Friday, March 27, 2009

Game Report: Fighters Week Day 6 @ Yokohama - The Epic Battle of Brian vs. Ryan

I skipped Fighters Week Day 5 by accident; it was at Jingu on Friday afternoon and the weather forecast was rainy, and at 11am in Kita-ku it even WAS rainy, but at 1pm it was beautiful and sunny and I guess that's what I get for not going down to the stadium to watch baseball, as the Fighters managed to win it 1-0 in a dramatic 9th-inning come-ahead, and I missed seeing my favorite Yakult player Ryuji Miyade in a Yakult uniform before he got traded to Rakuten on Monday. Sigh.

Anyway, Fighters Week Day 6 was down in Yokohama, and I got there at about 12:30pm for a 1pm game, and my friend Sakamoto had saved a seat for me right next to the ouendan, so that was guaranteed to be fun. And then he was like "Guess who the starting pitchers are? We have Brian Sweeney," to which I said "Yay! Sweeney!" and he continued, "And the Baystars have Ryan Glynn," to which I said "WHAT? You're joking, right?"

But no, the Baystars really did start Ryan Glynn against his former teammates, which led the ouendan to go down and start the cheering by saying, "We hate to have to root against our former pitcher Glynn, but well, it can't be helped... so go Itoi! Hit him hard!! Hit a home run!!!" and we'd cheer. Same thing for Imanami. Same thing for Shinji Takahashi... who, believe it or not, DID hit a home run, right into the left-field stands. Very exciting.

The Baystars suck. I feel bad for them. Unfortunately, them sucking kind of made for a rather boring game, so I spent a while trying to take some movies of the new Fighters ouenka so I can study them, instead.

Here is the song for Luis Jimenez. It turns out that this one's actually been recycled for a few foreign players in the last decade or two -- it was originally Rick Schu's, then Jerry Brooks, and most recently D.T.Cromer. Apparently it's believed that this song has a "2nd-year jinx", so let's see if Luis sticks around and overcomes it :)

打ちのめせ 打ちのめせ 勝利を勝ち取れ
Hyaku-man bariki no POWER ga koko de sakeretsu
Uchinomese, uchinomese, shouri wo kachitore

I'm going to loosely translate this one to say: "With one million horsepower, crush the ball here! Smash 'em, bash 'em, let's win the game!"

And well... the guy who started out as the Fighters' DH for the day, Tomohiro Nioka, who has pretty much sucked every time I've seen him play so far... well, he did go 1-for-3 that day. But still. I guess there's nothing we can do about the Micheal trade now, but I find it kind of ironic that the ouendan gave Nioka fairly unsingable ouenka -- I thought it was rather amusing when even some of my Japanese friends admitted that "I can't understand any of it except the 'Nioka Nioka Nioka' part at the end". I'm kind of determined to learn it nonetheless:

新たな舞台に 沸き立つ心 
逆風を切り裂け 立ち向かえ 二岡 二岡 二岡
arata na butai ni wakitatsu kokoro
gyakufuu wo kirisake tachimukae Nioka Nioka Nioka

(loosely: "In a new theater, with your burning heart, tear the opponents to pieces, Nioka Nioka Nioka!")

As an aside, I don't know if they're serious about recycling these for real, but they used Seigo Fujishima's old theme for Yoshihiro Satoh, and for Kazuya Murata they actually used Toshihiro Freaking Noguchi's old song. Sakamoto wrote down the lyrics to those for me since he said he thought they might actually use those again for those players sometime, though in the 9th inning the ouendan used Tatsuro Hirose's song for Yoh Chon-so and Shirai-coach's for Imanami, and I'm fairly sure those were just as a joke. (They occasionally just sing Hirose's ouenka for fun. He was quite popular back in the day.)

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Or maybe I'm not. I mean, seriously, nothing really happened in this game at all except that Shinji hit that home run in the first inning and Jason Botts pinch-hit a home run in the 8th inning as well. His was off Nasuno, which only makes it slightly less unlikely than the one off of Glynn. (Sorry, Ryan -- I wish you the best of luck, except when you play against the Fighters... but I still think that Yokohama Stadium's going to kill you...) So the final score was 2-0 Fighters over Baystars.

I guess rather than saying the Baystars suck, I should say that Brian Sweeney just pitched amazingly awesomely well and only allowed 4 baserunners in 7 innings, on 80 pitches or so. I'm really looking forward to seeing Sweeney pitch more this year!

