Sunday, October 25, 2009

Game Report: Hosei vs. Meiji, or Trying Another Type of Ouendan, or Futagami's Last Stand

I spent pretty much all day Saturday lying down in bed due to a stomach virus (I think) that hit me sometime Friday night. All I did was liveblog the Fighters game where they clinched the Pacific League playoffs; the rest of the day is completely lost to me.

When I woke up today, I didn't feel GREAT, still a little bit queasy and not in any particular mood to eat much, but at least I could move without pain, so when I got an email around 11am asking if I'd be able to make it down to Jingu today for the Hosei-Meiji college game, I figured, why the hell not. My friend Mizushima, who I met at Kamagaya early this year and who played shortstop for Hosei several years ago and who introduced me to half the team last weekend, said he'd give me an extra ticket and save me a seat in the Hosei ouendan (cheering section) if I'd come and cheer with him, so I figured, what the heck, it'd be an interesting new experience if nothing else; I'd pretty much been watching the college ouendan for years and been curious about what it's like on the inside.

I'll tell you straight out: I'm not sure it's really my thing.

You all know I'm the total Ouendan Girl who thinks that they're the greatest thing that was ever invented, but there's a very different feel to an actual school ouendan than there is to a random team ouendan. Basically, while it does take a while to be able to catch on to ALL the nuances and memorize all the songs of a pro team ouendan, you could show up for any old game, pick up a lyrics sheet, and start singing along without too much trouble. But the school ones, it REALLY feels like you ought to be an actual student or alumni of that particular school to be in their cheering section. In other words, take my usual "outsider" feeling in most Japanese situations, and multiply it by 10.

For one, half of the ouenka songs are not just cheer songs, they are the actual school fight songs. (Duh.) Now, each school is certainly different (I wouldn't feel weird singing Waseda's fight song "The Beautiful Blue Sky", for example) but Hosei's song lyrics are very very much of the "Hosei, our wonderful alma mater" over and over again variety. And there are hand motions and all this other stuff to do while singing the songs and fure-fure'ing (another bizarre Japanese thing where the English "Hooray" got turned into "Fure" many many years ago, and as such has become more of a Japanese institution than the now-outdated English word).

For two, there are a lot of rules about things you can and can't do in these ouendan. There's a very strict seating arrangement for who is where -- the cheerleaders, the ouendan guys, the brass band, the baseball team members not on the top roster, the current students, the alumni, and then random fans (I assume some MUST be there, maybe they are just very good at pretending to fit into one of the other groups). And even within the above groups there seems to be seniority involved in where people are allowed to sit. I had to wait in line inside the stadium for a while ("Because you can't enter until after the yell exchange," I was told) and then when I did get inside, I went to join my friend, who was in the alumni section, and found my way barred by 2 stern-looking women in suits, until my friend tagged them to say "She's with me, let her in," and they were like "...oh. Well, OKAY."

(I must say, having been invited there by a Hosei baseball team alumni probably made it a much better experience than it might have been otherwise, at least.)

But then there are other kinds of rules, like for when you have to stand up and sit down, for when you can and can't sing or talk, for when you can and can't enter/leave the stands, and so on. And they are super-strict about making sure everyone is behaving properly while in the cheering area, with the women in suits patrolling back and forth.

A major rule was that NOBODY -- and I repeat NOBODY -- was allowed to take photos of anything going on in the student cheering area, unless they had a Hosei armband or Tokyo Big 6 armband. I certainly saw lots of people taking photos, but they all had the armbands. Anyone else who tried found themselves being yelled at by a troop of women in suits, basically. I heard that apparently a year or two ago they had some issues with people coming in and taking photos of their cheer girls and putting them on the internet, and so now it's just NO PHOTOS NO PHOTOS no matter what.

