Friday, August 21, 2009

Photopost: Nagasaki Saints vs. Kagawa Olive Guyners - Adventures in Sasebo

The next baseball-related stop on my Great Train Adventure was to go down to Sasebo on Wednesday, the 19th. Sasebo is a little port city in Nagasaki prefecture, famous for burgers and churches, and it also happens to be where a particular Seattle Mariners catcher grew up...

Yes -- I wandered out to the Kenji Johjima Baseball Museum. UNFORTUNATELY, it is closed on Wednesdays, so I couldn't go in. Oops. Much like the Matsui Museum, this is just a little place run by Johjima's family, right by their house, which is in the middle of nowhere in Sasebo. If I ever make it back out there, I'll try to stop by again.

After that I went down to the Sasebo Baseball Park, where I went to watch a game in the Shikoku-Kyushu Island League, or more specifically, I saw the Kagawa Olive Guyners come to town to take on the local Nagasaki Saints. Believe it or not, Nagasaki and St. Paul are sister cities, and the Nagasaki Saints use the same logo as the St. Paul Saints. At the same time, since Nagasaki prefecture is one of the most Christian areas in Japan, it makes sense as a team name in other ways as well.

I arrived around 5pm, and the stadium was EMPTY. I bought my 1000-yen ticket and a 500-yen yearbook, and went into the stadium. I think there were maybe around 10 other people in the stands, and 5 of them were members of the Nagasaki Saints Youth Baseball team.

The stadium, from the outside.

Saints players taking pre-game practice.

The seating behind home plate.

When the team finished their practice and came back towards the dugout, I was pretty much the only person sitting right behind the dugout watching, so a bunch of the players (and even the manager!) nodded or said hello to me. It was really strange to be there with my camera and really close up, but not to be able to surreptitiously take photos, because there just wasn't anyone else out there in the stands. I took the following photo of outfielder Shintaro Yasuda when he saw me with my camera and just stood there with his bat and actually posed for it.

"Did you take the photo yet?" he asked. I nodded. He started swinging again.

They announced the starting lineups around 5:30, and introduced the team -- every member -- at around 5:50. I amused myself in the meantime by taking photos and by reading through the Shikoku-Kyushu League yearbook that I'd bought, seeing where the players and managers were all from. Of course, some of the players aren't IN the yearbook since they were signed later.

For introductions, the Kagawa players lined up on the 3rd-base line and the Nagasaki players lined up on the 1st-base line and they said each player's name and what high school or college they went to, or team they played for before the Saints. There were a lot of interesting ones, though the most interesting by far is a guy named Yuji Nerei, who I'd really like to research sometime when I have spare time, as he's played baseball pretty much all over the world.

Starting lineups. The scoreboard had people manually putting boards in for the players' names. Also note that there is nowhere to show the starting pitchers on the scoreboard, nor do they tell you how many hits there are, just runs.

Yoshiyuki Honobe and Masayuki Komai, laughing during the introductions.

Manager Hiroshi Nagadomi, formerly of the Hiroshima Carp (and he even played for the Fighters in the mid-90's!)

Team captain and third baseman Yuki Matsubara.

Speedy young shortstop Daichi Mizuguchi.

Catcher Koshiro Yoshikawa.

The pre-game ceremonies, after the big introductions and the singing of Kimigayo, were mostly limited to having a kid throw out the ceremonial first pitch, and a bunch of kids from the youth team run off the field and high-five all of the players, and then the game got underway.

A guy named Yoshinori Fujioka started for the Saints. Fujioka was born in Hiroshima, played baseball in college in Osaka, and is now in Nagasaki. He's also one of those ridiculously tall and skinny guys (something like 6'3", 170 pounds) who looks like a big tangle of arms and legs when he's throwing:

The Kagawa starter was a guy named Takehiro Fukuda, who comes from Osaka but went to college in Kochi, and is on break from grad school to play baseball. Or something like that.

These were the lineups for the game:
Kagawa Olive Guyners           Nagasaki Saints
1. Yohsuke, rf Mizuguchi, ss

2. Kasai, cf Komai, cf
Keiyo, ph
3. Kanai, lf Matsubara, 3b
Yoshimori, lf
4. Tomosugu, 3b Suetsugu, rf

5. Chang, dh Yasuda, lf
Honobe, pr-lf
6. Nishimori, c Nerei, dh
Kanazaki, pr-dh
7. Kunimoto, 2b-1b Matsui, 2b

8. Fujii, 1b Hayashi, 1b
Kanaizuka, 2b
9. Shisa, ss Yoshikawa, c

P. Fukuda, p Fujioka, p
Takao, p Kamimura, p
Tsuchiya, p

The game got off to a good start for the Saints as leadoff batter Mizuguchi got on base as a grounder went through the Kagawa third baseman for an error. Komai bunted him up to second, and captain Matsubara walked. With the two runners on, cleanup batter Takaaki Suetsugu hit a clean single to left, scoring Mizuguchi to make it 1-0 for the Saints. Yasuda followed that up with a hit to second which bounced off the second baseman's leg and so everyone was also safe in this case, Matsubara scoring on the play to bring it to 2-0. Unfortunately for them, DH Nerei grounded into a 5-4-3 double play after that.

