector upon entering. Leave extra time to wait in long lines, or show up early if you really want to get good seats in jiyuuseki (the unreserved seats).

- Speaking of jiyuuseki, apparently they are not opening the upper decks except MAYBE for the final game? Tonight I was basically told "it's not going to be crowded enough to make us open the second floor." I think the ticketing scheme which involved the second floor as unreserved seats for Japan games also assumed there would be a popular enough Japanese team to fill those seats (ie, Giants).

- The Lions are not playing a lot of their normal top-line guys. Tonight's game basically had Kuriyama, Okawari-kun, and maybe Gotoh, of their usual lineup... it was Akada, Kuriyama, Hirao, Nakamura, Gotoh, Tomoaki Satoh, Ishii, Ginjiro, and Mizuta. Yeah. We were all like "who the hell is Mizuta?" but he actually had some huge cheering fans near where we were sitting anyway. I kinda wondered what happened to Haruki Kurose, but whatever.

- Okawari-kun Nakamura struck out three times and walked once. Sheesh.

- Kwang-Hyun Kim started for the SK Wyverns. He's that kid who not only beat the Dragons last year at the age of 19 (now he's 20!) but also kicked butt in the Olympics and was his league's MVP this year and so on. I don't think he actually got the victory tonight though because he only went 4.2 innings.

- Kazuyuki Hoashi started for the Lions. He wasn't bad but he gave up two identical homeruns that pretty much went right to the left-field corner, which accounted for 3 of the 4 runs the Wyverns scored. The second one hit the foul pole and the first, I actually lost it in the lights so I'm not sure what happened, Nabe-Q argued it for a bit but it stood.

- There were a lot of strikeouts by both sides.

- We realized there has never been an Asia Series without a Lions team. 2005 and 2006 had Samsung, last year had Uni-President, and this year has three of them. The Four-Lions Series dream is still alive, of course.

- There were NOT a lot of people there. Official attendance appears to be 9277. I wonder if it'll be any better over the weekend -- maybe Sunday's final game, but who knows. This was a Thursday night, but usually Korea draws a bigger crowd than most others.

- Oh, and the Lions fans still did a lot of their usual antics. I joined in singing and stuff actually, but not in running back and forth in the stands. Maybe tomorrow :)

Honestly, the upshot is -- I think if the Lions had their top guys out there, they would have handily defeated the Wyverns, actually. But they were basically playing their farm team, and that's gotta hurt. I have to wonder whether they will actually manage to win this series or not -- tomorrow's game against the Uni-President-7-11-whatever-the-heck Lions will pretty much decide their fate, I think. If Japan doesn't make it to the final game, that'll be... bizarre, to say the least.

I'm going to try to make it to both games tomorrow. Shame I overslept this afternoon's game, actually, because apparently China's Lions ALMOST defeated Taiwan's Lions -- it was apparently 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th with two outs and then Taiwan hit a sayonara grand slam to make it 7-4. Man.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Year of the Lion

(image from Yahoo)

Seibu went through their entire pitching staff after a rough start by Fumiya Nishiguchi, and the game was at 2-1 with the Giants leading for a long time. Teenage Wonderboy Hayato Sakamoto hit a home run early on, and then later Hiram Bocachica hit one to give the Lions their first run.

I watched this game on TV with a friend and we actually spent the first two thirds of it in a "dammit, the Giants are going to win, aren't they" sort of mode, and then Kataoka got on base in the 8th inning, stole second (setting a Japan Series record at 5-for-5?), moved to third, and... came home on a groundout, tying the game. They intentionally walked Okawari-kun, which is understandable, but then unintentionally walked third-string catcher Noda, so when Hirao singled and Okawari-kun lumbered home and scored to make it 3-2, suddenly EVERYTHING changed.

We were glued to the TV from that moment until Ramirez grounded out to short to end the game, pretty much.

And I was really happy to see that Kishi was the Series MVP. That was really well-deserved -- there's no way they would have made it without him.

So, yeah! Lions vs Lions vs Lions vs... Wyverns... in the Asia Series. It's okay. PACIFIC LEAGUE PRIDE!

Also, this morning I went to the Wally Yonamine book event -- but I think I might actually post more about that in a few days when I actually read the book, since I've only got limited internet time right now.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Japan Series Game Report: Giants vs. Lions @ Seibu Dome -- Okawari-kun's Second Helping of Two-run Homers

(Photos at the end of the post in one lump sum, for the most part.)

Further in the realm of "Things I get to do in Japan, but not in America", I went to see the Lions play the Giants at the Seibu Dome tonight... for game 4 of the Japan Series. Yes, it would have been nicer if certain other teams had made it, but... I GOT TO GO TO SEE THE JAPAN SERIES. (Thanks to a friend who works for the Lions, I even had help to get tickets to sit in the FIFTH ROW behind first base. Dude.)

