Thursday, August 13, 2009

I love Hokkaido, Day 3: Darvish Day, or Yoshio Itoi's Birthday

So, on July 30th I did the Dome Tour and went to Hillman's Hangout to watch the Fighters game remotely.

On July 31st, Friday, I went to the Sapporo Dome to watch the game in person.

I spent the afternoon, however, doing touristy things that had very little to do with baseball. I walked to the famous Clock Tower and to the TV Tower and got my photo taken there, and then I took the subway out to Shiroi Koibito Park, which is essentially both a tourist trap and a chocolate factory. Ishida makes a white chocolate cookie called "shiroi koibito", which are probably the most famous souvenir eatables from Hokkaido, although they had a scandal a year or two ago involving them faking the expiration dates on some of their cookies.

It's a lot like a real-life Willy Wonka And the Chocolate Factory, only there aren't any Oompa-Loompas.

Also, it happens to be next door to the Consadole Sapporo practice field, so I went over there for a while to look around. Consadole is in J2 again this year, but Ishiya is a major sponsor for them, so there was tons of Consadole stuff in the Ishiya factory, and vice versa.

I made my way back to the Sapporo Dome around the time the stadium was opening, and immediately went to do pinbadges. Got Shinji (FC), Ohira, Tsuda, and Ryuichi, plus the May and February month stars. Was slightly disappointed, but on my tour around the stadium I saw a whole bunch of people setting up a pinbadge trading area and made a mental note to come back on Saturday. Bought a Kensuke Tanaka bento box to eat for dinner and went to find my seat.

I didn't really see anyone I knew before the game, but a crazy thing happened while I was getting back to my seat: I found a family of FOREIGN Fighters fans! I was so surprised that I just ran up to them and asked in English, "Are you guys Fighters fans? And you sit in the outfield and know the songs?" The guy answered, "Why yes, we are!" And sure enough, it was a really nice couple and their two sons. They've lived in Sapporo for several years at this point and became Fighters fans when the team first moved there in 2004, and go to several games a year and almost always sit in the outfield. He's from England, she's from Oregon, they're both English teachers, and apparently their older son gets nicknamed "Darvish" on his local junior high baseball team (but is infact a Hichori fan).

They were really cool! I talked to them for a while before the game and then also ran into them again after the game during the post-game celebrations.

I suppose I'm getting ahead of myself. But I mean, Darvish was starting for the Fighters, and Justin Germano for the Hawks, so it shouldn't be too surprising that the Fighters won.

He ran into a little trouble in the first inning, loading the bases on a walk and two singles, but also notched his third strikeout of the inning to end it. Then he struck out the side in the 2nd inning, and followed that with three more perfect innings, holding the Hawks scoreless through 5.

The Fighters, on the other hand, capitalized on opportunities from the get-go, Hichori Morimoto doubling in his first at-bat and scoring immediately afterwards on a single by Atsunori Inaba, a nice start for the Inaba Weekend festivities. 1-0.

Despite it being the Inaba Birthday Weekend, Friday was ACTUALLY Yoshio Itoi's birthday. So we sang to him before his first at-bat...

But he actually had kind of a bad day at the plate in general. Oops.

Hichori also scored the second run of the game for the Fighters, getting a base on balls and stealing second during Inaba's at-bat, then scoring on a Shinji Takahashi single, a high fly ball to shallow center that somehow dropped. 2-0.

Naturally, Nobuhiko Matsunaka cut that lead in half in the 6th inning by launching a home run into the right-field stands. 2-1.

But that's ALL the Hawks would get. The Fighters added three runs in the 6th inning off a few legitimate hits and then an error when the ball went through Honda at second base to go into center. That made it 5-1, which is where the game would end.

Darvish was the game hero, of course, ultimately going 8 innings and striking out 9. Kikuchi finished out the last inning.

I stuck around for the post-game cheering, said goodbye to the family I'd met earlier, then finally managed to find some of my Hokkaido friends in the mess of people cheering. We went down to take a look at the Inaba birthday exhibit, which had photos of him from his childhood and college years...

I pose with the Inaba cardboard exhibit entry marker. Everyone was doing that.

Inaba in his middle school years. He looks exactly like one of my students.

Inaba as a very young boy. Look at that baseball cap. WHAT TEAM IS THAT? AREN'T YOU FROM AICHI, MR. INABA?

By the way, in case I never get to write up August 1st's game, which may happen, I just want to mention that I saw 5 Fighters-Hawks games this year, and I also saw Nobuhiko Matsunaka hit 5 home runs. Would you believe that of the 18 home runs he'd hit this season as of August 1st, 8 of them were against the Fighters, and I saw 5 of them in person? That's pretty crazy. I'm kind of worried about going to a game in Kyushu next week!

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