One really funny moment for me was when Tsuboi went to play left field. My friend Ikuko was there, and she is the biggest Tsuboi fan ever (she seriously was a Hanshin fan and followed him to the Fighters). Unfortunately, she broke her leg over the winter, so is still somewhat unsteady on her feet. But when Tsuboi switched from right to left, she and her friend ran over to greet him... or should I say, her friend ran, and she totally hobbled, yelling "Tsuboi-saaaaaaaaaaaan!" He waved, and she nearly fell over. I felt very happy and very bad for her all at once.

The funniest moment, however, was sort of after the game. See, in the 8th inning the cops came over to the Fighters ouendan leaders and said, "After the game ends, assuming you win, you guys have TEN MINUTES for your post-game celebrations before you have to get out of the stadium. TEN MINUTES. Got it?"

The ouendan argued with the cop for a while, but it sounded like they weren't going to budge from the ten minute rule.

Sure enough, the Fighters won, and the ouendan tried to stretch out the postgame festivities as much as possible. We did the normal cheer songs for every player in the lineup, then extra ones for Shinji and Botts for their home runs, a "thanks and please play crappy against us next time too" (次を頼むぞ) for former Fighters Glynn and Yokoyama and Noguchi, the Fighters sanka song, another ganbare for Brian Sweeney, and then the crazy dude who was really pissed off about the time limit was like "HEY! AMERICA IS REALLY FAR AWAY BUT LET'S CHEER FOR OUR FIGHTERS WHO ARE IN THE WBC!!!" so we did a Ganbare Darvish and the Pitcher's Batting cheer song with a Kattobase Darvish in it... and then we did an Inaba Jump, right there in the stands in Yokohama. Twice, even! And then the guy was all ready to launch into an Ogasawara cheer or god knows what else, when the cops came by like "DUDE, WE TOLD YOU TEN MINUTES" and he's like "oh crap."

So we did one final "Let's win at Kamagaya tomorrow too" cheer and everyone went home :)

On my way out, I ran into a group of college guys that I always see in the stands (they're holding up the "S L E D G E" signcards in the entry about Thursday's game), and they joked, "We thought you were over on the Baystars side! They said their cheer girls were named Deanna!" and I tried to explain that "diana" and "Deanna" are different names, but mostly failed.

It really was a ridiculously fast game, though. I was home by 5pm, and Yokohama is over an hour away from here.

For me, though, unfortunately, this was my final Fighters game of the preseason. I ended up going to watch hockey on Sunday and Monday, and then Tuesday was the WBC finals instead of going to Chiba for the Fighters game there, and then Wednesday I went to Jingu, but the Fighters got rained out. Alas. I should hopefully be going to a minor-league game sometime in the next week, though.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

WBC Game Final: V2 - 世界に一つだけの原

Because seriously, who else in the world but Hara would put Johjima batting fourth, make Hiroyuki Nakajima bunt, and get away with it?

I watched the nail-biting, helmet-splitting final game of the WBC from the Shinjuku Minami-guchi Hub, with Simon and Pau, and Simon's other friend named Simon (but pronounced differently). The game was scheduled to start at 6pm Pacific Time, which if you're doing the math properly, is 10am Japan Time. I had some things to take care of first, so I arrived at the bar around 10:45am, which turned out to still be during the first inning thanks to a long opening ceremony. People had me try to guess the lineup, and I mostly figured by their incredulous looks that a still-jetlagged Kenta Kurihara had to be DHing. Things like that.

The bar was packed with people, smoke, and alcohol. As far as I could tell, despite it being well before noon, most of the people in there were already at least one drink down by the time I arrived. Pau was wearing his Fujikawa jersey, so I put on my Fighters Ogasawara jersey. There were a scattered few other people in jerseys -- a guy in a Team Japan Ichiro jersey, a dude at the table next to us in a Hawks Kokubo t-shirt. One couple nearer the door, the guy had an oldskool Daiei Hawks jersey and the woman had a Kintetsu Buffaloes jersey. With "Nakamura #5" on the back. I think she wins.

I ordered some fish'n'chips and a pint of beer, and was already on my way to being pretty buzzed well before noon. Which was just as well, because this game turned out to be pretty high-tension. The atmosphere at the pub was great, though -- wild applause when Japan got on base or scored a run or struck out a Korean batter... and grumbling when the Korean team started to catch up. Shin-soo Choo's home run in the 5th had the entire place pretty silent.

Nakajima bunting had us annoyed; Inaba bunting had us confused, but Ichiro getting a bunt single was just a thing of beauty. And Uchikawa's play from left field to totally nail Young Min Ko at second was fantastic. The split helmet at second was also pretty dramatic.