As a result, this is the only photo I have that I took from my seat, as I got yelled at shortly afterwards and didn't try at all for the rest of the game:

Seriously, thanks to my friend, I was in the very front row of the Hosei alumni section, RIGHT in back of the marching band and all the cheerleading action. And I couldn't take a photo of ANY of it.

Reading back on what I've written so far, this sounds pretty negative. Which is really pretty unfair of me. I understand why all the rules exist for the most part. I'm sure if you go to the games all the time, or if you are a student or alumni of the university in particular, they all make perfect sense and you know exactly what to expect and they make it so everyone can enjoy the games and support the team in an organized fashion, especially given that they have to deal with shifting bands and cheerleaders and cheering sections in 20-25 minutes between games. And of course they want to make sure that nothing bad happens that might tarnish their school's name, so they have to be strict about behavior. I'm just not sure that this system particularly feels right for me.

And so, despite that I have been going to Tokyo Big 6 games since the Fall 2007 semester, and have seen this stuff from the outside many many times, I felt pretty much completely trapped from the inside.

Not to say it was all bad. There was a pretty funny point where one of the ouendan guys was coming up to make sure everybody was yelling enough and I was following along yelling "kasse, kasse, kasse, kasse Kameda, moero, Kameda!!" but my friend wasn't and summarily got scolded like "See, even SHE's doing it right! You suck! Yell more!"

Another thing is that, rather than having a cheer song for a particular player, they just have a bunch of songs that they cycle through, called a "chance medley". So each one is pretty much some variation on "get a hit, ____!" or "fire it up, ____!" or "defeat Meiji, Hosei!" or "H-O-S-E-I Let's go Hosei!" Almost all of those, I'd heard enough times to catch on fairly quickly to what I should be yelling when. Aside from the school songs, of course.

So in other words, I'm certainly going to keep going to games, and I'll certainly enjoy listening to the bands and watching the ouendan. I even own a CD or two of Tokyo Big 6 Brass Band music, because I love it so much. And it really is neat to see what they do. I just think it's neater to see it from the outside than from inside. Besides, sitting in the front row watching the game and taking photos, I can yell "ganbare!" to players and have them actually hear me, so you could even say that's a BETTER place to cheer from!

I still managed to keep a scorecard, though, despite all the craziness. I think I might have muffed a few things that were wild pitches instead of stolen bases, passed balls instead of wild pitches, but overall I got everything.

The main reason I was at the game today anyway is that I knew this was going to be my final time seeing Kazuhito Futagami pitching as a college student. This is going to sound kind of bizarre, but without realizing it, I saw Futagami pitch in every Hosei game I was at prior to this semester. I double-checked, and it really was EVERY game. Even the very first Big 6 game I ever went to, he was pitching. I was so fixated on Meiji's Kume at the time that I didn't notice the Hosei pitcher, but I just dug back in my photos and sure enough, there he was. He's been there all along as part of my Tokyo Big 6 experience, and next year he won't be, and that is kind of strange. It wasn't planned, but I actually did watch him grow from some nobody pitcher kid from Kochi into a college superstar, and assuming he gets drafted this Thursday, it's going to be either awesome to watch him go to a team I like or heartbreaking to watch him go to a team I hate.

Also, this was yet another must-win game for Hosei, so I wanted to see how things would shake down. My guess was that they would win it because Futagami is better than anything Meiji was going to throw at them -- I don't think any of Meiji's pitchers are consistent this semester except Yusuke Nomura, basically.

And well, I was entirely right. Meiji started Kazuki Nishijima, a tall lefty from Yokohama HS. Who is actually coming into his own this year as a fairly decent pitcher, but I would still bet on Futagami to win over him.

Hosei actually got off to a very quick lead. Shota Waizumi, batting first and playing third, and also a lefty batter out of Yokohama HS, led off the game with a double to center. Takashi Nakao was hit by a pitch, and then Hiroshi Taki struck out. During Masatoshi Matsumoto's at-bat, basically, Waizumi and Nakao both advanced on a double steal AND then on a wild pitch as well, to make it 1-0.