Accompanying me for this game was my friend Brian, who is visiting Japan for the week from Seattle. I've known him since our freshman year of college, which is longer ago than I'd like to admit. He'd said before that he didn't mind getting dragged to a baseball game while he was here, but I'm pretty sure that having Game 4 of the 2008 Japan Series as his first ever Japanese baseball game was not exactly what he expected. I was in total verbose mode babbling about pretty much everything. "...and those guys, they're called the ouendan. That means support group, or cheering group. They have flags and trumpets and they lead everyone in singing cheer songs for players. And see that big guy right there? His name's Nakamura, but everyone calls him Okawari-kun. It basically means 'Mr. Second Helping.' And that guy over there, that's Bocachica, he actually played for the Mariners back in 2004. Yeah, the bad year. These balloons? No, we'll blow them up during the 7th inning and everyone in the stadium will throw them into the air together. Really!"

I bought a bunch of souvenirs, including a 2008 Pacific League Champions towel, which I promptly opened up and put around my neck, being as we were on the Seibu side and I was prepared to be my usual Giants-hating self. I got a 2008 Japan Series noisemaker, and so even though it felt REALLY strange to be singing along to the Seibu ouenka and cheering for the Lions, that's just the way things went.

I was a bit disappointed there was no ceremonial first pitch, considering Saturday night I watched on TV as Yukiko Ueno threw the pitch in the Tokyo Dome, and last night Tulio Tanaka, the Brazilian-Japanese star player for the Urawa Reds soccer team, threw out the first pitch at the Seibu Dome. Something funny: I would say that Tulio threw like a girl, except given that Ueno IS a girl and can throw 100mph or whatever, I'm not sure that's the right way to put it.

Starting for the Lions was Takayuki Kishi, and starting for the Giants was Seth Greisinger.

And for a change... unlike Tuesday night where Giants leadoff batter Takahiro Suzuki got on base and scored within the first 5 minutes of the game, setting the pace for the Giants to win, this time the Giants went down quickly and the Lions leadoff batter Yasuyuki Kataoka got on base, stole second, and Kuriyama hit a double up the right-field line to bring him home -- scoring the first run for the LIONS in their first five minutes and setting the pace that way. 1-0.

Kishi didn't even give up his first hit of the evening until the 4th inning when Ryota Wakiya hit a hard grounder to the mound that Kishi couldn't field cleanly. The first REAL hit of the evening for the Giants came for a pinch-hitting Takuya Kimura in the top of the 6th.

Meanwhile, the Lions offense -- or more like, Nakajima and Okawari-kun -- were keeping busy on the base paths. Kind of. Nakajima was having a tough time of it at first when he came up in the 4th inning, and he took some big swings off of Greisinger and looked kind of unhappy about it, even walking around home plate to get his bearings... came back in, and BAM, the ball hit him in the arm. Except for whatever reason, rather than Greisinger tipping his cap and Nakajima calmly going to first, Nakajima took a few steps towards the mound, yelling, Greisinger took a few steps off the mound, yelling, and then EVERYONE ran out of the dugouts towards the mound and EVERYONE was yelling. Eventually Ramirez kind of got Greisinger away from the crowd and walked him towards the mound, and Kuriyama pulled Nakajima away.

Nakaji and Greisinger are not happy.

So naturally everyone has to run out and see what's up.

A completely non-violent but somewhat loud bench-clearing party.

Ramirez takes Greisinger back to the mound.

Kuriyama walks Nakajima to first base.

"It's because he's a damn gaijin, causing problems," one of the guys behind me said.

I turned around and made a face at him. He shut up.

(A bit later he actually tapped Brian on the shoulder and said something about "sorry we're being so noisy," which really meant "sorry for the gaijin comment", except Brian didn't understand it, so I was like "no problem, it's okay," really meaning "You probly didn't think I'd understand you anyway.")

I would also like to note that unlike certain Hosokawas I can name, catcher Tsuruoka actually managed to block the fight in a really effective way.

Anyway, exciting bench-clearing brawls aside, the very next thing that happened was, naturally, Okawari-kun Nakamura coming up to the plate and doing what he's been known for doing all year -- completely devouring the first pitch he saw, an inside pitch, and sending it over the left-field wall. BAM. 3-0.

A bit after that we got to see Giants centerfielder Takahiro Suzuki do one of his now-patented Golden Glove Diving Somersault catches. I always feel guilty admitting I like him, but he's really about as un-Giants-like as you get while still being on the Giants.

So naturally in the bottom of the 6th, Nakajima leads off again, and he's still pissed off, and he takes a huge chop, totally splits his bat, and the ball goes shooting to short on a choppy grounder. Teenage Wonderboy Hayato Sakamoto gets it, and makes a throw to first, but it's a bit wide and so Nakajima is safe.

Okawari-kun Nakamura comes up to the plate.