When they were showing Darvish and Fujikawa warming up in the bullpen, we were trying to guess which one would come out, and we were right. There was a terrible, terrible feeling of dread in the bar as Darvish walked those two batters, and then the game was tied at 3-3. I think I got either my second or third drink at that point, I've already forgotten. All I knew was that no matter what Darvish did at that point, I'd be hearing about it for weeks, if not years. If he lost, it'd all be on his head; even if he didn't, I felt like the chances of winning in extra innings was slim. Korea had several guys who could win the game in one swing of the bat, but I didn't think anyone in Japan was really capable of it that day.

And when Ichiro got that single to put Japan ahead 5-3, the entire place erupted -- people stood up and were cheering and yelling and high-fiving everyone in sight, and spontaneously started a chant of "I-CHI-RO! I-CHI-RO!" We also had a chant of "ato hitori!" ("one more batter!") and "ato ikkyu!" ("one more pitch!") when it came down to the last batter. Simon has a bizarre video up that kind of captures the atmosphere. I took a few photos...


I do always refer to this place as being an "Engrish Pub".

And I wasn't the only one taking photos, see.

More celebrations and photos.

We were all AMAZED that Iwakuma didn't get the MVP award. Heck, even Matsuzaka himself said Iwakuma deserved it.

I thought it was a super-nice touch that they had Sadaharu Oh come in for the team photo.

I just wish I'd gotten a screenshot of when Uchikawa took Murata's jersey and put it over the trophy as well. That was a really nice gesture for his teammate.

Another amusing thing was how, at about noon, a whole bunch of guys in suits kind of strolled into the bar and watched the game for an hour... or maybe a little bit over an hour. I was thinking how after the game ended at 2:30 or whenever, an entire NATION would be sneaking back into their offices!

Well, anyway, now half of the country's going to think Hara's a total genius, while the rest of us are going to have nightmares of Nakajima trying to bunt. But that's okay. Japan won the East Sea of Japan Double Play Classic for real, and maybe one of these years it'll make sense to people when I say I honestly find yakyuu a bazillion times more interesting and compelling than the MLB.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Game Report: Fighters Week Day 4 @ Tokyo Dome - Gomiuri Grumbling

The ouendan finally played "Happy Birthday" for Sledge at Thursday's game... technically it was a day late, but since Japan's a day ahead of America, maybe they were just waiting for it to be his birthday in the US. I don't know.

So yeah, this was another Fighters game at the Tokyo Dome, only this time the Fighters were the away team and the Yomiuri Giants were the home team. Yomiuri's manager Hara and a bunch of their players are currently off at the WBC, but that doesn't make us hate them any less.

I went to this one with Hiromi and Ojisan; they had reserved seats and I had unreserved, but a bunch of us swapped tickets and I went to the lower seats and the others remained in the upper part.

The good news: Both Takedas, as well as Tateyama and Ejiri, pitched pretty well. The bad news: Miyanishi and Sunaga didn't.

Shun Tohno started for Yomiuri and found himself in a 4-0 deficit after only 4 innings. Shinji Takahashi batted in the first Fighters run of the game after Eiichi Koyano reached base on an error, and then the floodgates opened in the 4th when Makoto Kaneko (!!!) hit a 110-meter 2-run home run that landed literally 5 rows in front of me, and it was followed by a double to left by Yoshio Itoi that dropped between Hayato Sakamoto and Alex Ramirez, and then Eiichi Koyano also hit a ball to center that managed to fall in for another hit, to bring in that 4th run.

So things were pretty happy out in Fighter-land for the first half of the game. I was yelling things like "Kattobase, Koyano! Yomiuri taose wo!" as if I was in the Dragons cheering section or something.

Then everything started unraveling a bit later. The top of the 5th was pitched by former Fighter Tatsuo Katoh, and it was going well until Luis Jimenez ended it by tripping over a batted ball. Daisuke Ochi pitched the 6th and 7th for Yomiuri and held down the Fighters pretty well (6 batters, 6 outs, 4 strikeouts... yeah).

And in the meantime, we had Naoki Miyanishi take the mound for the bottom of the 6th. Miyanishi is a pretty good lefty pitcher, he was a rookie last year out of Kwansei Gakuin University. But this day he wasn't so good. Takahiro Suzuki led off with a single, and while Miyanishi got Kimutaku to fly out to left, he followed it up by walking Masakuni Odajima, then got another fly out, and then walked Seung-Yeop Lee as well to load the bases! Argh. So it only stood to follow that Yoshitomo Tani followed that up with a huge hit to left field -- it even looked like a home run at first, but then hit the wall just shy of clearing it and bounced in. By the time the ball got back to the infield two runs had scored AND there were runners at second and third... just in time for Hotshot Teenager Hayato Sakamoto to come up there and hit a single as well, scoring Lee and Tani and tying the game at 4-4.

It was around then that there was an Ogasawara Giants ad on the screen and I grumbled, a little too loudly, "Dare aitsu?" ("Who the hell is that?") which, fortunately, got laughs from most of the people around me.

