Those who have read this blog for a while might remember that I was trying to complete an entire tour of seeing games in all the stadiums in Japan back in 2006 and failed to get to Sapporo and Fukuoka and Skymark that year. Last year I saw games in Sapporo and Fukuoka, but then only got to see Skymark when wandering around Kansai, didn't get to actually see a game there.
Well, I can now proudly say that I have completed the baseball tour of 2006. Unfortunately, Japan seems intent on thwarting my plan of actually seeing games at ALL the regular stadiums in Japan, since now I also have to go to the new one in Hiroshima in order to complete the baseball tour of 2009. Doh! (I'm planning to go there in June, by the way.)
Anyway, I took a night bus from Tokyo to Osaka, arriving in Osaka at 6am on Sunday. Let me tell you that there is absolutely nothing to do in Osaka at 6am on a Sunday, so I did the only thing I could think of: I wandered out to Koshien stadium to look at the renovations, at least from the outside, since I have no clue when I'll be back there.
It looks nice, and at least they've taken the coverings off a lot of the stadium, though it's missing the traditional ivy now and looks very different than it did a few years ago.
If you did miss the fake ivy, there's still plenty out past the outfield fences. This is where they say there will be a Koshien museum opening up in March 2010, by the way.
This is not a photo of trash cans so much as it is a photo of the Koshien logo, which I found interesting and hadn't seen before.
And even odder -- somehow I never knew there was a shrine right behind the back outfield wall! I guess it was always too crowded whenever I was there for a game, or maybe I am just oblivious.
So after a bit of wandering around Koshien, I stopped at the McDonald's there for breakfast (I generally don't go to McDonald's, but I knew they were likely to have a place I could charge my cellphone), and then figured, what the heck, I would just head out to Skymark Stadium.
I arrived at around 9am. The game was starting at 1pm. The gates were opening at 11:30 am. Hence, this is pretty much what I saw at the left field gates...
There were literally about 6 people standing around. Two were guys sitting by the actual gate itself, and then there were about 6 or 7 mats on the ground with about 3 or 4 people actually sitting on them. Nobody looked like Fighters fans that I recognized, though the two guys by the gate looked vaguely familiar, so I asked, "Are you guys Fighters ouendan?" and they said "Yeah." The younger one said "Oh! I saw you at the Seibu Dome, right?" and I'm like "Yeah, probably!" and explained, "I've never been here before, am I in the right place?" and they said "yeah, just go put your stuff in line with everyone else's over there", and I said okay and did that.
The guy sitting next to me had an Omiya Ardija chain on his bag, so I asked him if he also came down from Saitama, but no, he's just FROM Saitama, he's lived in Osaka for years. I talked to one or two other people, then mostly got bored waiting by myself and wandered off to look around. I went into the Sports Complex visitor center for a little bit, and walked around the goods tents, and also saw the Orix mascots, though I couldn't get them to take a photo with me (probably because first, I am foreign, and second, I was wearing my Fighters jersey).
Ripsea signs stuff for some kids.
It was, by the way, COLD out there, around 9-10 degrees Celsius, which is basically in the upper 40's, Fahrenheit-wise. I was wearing two layers of shirts, plus a winter jacket, plus my jersey over it, and gloves, and my Kamagaya towel as a scarf, and I was still really cold. There was also insanely strong wind blowing the entire time we were out there, so I could either sit still and be cold, or walk around and have my eyes tearing up from the wind blowing at them.
So from about 9am to around 10:30am I mostly just sat there by myself being cold and staring around at people. Then at least a few familiar faces showed up -- some folks from Tokyo, and even more surprising, some folks from Hokkaido! Seriously, a bunch of the people who I sat with at the Seibu Dome were also down in Kobe! I also ran into a Hichori fangirl who I met in Sendai last year and her friend who I know I met at another point (I forget when) who is a huge Itoi fangirl. So I ended up sitting with them and a few others.
We finally got into the stadium at 11:30! I immediately bugged one of the women in our group to take a photo of me so I'd have my 13th pro stadium out of the way:
And then we watched the Fighters take BP and stuff. I yelled down hello to Brian Sweeney, asked why he wasn't pitching, he said he'd be starting on Wednesday instead, and then we just talked about the weather and stuff. Apparently it was snowing in Hokkaido, so Kobe was't THAT bad... he was like "feels like East Coast weather, doesn't it?" Anyway, honestly, I know Brian's having a bit of a rough start, but the fans are behind him and want him to do well, and we believe in him. (And yeah, that's what other people said to me in Japanese.)
It was pretty cloudy and even started raining a little bit during BP, which was kind of terrifying. I took a few photos anyway:
Darvish was walking around. A bunch of little boys tried to get his attention but to no avail.
And um, this is Brian Sweeney juggling some baseballs. I hope he doesn't get in trouble for this. :)
I went and wandered around Skymark for a while. Or well, I WANTED to go wander around Skymark for a while, except it turns out that you basically have a choice: are you in the outfield, or in the infield? There is no going between them, even if you have a ticket for the better section. I had an infield ticket, and was basically told that if I left the stadium, I would not be able to re-enter, and there was no way between the areas. I suppose you could buy two tickets in order to be in a different area, but that is really annoying. I suppose, actually, that it is pretty much exactly the same as Yokohama Stadium, though, plus that you can switch between right and left field.
