Saturday, March 07, 2009

WBC Game 2: Taiwan vs. Korea - Watch Out For Balls

If you've gone to baseball games in Japan, you might have noticed that any time a foul ball enters the stands during a game, tons of ushers blow whistles and an announcement comes over the speaker -- "ファウルボールにご注意下さい。" Which means, basically, "be careful of foul balls". For whatever reason, there's a history of fans getting hit by baseballs either during a game or during batting practice, and suing the team for damages, which is why most stadiums have those ridiculous fences up all over the place and these super-careful ushers. I just accept it as another part of the charm of going to Japanese baseball games.

But see, for international games, they feel it necessary to tell us this message in both Japanese AND English, just to make sure everyone knows the danger of being hit with foul balls. However, they have also traditionally translated it in a way that is rather amusing...


Ever since the Asia Series in 2007, this has actually been a running gag between me and Pau. When a pitcher is having control issues, we might even joke, "Watch out for balls!"

Which nicely leads me into talking about Game 2 of the WBC, which featured Korea's big lefty pitcher Hyunjin Ryu (and by big I literally mean big -- he's Okawari-kun sized at 98kg) from the Hanwha Eagles versus Taiwan's pitcher Chen-Chang Lee. Lee signed with the Cleveland Indians this past fall, but I don't know how much playing time he's gotten so far over in the US.

I was at this game with a few friends; Simon, who writes a fantastic Japanese hockey (and other sports) blog; Matt, who's just starting his own Japanese baseball blog, and Sakamoto, who is one of my friends from the Fighters cheering section who happened to have Friday off from work and nothing better to do than to watch the WBC. We sat on the Taiwan cheering side partially by dumb luck and partially on purpose -- we wanted Taiwan to win because we figure Japan would have an easier time beating them in the semi-finals.

As the lineups were announced, we were kind of like "Who?" for most of the players, although I certainly recognized a bunch of the Korean members from past Asia Series and other such events, as well as Shin-soo Choo, who I saw play many many times in Tacoma when he was in the Mariners minor league system. For the Taiwan side, they got up to "Batting 5th, the right fielder, Lin Wei-Tzu!" and we all cheered.

We'd gotten Taiwan flags from a cheering group around us, and our entire section was speaking Chinese and cheering for Taiwan, and when we cheered Lin, a lady turned around and asked in English, "You like Lin Wei-chu?"

"Yes, I'm a big Lin fan!" I said. This is true. Lin is probably my favorite Hanshin Tigers player that isn't Jeff Williams.

"You like Hanshin Tigers?" she asked.

"Well... no..." I had to admit.

"You cheer for Taiwan?"

"Yes!" we all said and waved our flags.

So we suddenly started chatting it up with all of the people around us, some of whom actually spoke pretty good English, some of whom spoke decent Japanese, and so on. That was pretty cool, but unfortunately the Taiwanese fans didn't bring their ouendan and instruments. The Korean fans, on the other side, had totally taken over the outfield stands on their side, had their cheer sticks and cheerleaders and everything. I guess this might be because there are probably more Koreans living in Japan, and especially ones who would come out for this series.

Crazy Korea fans.

So anyway, about watching out for balls...

The Taiwan team went down 1-2-3 in the top of the first inning, including the first double play of the night when Chih-Hsien Chiang lined a ball back to the pitcher and doubled Che-Hsuan Lin off first. Oops. But that was nothing compared to the devastation that was about to follow...

Chen-Chang Lee got up there and started throwing pitches. Or should I say, he started throwing balls -- he walked the first batter on 5 pitches.

Then he proceeded to hit Keun-woo Jeong in the back with the first pitch he threw to him.

Five pitches later, Hyun-soo Kim was also standing on first base. Bases loaded, and Tae-kyun Kim came up and hit a single to left field, which scored the first two runners. 2-0. In the first four batters, Lee threw 11 balls and 4 strikes. Seriously. WATCH OUT FOR BALLS!