The Giants had started a kid named Nakai at third base and I was joking that the Giants are just like SMAP, since they had a Nakai-kun and a Kimura Takuya, and a Kisanuki which is kinda like having a Kusanagi... but then the analogy broke down. Oops.

Silly jokes aside, the game was still tied when Micheal Nakamura, the former Fighters closer, came in to pitch the 8th inning... for Yomiuri. We honestly weren't sure whether to cheer or boo.

But all the Fighters could get off of him was a walk. A pinch-running Chon-so Yoh was left on third base at the end of the inning when Jason Botts sadly struck out.

Shintaro Ejiri, who I like, and who had been terrible on Tuesday, pitched a reasonable 7th inning. But then Hideki Sunaga, another Urawa Gakuin player, pitched the bottom of the 8th... and things kind of started off okay. Daijiro Tanaka singled, and then they pinch-ran former Fighter Takahito Kudoh for him. To our delight, Kudoh tried to steal second as Seung-Yeop Lee struck out, and our rookie catcher Shota Ohno NAILED him! So, two outs quickly... but then Tani singled and Sakamoto doubled, and that made it 5-4, and Ryuichi Kajimae ALSO doubled, making it 6-4, and that pretty much meant the game was over. We've never been all that good at late comebacks; the Fighters rely more on scoring a few runs and then having strong pitching and defense to keep it close.

Marc Kroon came out to pitch the 9th, of course. As Makoto Kaneko was grounding out for the first out, we all noticed something amusing: former Giant Tomohiro Nioka was in the on-deck circle!

So Glasses Guy, one of the crazier people in the Fighters ouendan, picks up his trumpet, and plays the first few strains of "Sky High", which was Nioka's intro theme when he played for the Giants. It was, infact, one of the ONLY cool things about Nioka when he played for the Giants.

Naturally, a whole bunch of us start cheering "Whoaaaaaaaa! [clap clap clap clapclap]"

So he did it again, and we all started yelling "GO GO NIOKA!!!" and thumbing our noses at the Giants fans. But then as we started doing Nioka's new Fighters cheer song, he grounded out to first. Grumble.

Koyano struck out to end the game and the Giants won it 6-4. Grr.

Hiromi grabbed my camera and took this really cute photo of me and Ojisan though:

I might be the best-known English Fighters blogger, by way of being the ONLY English Fighters blogger, but I'm pretty sure Ojisan is the best-known Fighters blogger overall; his blog is 鎌ヶ谷おじさん and he posts stuff from Kamagaya pretty much every day. EVERYONE knows him, whether they're in the stands, or they're players on the team, or players' families... seriously. It's pretty nuts. He also does radio shows for Hokkaido Broadcasting about the Fighters' minor league team. And he's really nice and saves seats for all of us when we come cheer at Kamagaya or the Tokyo Dome. In a word, he's pretty awesome.

ODdly, on the way out of the Fighters cheering area I actually ran into another group of foreigners, three guys and a girl, all blonde, two of whom were wearing Fighters jerseys. It was really weird because they said they became Fighters fans last fall, and have been to a few games, but I'm pretty sure I've never seen them before. I guess I'll probably run into them again at some point though, because I'm hoping to go to even more Fighters games this year than last!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Game Report: Fighters Week Day 3 @ Kamagaya - Hime-chan no Homerun

On Wednesday, I went to the middle of nowhere Fighters Town Kamagaya for another preseason Fighters-Buffaloes game, out of peer pressure. At least they bothered having buses running to the stadium for this one; I'd walked to and from the station to the stadium on Sunday, and while it's a nice 3-kilometer walk, I really didn't feel like doing it again while carrying my cameras and all.

Fortunately, my excellent friends had saved an entire row of seats right above the Fighters dugout, so even though I didn't arrive until 12pm or so, I still got to sit right up front. The benefit of that was also that when the players came out and were hanging out by the dugout before field practice, and people were yelling down things to them (mostly little kids asking to throw them a baseball), I was right there to yell down in English, "Hey! Terrmel Sledge! Happy birthday!!"

It was, infact, Sledge's birthday on Wednesday. He's only a few weeks older than I am. But he seemed totally surprised to hear English and to hear a birthday wish. So he looks up like "Hey! Thanks!"

I said, "Are you going to hit us a birthday home run?"

"You bet I'm gonna try!" He grinned. "Wish me luck?"

"Good luck! Go out there and have a great day!"

"Thanks a lot, enjoy the game!" He smiled and ran off. I'd never talked to him before, but he seems like a nice guy. And then people as usual were like "Whoa, what did you say to him?" and I explained in Japanese, "It's his birthday! I just told him 'ganbatte' and all that kinda stuff."

