Apparently I hadn't spent nearly enough times going to baseball games in the middle of nowhere during my trip across western Japan, because a day after returning home I found myself barnstorming into the western suburbs of Tokyo to watch a Fighters minor league game on Wednesday night. I figured that it was the last game at Sagamihara for the year, and I'd never been there, and maybe if I was lucky I could see Darvish or Sweeney or any of the other various Fighters who are currently hanging out with the farm team.
For the record, getting to this stadium is kind of a pain. It's adjacent to a bunch of junior/high schools and about a mile from Fuchinobe station, which is already kind of a stretch to get to. It took me about 25 minutes to walk there from the station, and I'm a quick walker. I could see the lights for a while, and even hear the announcers, but was still quite a walk away, which was really frustrating.
(Actually, to be honest, when I heard trumpets and drums accompanying the lineup, I was convinced for a few minutes that I was actually going to the wrong stadium, since ni-gun games on weekdays generally don't have those sorts of things, plus with the Baystars at home I figured most people would be down in Yokohama, but I'd forgotten that the Sea Rex actually have their own ouendan.)
Tickets were 1000 yen to sit anywhere in the park. This is a big enough stadium that they hold official top-league games there once or twice a year, so it was nice for me to be able to walk in and sit in the front row behind the Fighters dugout. Some players were taking practice swings, and people were taking photos. I yelled good luck to Yohei Kaneko, the starting DH, who smiled and nodded back at me.
The stadium is mostly bleachers with a dirt infield, not too different from most regional stadiums in Japan, actually; it pretty much completely reminded me of Omiya.
The Fighters starter was Hideki Sunaga, who's been struggling a bit lately both on the farm and on the top team. One of my friends loves Sunaga and he's from Arakawa and went to Urawa Gakuin, so on general principle I cheer for him.
Unfortunately, he gave up 5 runs on 8 hits in the first two innings alone. It started with an error and then with a couple of dubious "hits" where things happened like the ball bouncing suddenly over Nakashima at short, or the ball landing in what looked to be foul territory but was called fair, things like that. But Toshio Saitoh also hit a legitimate home run in there too. It was just kind of painful to watch all around.
The Sea Rex starter was actually one of my Yokohama ni-gun boyfriends, Atori Ohta. Atori is from Teikyo HS and has some ridiculously nasty stuff when he's really on. I love him, except when he's pitching against the Fighters, of course.
Naturally, Atori went 8 innings and gave up exactly one run to the Fighters, a home run to Atsushi Ugumori. 4 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, and 1 hit batter.
The hit batter was actually kind of sad -- it was Kenshi Sugiya, who was a year behind Atori at Teikyo HS. They were teammates at the 2006 and 2007 Koshien tournaments, and both played in that legendary 13-12 game against Chiben Wakayama. So a bunch of us were yelling things like, "Don't let your sempai defeat you, Sugiya-kun!" Atori hit him in the leg with a pitch, and Sugiya fell down and ended up half-limping, half-carried off the field. Ouch.
Sunaga lasted 5 innings, giving way to an inning each for the Fighters' bullpen of Naoki Miyanishi, Kazumasa Kikuchi, and Takayuki Kanamori. Kikuchi gave up another run, so after Sea Rex pitcher Tom Mastny closed out the game with his traditional high-kicking style, the Shonan squad won by a score of 6-1.
There were plenty more interesting things about the experience, anyway.
The Shonan ouendan did infact have drums and trumpets. 90% of their songs were totally different from the Baystars, but I did recognize a few familiar tunes, including "Winning Ball" and the melody they use for pinch-hitters.
Reck came out in the 4th inning to try to get everyone to do the Chicken Dance:
And a bit later I saw him wandering around in the stands so I cornered him for a photo. Unfortunately I had to wait until this older lady was done hanging on to him, and there were still a ton of kids trying to climb on him, so it resulted in one of the most bizarre mascot photos I've ever taken:
But that's okay.
They also did YMCA in the 5th inning, which is kind of rare for a minor-league game, and the announcers on the field actually picked "good dancers" in the stands and had ushers come give them some sort of prize. Despite my dancing debut on the Tokyo Dome field a few weeks ago, I'm still not a fan of YMCA, sorry. (I get the impression that Japanese people think it's still wildly popular in the US.)
Due to the stadium being so far from Kamagaya, I only recognized a handful of the fans there, but after the game we all went out to do "miokuri", which means "waving goodbye to the players' bus as it leaves", but in practice is actually "begging players and coaches for signatures as they're trying to get the hell out of the park".
During this time I found out a few important things, though, namely first that Darvish wasn't even IN Kamagaya this week. And worse -- my Fighters ni-gun boyfriend Ryota Imanari apparently broke his right hand during the Seibu series a few weeks ago! I was wondering why he didn't go with the team for the Hokkaido ni-gun games, and hadn't been playing recently. It seems he took a bad hit while blocking a pitch and is expected to be out for a month or so. Apparently I'm not the only one who was thinking that he had a really good shot of getting up to ichi-gun this month, so this is a huge setback, very sad.
Botts and Sweeney were around and I waved hi to Brian on the bus, so he came out to chat because he's a super-nice guy like that. Unfortunately, it turns out I'm missing him pitch by a day, as he'll be starting at Hiratsuka on Thursday night. Oops. (I'll be at Chiba Marine for a japanesebaseball.com meetup, my one time of the year to get to see a game with Westbay-san.) So, I hope he does well; I told people to cheer for him tomorrow. I felt bad because when he came out to chat he immediately got stormed by a bazillion people wanting signatures. On the other hand, it sounds like his friends and family made it back to the US okay and with tons of great video of their adventures into the Fighters cheering section, so that was good to hear, although a little sad too.
The Fighters bus left and after that some Sea Rex guys were also signing. I ended up getting Keijiro Matsumoto's autograph on a shikishi -- bizarrely, I actually asked him in English, like "Mr. Matsumoto, sign please?" He looked at me REALLY weird. I still think he's a total jackass and I thought he was a jackass at Waseda too, but whatever. The other two guys signing were Kajitani and... Takamori! Except it was dark and I didn't recognize Takamori out of uniform in time to push my way up and get something signed from him. Damn. He's my other Sea Rex ni-gun boyfriend besides Atori. Crud -- I wonder if I'll have another chance to bug him again sometime. He's WAY too good not to make it to ichi-gun in the next year or so. I might have to start going back to Baystars games once he's up with the top team, seriously.
I ended up riding a bus back to Sagami-Ono station with a lady named Tomoko who's been a Fighters fan since the mid-80's. She told me stories and some more Kamagaya gossip since I haven't been there in a month or so, and made sure I got on the right train since I'd never been to that station before. Sometimes I regret that I stick out so much as a foreigner here, but sometimes it's really a good thing.