Dae Ho Lee -- another huge batter -- walloped a gigantic pop fly to left, but at least it was caught. One out! Wow! But then... Shin-soo Choo came up to bat, and while it was a bigger struggle against him, it took 7 pitches for HIM to also end up walking to first, loading the bases yet again.

Jin Young Lee came up and got up to a 1-1 count before hitting one of the biggest home runs I've ever seen at the Tokyo Dome. It seriously sailed all the way to the back of the right-field bleachers, landing in the aisle next to the jersey for Nagashima's retired #3. It was measured as being 135 meters, which is about 443 feet, but this ball was hit so hard and so high that you knew it was gone before it had even sailed over the infield. 6-0.

You could definitely call that a different flavor of "Watch out for Balls", I suppose.

Anyway, Lee was off the mound, replaced by Kai-wen Cheng, and things kind of settled down after that.

On the other hand, when you're down 6-0 in the first inning, it's not exactly all that much fun to play or cheer for a game like that. We cheered anyway, though, especially for, of course, Lin Wei-Tzu, who went 0-for-3 and wasn't even the best defensive player out there; the Taiwanese centerfielder Che-Hsuan Lin had a CANNON for an arm and totally Ichiro'ed Kyung-Oan Park off of second at one point. It was great.

The rest of the game really was kind of just sailing along, as Korea eventually won 9-0. Taiwan managed to hit into a grand total of FIVE double plays, leading Garrett from the Tsubamegun Yakult blog to dub the game the "World Double Play Classic". Korea's Keun-woo Jeong also hit a home run in the 6th inning, which is funny because he's a little infielder dude -- he's about as tall and heavy as *I* am, which should tell you something.

I feel bad for Taiwan, though. They had two major issues coming into this tournament:
1) Two of their teams folded and many of their star players were banned from baseball following a series of gambling and fixing scandals during last year's season, and
2) Most of the remaining teams didn't want to let any of their players come to the WBC.

Thus, they're kind of playing at a fairly weakened state, which sucks for the honest players. As I write this, they've just gotten beaten by China, which has GOT to be embarrassing.

Anyway, the most exciting part of the evening was actually AFTER the game!

I mentioned that Garrett had dubbed it the WDPC, right? Well, Simon had been texting with him for the game, so afterwards we actually met up with Garrett and Christopher Pelligrini from the blog. Christopher turns out to not only be a crazy Yakult fan, but he's also an actor of sorts... and one of HIS friends, another actor, just happened to be the guy who was doing the English announcing for the WBC and the exhibition games earlier in the week!

The story here is that this guy's stage name is Ricky Roma, and he sang Take Me Out To the Ballgame for the games as well and has also announced other international games as well as when the MLB visited here. He also happens to be in a modelling competition and he wants you to vote for him. I normally wouldn't totally pimp out random people on my blog, but you have to understand:

1) He was totally willing to chat about things like being forced to say "Please watch out for foul balls" every time a foul ball is hit. Yes, I got to meet the actual guy who announces "WATCH OUT FOR BALLS!"
2) He also actually spent a while playing ball for Kin-chan's Ibaraki Golden Golds at one point! How cool is THAT? (He also answered one of my main questions about that team, namely whether people get paid, the answer being "mostly, no.")
3) He had tons of entertaining stories. And if you know me, I like good stories more than just about anything else except possibly age-sembei crackers.

Oh my god! It's that guy!

Right, so five of us (Garrett, Christopher, me, Simon, and Ricky Roma!) adjourned to a nearby izakaya -- Simon somehow has a sixth sense for always being able to find a nearby bar no matter where we were -- and ate monjayaki and drank beer and talked about baseball and acting and just tons of random crap. It was a really good time and it was really fantastic to finally meet the Tsubamegun guys as well as the WBC announcer.

So yeah -- lame game, but exciting night. Taiwanese people are really nice, though.

I'm off in a bit to hopefully go see Japan vs. Korea tonight -- talk about a charged-up game.

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