After that I wandered over to the bullpen, and on the way there, an older lady taps me on the arm and is like (in Japanese), "Hey, hey, were you at the Tokyo Dome yesterday? We saw you on TV!"

I'm thinking, "Oh crap", but I replied, "Really? What was I doing?"

"You were holding a cheering board for Tomochika Tsuboi and singing his cheer song and laughing!"

"Whoa! Really?" I replied, genuinely surprised. I think one of my friends might have been messing with me about me looking like a dumb foreigner on TV. Or I just misunderstood what she said.

"Yeah! And aren't you the girl who sometimes talks to Sweeney-pitcher?" said the other woman with her, I presume her daughter.

"Well... er... yeah... maybe... he is a very nice guy!"

They look at each other and say "Sugooooooooi." Which I guess roughly meant "Amazing." Or just "She IS crazy." Sometimes it's hard to tell.

When I did make it to the bullpen, though, nobody was in there except one of the bullpen catchers. Oops.

I walked back, and then saw that fielding practice was ending and the players were coming to the dugout for the pregame huddle. After it broke up, I yelled down, "Hey Jason! Jason Botts!"

He looked up and said "Hey! Yeah?"

I've never talked to him before either, but I just said "Did you notice we have a new cheer song for you this year?"

He made a funny face and replied, "No... not really I hadn't, but..."

"Well, you should listen to it! It's awesome and I promise it has no references to foul balls or anything."

He laughed.

"I'm really sorry about last year," I said.

"It's okay, thanks a lot," he said.

I still have no clue whether I was indirectly responsible for him asking the ouendan to stop doing the "Ponyo" cheer theme we did for him last year which ended in "he hits a big, big, FOUL BALL", but at least for my own sake, I have now actually apologized to him directly, and I feel better about that, even though he undoubtedly had no idea who the hell I was.

My friend Hiromi tagged me again and asked in Japanese, "What were you talking about??"

I giggled. "Cheer songs."

"Does he like the new one?" she asked.

"I don't know," I said, "But I do know he hated Ponyo!"

A bit after that the Fighters retreated into the dugout entirely, so I ran up and bought some yakisoba to eat for lunch, and they did the starting lineup announcing, and the starting pitcher for the Fighters was none other than Kazuhito Tadano! Who I just happened to have a sign for! So I very well might have ended up on TV yet again. Oops. As an aside, even the lady who was staff with Cubby-mascot was like "Oh! It's you, from last night at the Tokyo Dome! What's up?"

There was a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors through a big group of people in the stands for the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. No joke. It was won by this adorable little boy in an Inaba jersey.

So, there was a game. We watched, we took photos, we cheered. The Fighters beat the Buffaloes 6-2, which was nice for a change. It was mostly due to a good four innings from Kazuhito Tadano and then a nice revolving door of some younger relievers, an inning each out of Miyamoto, Tanimoto, Kanamori, Matsuyama, and Uemura. (Miyamoto and Tanimoto look disturbingly similar if you see them close up.) Aside from a home run from Keiji Ohbiki of all people, the Buffaloes didn't manage a lot of offense during this nice sunny day at Kamagaya. Even with Cabrera, Rhodes, and Fernandez in the heart of the order again, they just never really got anything going.

Yoshio Itoi led off for the Fighters in the first inning by hitting a home run, and things just got better from there. Chon-so Yoh hit a double, moved up on a Koyano single and then Sledge's birthday RBI was a single to left to score Yoh.

A series of hits brought in 3 runs in the 4th inning, and then in the 5th inning, Luis Jimenez hit a home run to the Fighters ouendan in left field. Jimenez has been nicknamed "Hime-chan", and I'm really not making that up. I tried to explain why the hell nicknaming an extremely large Venezuelan man the equivalent of "Little Princess" is just way too freaking weird for my brain to process, but I'm not sure I got through to people. I mean, I do get where it comes from (the katakana of his name is Hi-me-ne-su), but still.

It was just really nice to sit outside with my friends on a beautiful sunny day and watch some baseball and yell a lot in Japanese. Except, of course, we were watching the Japan-Korea WBC game on and off on my friend's phone, and it was just bad because they were down 3-0 so early, and the Fighters pitcher Darvish was starting, so it meant more to us. Johjima got thrown out of the game and everyone was asking ME what the deal was, but I honestly had no clue, and didn't figure it out until reading about the game in English later. And then Korea won, which made everyone sad, but the Fighters also won, so people were happy.

After the game I tried to figure out what to do about my lapsed fan club membership, since I moved over the winter. It seems that I have to actually call someone in Hokkaido, which is scary. Hopefully I can get in touch with the English-speaking fan club guy who I randomly met in Kamagaya last spring.