So instead I just wandered the outfield, and will have to go back again someday to wander the infield, apparently.
View of the infield from behind dead centerfield.
There are basically three food stands on each side, and not a great variety of choices, though enough that you should be able to find SOMETHING that suits you.
View of the bullpen from the rightfield stands.
I think this is a picnic area over the third base exit.
Here is the Fighters ouendan as we cheer our starting lineup.
While the Buffaloes lineup is being announced, they show these cute cartoons of the players to go with the pictures. (This is Hiroyuki Oze. I may have mentioned once or twice last year that I think Oze is pretty cute, and he wears high socks, too.)
So it didn't bother me too much that this was my view for half the game in left field.
Yeah, so there was a game. And just as it was starting, the skies decided to open up and start sprinkling rain on us to go with the cold wind. Yay.
Mamoru Kishida started for Orix, and Ryo Sakakibara started for the Fighters. The first three innings passed mostly uneventfully, and then...
...Tuffy Rhodes cracked a home run in the 4th inning. It turned out to be his 450th career home run in Japan, and the game stopped for a few seconds so people could give him flowers and stuff.
By this point it was raining quite a bit more, and the Buffaloes added two more runs to Tuffy's run to bring them up 3-0. It was somewhat annoying because Takeshi Hidaka basically hit a ball out to right that normally should have rolled and bounced off the wall, but instead, this time it just stopped in the mud. Ugh. So I amused myself by taking movies of the Towel Dance, which is one of my favorite Orix cheer songs...
Fortunately it didn't work, and Hiroyuki Oze grounded out anyway.
Here you can see Hideki Sunaga warming up in the bullpen during the top of the 5th as the stands are full of people holding umbrellas...
Sunaga pitched the bottom of the 5th, and it wasn't pretty, even with the rain. Sakaguchi led off with a single, then Jose Fernandez walked, and then Tuffy Rhodes came up and hit his 451st career home run, a huge shot over the centerfield wall. 6-0. Takeshi Hidaka knocked in another run to make it 7-0 a bit later.
I took this photo in order to jinx Mamoru Kishida...
...because I found it very unlikely he would actually continue his perfect game.
Infact, my friend the Itoi fan even got out her Itoi signs and we suggested that he was going to get a hit and break the game... and he did! Ohno followed that up with a double, and then Makoto Kaneko finally batted in a Fighters run, singling to right to score Itoi. 7-1. Kensuke hit a pop fly out, and Hichori grounded to third, only the ball somehow got away at first, so Ohno scored on that play. 7-2. Shinji Takahashi hit the ball into the leftfield corner where Oze had a similar problem as the one Itoi had before with the ground, and Kaneko scored on the play. 7-3. Unfortunately, that's all the Fighters managed.
It was kind of funny though because a guy sitting across the aisle from me had these BB mascot paw gloves that squeaked when you clapped them together... or high-fived them. Shame the Fighters didn't score more runs so we could high-five more...
I went up to the top of the Buffaloes section to try to get a good shot of balloons, but I quickly learned that cold weather plus wind plus rain makes for lousy balloon-throwing:
The rain let up a bit in the 8th, but the Buffaloes didn't. Keisuke Tanimoto pitched the 8th, and with two outs he walked Ohmura, gave up a double to Sakaguchi, and then then Koji Yamasaki (who??) came up and ALSO singled, scoring Ohmura and Sakaguchi, 9-3. I guess he got the memo that people besides Rhodes and Hidaka were allowed to get some RBIs. Anyway, with Yamasaki on base, Tuffy Rhodes came up and hit career home run number 452, also a towering shot over centerfield that we didn't even bother yelling "ganbatte Hichori!" during. 11-3.
Whatever, the Fighters neded the game on a double play and the good part was that we could finally all stop sitting around in the cold.
Tuffy Rhodes was the game hero, and he even did the entire interview in Japanese and it didn't seem like he needed his translator much. Of course, most of what he said was "saikou desu!" and such, but it was still pretty good.
I rode the train back to Sannomiya with a bunch of other Fighters fans, then went to Shin-Kobe by myself, bought some omiyage for my coworkers, and got my train ticket moved up by an hour so I could get home a little earlier.
I should mention that I had a Gaijin Trap Bento, meaning a sukiyaki bento that had a heater inside it. Should you ever encounter one of these bento boxes that look way too big, and have a string, READ THE DIRECTIONS FIRST and just pull the string without opening the box. You will tear the heating part open and the chemicals will mix and form steam and cook your bento. Don't do what I did, which is to take apart everything and get really confused about this box with a string sticking out of it and THEN open it, because chances are good you will burn yourself.
Fortunately, the burns weren't that bad... I mostly kept my hand against a cold Coke for most of the trip, slept the entire way back, and the next day it's just a tiny bit red on two fingers. On the plus side the food was really good and I would totally buy one of them again next time I see one in a train station.
Not sure where my next road trip is. Maybe May 24th to Nagoya, or June 20th to Hiroshima. I really ought to make a "where is Deanna planning to go" post one of these days, but I haven't even had enough time to reflect on the fact that this blog passed its 4th birthday a few weeks ago...