The Kagawa DH Chang led off the 2nd inning with a home run over the left-field wall. 2-1. Catcher Nishimori got on base as Saints shortstop Mizuguchi got the ball and threw it way OVER first base. Whoops. But they erased the runner one batter later as Kunimoto grounded into a double play, and then Fujii hit a pop fly out to second.

Komai bunting.

Chang at the plate, right before hitting his home run.

High-fives back at the Kagawa dugout.

The next few innings went by mostly uneventfully, aside from things like a dizzy-bat-running contest for some of the youth baseball kids between the 3rd and 4th innings. The ouendan also finally started really coming out in force around then; it wasn't a LOT of people as there were maybe only 500 people total at the park, but they had a guy with a taiko drum and they did have some sorts of rhythms down for cheering for the players, even if they didn't have actual ouenka.

In the top of the 5th inning, Kagawa batter Kunimoto got on base as Nagasaki third baseman Matsubara ate the ball on a grounder to third. Kunimoto stole second during Kanaizuka's at-bat and scored on a single to center by Shisa, tying the game at 2-2.

After that point, the game kind of stagnated for a while with a few scattered runs, but no particular exciting moments, so I took that opportunity to learn more about what was going on. See, a little bit before the game started, I was really surprised to hear two people speaking English behind me. Turns out they both work as teachers at the international school on the nearby Sasebo navy base; the one guy Yutaka is Japanese and teaches Japanese, and the other guy Cameron is American and teaches Spanish. Yutaka is a season pass holder for the Nagasaki Saints, and so he told me all about the various players as the game unfolded; I moved back from my perch behind the dugout to sit with these guys in the 3rd or 4th inning when it got too dark to take photos. It's always nice to talk to locals.

The team did a "Lucky 7" and everyone got up and clapped along to what I assume was the team song, and then Matsui led off the bottom of the 7th with a single. Hayashi bunted him up to second, and then... Yoshikawa grounded to short. Matsui should have been safe at third, but instead, he actually overran third base and got tagged out ON THE WAY BACK. Oops. It was particularly wasted as Mizuguchi hit a double into the right-center gap right after that which would have undoubtedly scored the go-ahead run. Alas.

Koji Matsui taking swings in the on-deck circle.

The Saints ouendan group up behind first base.

Around 8:30pm in the 8th inning with the score still tied, I began to panic because I needed to take the last MR train at 9:08pm to get my JR train out of Sasebo at 9:59pm, and the nearest MR station was about a 15-minute walk away. Fortunately, two things happened at that point: I learned that games in the Shikoku league never go into extra innings, and second, Yutaka said he'd give me a ride back to the station. That was a lifesaver, and I got to stay for the entire end of the game.

Nagasaki put in a 19-year-old kid named Mizuki Tsuchida to pitch the 9th, and he had a fastball in the upper 140's and got out of the inning with two strikeouts and one guy reaching base on an error. So at that point Nagasaki couldn't lose, and might win.

Kagawa put in a guy named Kenta Takao to pitch the 9th for them, but the game ended with Keiyo Nakagawa grounding to the mound with Daichi Mizuguchi standing at first, and the score still tied at 2-2.

Final score. Or you can see the score on their website.

After the game, all the players line up and say goodbye to people leaving the park. You can shake hands or just say hello, or bug them for signatures or to take photos with them. It's independent baseball and the team has financial problems, so they need to cater to fans as much as possible, it seems.

Heck, the players were even taking photos FOR fans.

So, I got my photo taken with a few of the players. Yutaka had never gotten a photo with any of the players before either, but he's a Nerei fan, so we both went up and bugged Nerei for photos.

Yuji Nerei. After we took the photo, he said in perfect English, "Hey, I like your t-shirt, that's really cool." I said "Thanks! I love baseball." I always get so idiotified around ballplayers. Nerei spent several years playing baseball in other countries, even Mexico and Canada, and also went to Hosei University, so he supposedly speaks several languages fluently. He's 36 though and will probly retire and become a coach soon.

Yoshinori Fujioka, the Nagasaki starting pitcher. I told him he pitched well and he kind of looked down at his shoes like "Not really..."

It was a really good day overall, and I enjoyed spending time in Sasebo. No idea if I'll ever go back there, though I'd like to someday. It's just a ridiculously beautiful area of Kyushu. I guess if the Saints are still around next year, maybe I'll try to catch them again, perhaps (but it sounds like there's a good chance they won't be. That's too bad).

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