The old guy next to me (who was a nice old guy, he and his wife kept being like "look at how nicely that young lady writes kanji!") laughed, and then the first pitch came to the plate, and


the pitch went up, up, and AWAAAAAAY and landed in the left-field Giants cheering section yet again. 5-0.

Okawari-kun Nakamura says, "I'll take another inside pitch, please!"

Nakajima and Nakamura high-five at home plate following the two-run homer.

Okawari-kun tips his hat to the Lions fans.

Greisinger came out of the game and Yamaguchi replaced him on the mound.

The excitement continued as Ishii singled and Gotoh walked (no home run for me today, sadly) and Tomoaki Satoh sac bunted them up to second and third. The Seibu cheering section actually did their running cheer for Satoh, even, which was pretty nuts given how crowded it was. Then Hosokawa came up to bat, and was just one gigantic pile of fail as he ended up striking out bunting, and Akada ("He's the player leader, but he spent half of the year in the minors," I explained) also struck out swinging.

During the top of the 7th, I got out the balloons I'd bought earlier. "NOW we blow these up... see... so are those people..."

The Giants actually got a runner to second base during their Lucky 7, but that was it. Although we'd already filled up our balloons when Abe came to the plate with two outs, so it took quite a while for him to single and move up to second on a wild pitch to the backstop, but then Kamei hit a sharp grounder towards right which went past the first baseman but Kataoka managed to snag it and throw to first in time for the play, and "Hoero Lions" started playing on the loudspeakers.

Let me tell you that it was VERY strange being on the other side of all that. This was infact the first time I'd ever been on the first base side for a game!

Kataoka walked to lead off the bottom of the 7th, and then... and then Kuriyama hit a big pop fly to left field, almost a home run, so Kataoka was off running on the crack of the bat. Kuriyama was out, Kataoka ran back to first, and then he was out too. How? We weren't quite sure. Everyone was in a "WTF" mode, until one of the younger guys behind me that I'd been talking to a bit said he heard on the radio that Kataoka went past second when he ran out and didn't tag it on the way back. Whoops!

Lions fans cheered and booed for Kiyoshi Toyoda when he took the mound for the Giants. It was kind of surreal.

Kishi stayed out there for the ninth inning, amazingly, and got through it 1-2-3, ending on an awkward grounder to first that Kishi had to cover the bag on, and that was the game as the Lions won it 5-0.

Watanabe-manager came out and gave a speech, and then Okawari-kun was a game hero and gave an interview (mostly "What were you thinking on those inside pitches?" "I was thinking I was going to hit a home run for Nakaji."), and then... and then the entire stadium started yelling "KI-SHI! KI-SHI! KI-SHI! KI-SHI!"

He came out after about a minute of that, looking kind of sheepish, in a "Wait, I'm a game hero too?" sort of way, and was very nervous during his interview, while they were saying how good his pitching was and everything else, he was just staring at his feet like "I'm just glad I could help the team and win an important game."

"ASHITA MO NAGERU YO!" ("Pitch tomorrow too!!") yelled one of the younger guys behind me, and everyone laughed.

Okay, because I'm writing this mostly offline, all the rest of the photos are in one big chunk. I admit the lighting in the Seibu Dome is still getting to me, but these are my last game photos for the year (technically; I still have old photos to sort through over the winter), so here's just a whole bunch of them.


Taketoshi Gotoh, who usually hits a home run for me, but not today.

Hiram Bocachica! I yelled "GOOD LUCK HIRAM! FROM SEATTLE!!" and he turned and waved at me, though I'm not sure he remembered who I was.

Takumi Kuriyama, who would bat in the first run of the game.

Yoshihito Ishii, another Urawa Gakuin guy, joking around.

Nakajima and Hosokawa being silly.

During the game


Giants starter Seth Greisinger.

Yasuyuki Kataoka refuses to be picked off, and infact stole second shortly after this.

Teenage heartthrob Hayato Sakamoto.

One of Kishi's many fans.

Takuya Kimura, who hit the first REAL hit of the game.

Lefty Tetsuya Yamaguchi.

Takayuki Kishi, still pitching in the 9th inning.

After the Game

The Lions mascots.

Kishi and Kataoka walk off the field together.

Manager Hisanobu Watanabe gives a manager's victory speech.

Okawari-kun Nakamura: "Yeah, I like in-course pitches. Hitting home runs is fun."

"I'm... I'm just glad I could help the team."

I caption this one "Okawari-kun has balls."

Kishi waves to the crowd after saluting the outfield stands fans.

Anyway, it was really great to see a Japan Series game. Even if it wasn't in Sapporo.

As I finally manage to upload this, the Giants have won game 5, so it's now 3-2 in their favor. I'm kind of hoping Seibu can still win the Series mostly for Pacific League Power and all, plus then the Asia Series will be Lions vs Lions vs Lions vs Wyverns.