I'm also way behind on writing up Fighters Week, so here's some photos and we'll leave it at that.

Birthday boy Sledge!

I have no idea WHY Jimenez and Koyano are rubbing a baseball on Sho Nakata's back, but it was pretty funny at the time.

Flower-exchanging ceremony before the game. I'm sure Ohishi and Nashida are just happy former Kintetsu teammates shaking hands, and not trash-talking at all.

Fighters starting pitcher, #16, Kazuhito Tadano.

Orix starting pitcher, #16, Yoshihisa Hirano.

Yoshio Itoi, who hit a homerun as the first Fighters at-bat of the game!

Tomochika Tsuboi.

Tuffy Rhodes fails to stretch a single into a double, spectacularly.

Chon-so Yoh bows after hitting a 2-RBI single in the 4th.

Luis Jimenez hits a home run in the 5th inning.

Sho Nakata warms up to get into the game.

Every inning, kids would yell out for the players to throw them a ball... and then they'd fight over it for a while.

Pitcher Takayuki Kanamori and catcher Shota Ohno go back to the dugout after the 7th inning.

Speaking of Ohno, I really would have romanized his name "Ono"... this makes me think "Oh no!" And that's not what we should be thinking when this talented guy is out there.

Orix's pitcher Tsuyoshi Kikuchihara defies gravity.

Uemura's second pitch to Ikki Shimamura was a bit wild... it eluded catcher Ohno and hit PLATE UMPIRE KAWAGUCHI in the leg. Ow! Poor guy.

Greg LaRocca spends some time trapped in The Gaijin Cage.

Except apparently so does Hirotoshi Kitagawa, so it's not just for gaijin anymore.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Game Report: Fighters Week Day 2 @Tokyo Dome - Stampeded by Buffaloes, and Mascot Mayhem

For St. Patrick's day, I went to the Tokyo Dome for a Fighters-Buffaloes preseason game and wore my green Hichori Morimoto #1 t-shirt and my green towel and green wristbands, and... and everyone was saying "WTF is wrong with you Deanna-san, we know you're his biggest fan and all but Hichori is injured and won't be playing today, didn't you hear?" and I'm like "I heard, but today is a holiday where we usually wear green in the US, so I am wearing green! It's called St. Patrick's Day!" "Who is this Patrick-san?" "Nevermind."

Fighters games at the Tokyo Dome are always fun, if a little bit empty. We filled the outfield with fans, but the infield was so bare that any time a foul ball was hit, you could see people swarming into the empty seats trying to get them. It was just like Fighters games in the old days!

I got there, found my friends in the front row of the rightfield cheering section, and practiced the new cheer songs with the ouendan. For the record, this year we've added new songs for Luis Jimenez, Tomohiro Nioka, Yoshio Itoi, and... and a new song for Jason Botts since he didn't want to ever hear the Ponyo theme ever again. I recorded a few videos of us singing it, though the best one was actually from later in the game:

期待背負い さぁ立ち上がれ 燃えろ熱く ジェイソン・ボッツ 
内に秘めた大きな蕾 この地で今、花咲け
kitai seoi saa tachiagare moero atsuku Jason Botts
uchi ni himeta ookina tsubomi kono chi de ima, hanasake

Which roughly means "With great expectations weighing on your shoulders, stand up, fire up, Jason Botts! Like a big secret seedling, from within this earth, come forth and bloom!"

It's poetic. It has no references to foul balls. I hope it works :)

This game featured Shogo Yamamoto starting for the Buffaloes and rookie Ryo Sakakibara starting for the Fighters.

This was Sakakibara's first pro start ever, which makes it all the sadder that basically, he threw ONE pitch to leadoff batter Greg LaRocca, who lined it back to the mound, hitting Sakakibara in the right leg and knocking him over... the game stopped for a few minutes and Sakakibara had to be carried off the field by one of the trainers because he couldn't walk. Yikes.

Sakakibara was the last one of the Fighters new faces that I hadn't seen yet... I was hoping to take a photo of him eventually, but THIS WAS NOT WHAT I HAD IN MIND.

Yataro Sakamoto took the mound after that, and things proceeded okay. The Fighters took a quick lead in the bottom of the 1st inning when Eiichi Koyano reached on an infield single, Kensuke Tanaka also lined a single to right, and then Shinji Takahashi hit a shot up the middle to score Koyano. 1-0. Makoto Kaneko singled in the second and immediately afterwards, amidst his new cheer song, Yoshio Itoi hit a home run way into the right field stands, 125 meters! Two runs more brought it to 3-0.