Taki led off the 6th inning with an infield single, and was bunted to second by Masatoshi. Then a pinch-hitting Yoh Sasaki singled to left, and that scored Taki to make it 2-0... as Shuhei Ishikawa grounded into a double play right after.

Meiji finally got a run on the board themselves in the bottom of the 8th, as a pinch-hitting Ryota Yasuda led off with an infield single to short, no throw on the play. Ryuichi Ochi pinch-ran, and stole second as Yuki Yamauchi struck out. Junpei Komichi pinch-hit, and during his at-bat a wild pitch advanced Ochi to third, so Komichi's single to left scored Ochi to make it a 2-1 game.

Now here's where it gets even better.

Futagami, who was in the game all along, came to the plate in the top of the 9th with two outs and one runner on, Kaoru Kita. It was starting to get kind of dark out and it seemed like Futagami was going to have to pitch the bottom of the 9th with a one-run lead... until he BLASTED a pitch out to left-center! For a second we almost thought it would be a home run, and then it bounced against the wall behind Meiji's centerfielder Araki! Kita ran and ran and scored, and Futagami ended up on second with a double! 3-1.

While Meiji ended up getting two base runners on in the 9th, singles by Tohyama and Shashiki, Futagami struck out Ikuhiro Takeda to end the game.

Not a bad way to finish off his college career.

After the game I went outside with everyone. It turns out the other guy sitting with us is someone I'd ALSO seen many times at Kamagaya but never knew his name or that he was also a Hosei alum. Go figure. He's not nearly as crazy as Mizushima though, who was still running around trying to make sure he said hi to every player and give them photographs and whatnot. I ended up chatting with the freshmen again though, Taki and Mishima. Well, or more like, I was with two other people talking to them, and mostly nodding and smiling and occasionally butting in a word or two, mostly about "You guys are going to kick ass at the rookie series next week, right?"

Most of the 4th-year players were out there again too, but they were SWAMPED by fans, especially Futagami, Ishikawa, and Masatoshi. Apparently Waizumi snuck off again. I didn't try to say anything to any of them; infact I didn't try to get photos with anyone or get anything signed this week -- really, it was COLD outside and I was mostly interested in getting home ASAP since I was still feeling sick, but I stuck around for a bit anyway. I heard that Kagami has the flu so he wasn't even at the stadium at all this weekend -- good thing I caught him last weekend!

Walked back to Gaienmae station with the other Kamagaya guy, trying to explain Daylight Savings Time in Japanese, and probably mostly failing. In bizarre coincidences, Kazuhito Futagami was standing behind us on the subway platform, still with a group of cute women surrounding him. It'll be really interesting to see where he ends up on Thursday, that's for sure.

Also, since I have no photos to show you of this game, I figured I would dig back into the vaults and show you a few from the first time I ever saw Futagami pitch, two years ago:

Remember Jingu before its makeover in early 2008? I'd almost forgotten!

That ugly old scoreboard. Futagami is #2 on the Hosei side. The only other current name over there is Waizumi. As for Meiji, everyone on their team that I recognize has already graduated -- Kume, Sasaki, etc. Actually, I suppose Komichi is the only guy who is still there. Crazy.

And that's him -- photo is from a bit further back than usual and he used to wear #13 as a sophomore.

You know, the way school baseball works is kind of neat, in that the turnover happens so soon (due to seniority, and kids coming in and going out all the time). On the one hand it is kind of exciting and you never know when one school will become very strong or very weak based on the incoming and outgoing students, but on the other hand in some ways it's really tough to keep track of everyone, even moreso with high school where it only goes for 3 years and the roster is almost always all seniors.

(Remember, Hosei spent 2007 and 2008 vying with Rikkio for the title of "Other Doormat", finishing in 4th and 5th place every semester, until suddenly BAM, they won the league championship in Spring 2009.)

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