Things settled down for a while after that. We spent a while doing our usual antics in the stands; trying to learn the new cheer songs, holding up signs, etc. Eventually the starters gave way to relievers, and that's when stuff got really messed up.

Akiyoshi Toyoshima, who's in his second year with the team and 19 years old now, took the mound in the 5th, and did okay, but then in the 6th... yikes. A flyout by Hidaka started things off nicely, but then Greg LaRocca hit a home run into the Orix cheering section. 3-1. Tomotaka Sakaguchi singled to left, and then... Alex Cabrera ALSO hit a home run, this time right into the front row of the Fighters cheering section, 105 meters. We were not happy about that. 3-3. Tuffy Rhodes followed that up with ANOTHER home run into right-center, which made it 4-3, and as if that wasn't ENOUGH, Jose Fernandez immediately ALSO hit a home run, to the exact same place as Tuffy's, making it 5-3. The ball hit the stands so hard that it bounced onto the field, and centerfielder Itoi actually fetched the ball and threw it to a Fighters fan. I wanted to shout "Throw it back!" but know that isn't part of the culture here.

My friends were all saying things like "Poor Toyoshima-kun, he got beaten up by those four big monstrous foreigners!"

For whatever reason, though, Toyoshima stayed in the game, and had to give up two more singles to Gotoh and Ohmura before he was mercifully taken out. Poor kid. Yachiho Hoshino replaced him and though he had a shaky beginning, walking Keiji Ohbiki, he got the next two runners out to stem the bleeding and end the inning.

Jon Leicester took the mound for Orix -- not to be confused with Jon Lester even though they Japanify his name the same way -- and he promptly let the Fighters get ahead again. Yay! He walked Jimenez, Nioka got a single, and then Makoto Kaneko, who is (awesomely) on fire lately, doubled in those two runners (who were actually pinch-runners, Murata and Inada), tying it at 5-5. Chon-so Yoh pinch-ran for him, and then Eiichi Koyano hit a home run as well, bringing it all to 7-5!

Of course, Hoshino's luck only lasted so long too, and in the top of the 7th he was knocked up for two runs, a double by Sakaguchi and then a homerun by Masahiro Abe, who had come in when all the foreigners were taken out of the lineup following the Big Boom. 7-7. Mitsutaka Gotoh almost hit another home run, but this one hit the wall a few feet short of clearing it and he got a triple out of it by the time Murata threw the ball in.

In the 7th inning, Ryan Vogelsong was pitching for the Buffaloes, which was kind of bizarre. In the 8th inning, I was apparently on TV, or so said one of my friends who got a message on her cellphone from a friend at home watching the game.

It would have been nice to go home with a tied game, and Shintaro Ejiri ALMOST managed to do that when he pitched the top of the 9th, but somehow he entirely came apart and gave up 6 runs and I've blocked those 15 minutes out of my mind so I don't really want to tell you about them. Suffice it to say it culminated in back-to-back homeruns by Ohbiki and Hidaka, bringing the Orix grand total to 7 home runs for the day, and the final score to 13-6 Buffaloes, after Daisuke Katoh put down the Fighters in their half of the 9th. Poor Ejiri, I really want him to be awesome and come back, I've always liked him.


My friends all vanished immediately after the game ended, but then I ran into another friend of mine on the way out of the stadium, and he had bought the B*B mascot photobook and wanted to get it signed, so we both walked to the gate behind home plate and sure enough, both B*B and Cubby (the minor-league mascot) were out there, taking photos and signing and goofing around with people!

So, I got my photo taken with Cubby, in all of my total greenness:

And my friend got B*B to sign his photo book for him, then ALSO got Cubby to sign it, then played the mascots off each other as they both drew bizarre things in there. It was silly.

Some crazy Orix fans actually got B*B and Cubby to put on Orix jerseys and take some photos, which was hilarious. Eventually they were kind of throwing around the jerseys like a game of hot potato.

Then a couple wanted to get their baby in a picture with B*B and Cubby... except them being bears and all, they decided to pretend they were going to run off and eat the baby instead. Oops.

So by the time I left all of this mascot mayhem, I was laughing so hard I forgot the Fighters totally blew the game. I guess that's the point.

I got home from the game a bit after 11pm, and was going to wake up fairly early the next day to go down to Kamagaya for yet another game. This is, after all, Fighters Week! Hooray!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Game Report: Preseason Marines @ Baystars -- Early Onset Ippatsu-Byou Epidemic (photopost)

If Wednesday's game was any indication of how the Baystars are going to be in the 2009 season, then we're in for a loooooooooooong season in Yokohama.

This was my first open-sen (preseason) game of the year. Just like my first open-sen game last year, I had friends visiting from the US; this time it was Mike and Shannon from Texas. They'd never been to a Japanese baseball game before, and this one was sure to be memorable; the first order of business of the day was finding the kankeisha ticket place, since Bobby himself was kind enough to leave us tickets. Let it never, ever, ever be said that the Chiba Lotte Marines don't take good care of me. I really don't deserve it, considering I still refuse at heart to be anything but a die-hard Fighters fan.

Then I saw the Baystars macsot Hosshey beating up the TBS mascot and I was like "I've never gotten my picture with Hosshey, let's go swarm him!" so we did.

So even before we got into the stadium, it was already a pretty exciting day.

Once we got into the stadium, I yelled hi and thanks to Bobby, who waved back... and then a second later I heard "Deanna!" from a bit further down in the stands, and it was my friend Max and his girlfriend. I ended up talking to them for a while about random stuff, standing by the net, and taking photos of random Marines players on the field during BP. This was good, because it gave Mike and Shannon a chance to go wandering around the stadium on their own without me babbling the whole time.

I staked out a bunch of seats fairly close to the field, though most of the prime ones were already taken by the time we got there. During the pre-game picture-club thing, I waved around my Marines towel as a joke, and wouldn't you know it, the announcer says "...and there's a bunch of gaijin Marines fans? Let's take their picture! 3, 2, 1... cheeezu!" We were so stunned we forgot to actually take a photo of it. Oops. I think that marks the first time I've been on the big screen in Yokohama, though.

Oh, yeah, there was a baseball game, too. Kimiyasu Kudoh (the almost-46-year-old lefty, basically Japan's Jamie Moyer) started for Yokohama, and pitched two great innings, one reasonable inning, and then one OMG GET HIM OFF THE MOUND inning which culminated in an Imae 2-run homer that went straight into the Lotte cheering section; Kudoh would leave the mound being tagged with 5 runs and the loss.

In the meantime, Naoyuki Shimizu started for Lotte and put up 5 fairly strong innings, although when pitching against the Baystars, almost anything might qualify as strong. Still, no runs and only three hits isn't too shabby. On the other hand, a lot of Yokohama's better hitters (Murata, Uchikawa, Yoshimura) weren't in the lineup, for various reasons.

Tom Mastny, the first-ever major leaguer to be born in Indonesia (long story, see Wikipedia), took the mound for two innings for the Baystars. He's very tall. He did okay, except he got victimized both by a stolen base and a balk in the 6th inning that led to a run being scored off him, bringing the score to 6-0.

Yasuhiro Oyamada's Unlucky 7 was certainly the Marines' Lucky 7, as both Naotaka Takehara AND Ken Shinzato hit home runs off of him that inning. Ippatsu-byou indeed. I've seen Shinzato hit some good stuff at ni-gun, but it's unclear whether or when he'll ever break into the top team, so good for him... or bad for Oyamada?

After failing to put a dent in Shimizu, Takagi, and Tomohisa Nemoto, the Baystars were greeted by an old friend on the mound for their half of the 7th, with the score at 9-0. Satoru "Komi-chan" Komiyama walked Kinjoh, who wears #1. Two batters later, Shigeru Morikasa (wearing #00) hit a single, moving Kinjoh to second, and though Komi-chan was switched out for Taiki Nakagoh on the mound, Noriharu Yamazaki (one of the new kids, wearing #0) singled to score Kinjoh. Exciting. But it was the only run the Baystars would manage at all in a complete landslide of a game where the Marines won 9-1.

It was pretty interesting seeing Iguchi and Nishioka out there as the middle infield -- despite that Nishioka can be pretty cocky, he seemed downright deferential to Iguchi, which was a nice change.

I was somewhat shocked that Saeki got the start at first base for Yokohama. Don't get me wrong, I totally adore Saeki as a person, he totally cracks me up, BUT he's 39 years old and throws like a girl. I really think the Baystars could have put the playing time to much better use with someone else out there, like Dan Johnson or Yuta Naitoh. I guess the only saving grace was that they didn't try to put Saeki in left field.

Also, it killed me to see Toshihiro Noguchi wearing #5 for Yokohama. Seriously. I don't know what the heck Takuro Ishii did to piss off the Yokohama front office, but it's seriously uncool to be giving out his uniform number so soon, IMO.

I had a lot of fun pointing out the various fan antics to Mike and Shannon. Every now and then I'd say, "They're going to start bouncing out there in left field, look!" and they'd look at the Chiba cheering section, and sure enough, everyone would start jumping up and down. "And when they play this song, everyone is supposed to get out their flags and wave them around..." and everyone got out their flags and waved them around. Then, just for good measure, I'd sing along to the Baystars cheer songs that I knew as well, although that turned into a lot of "This is the theme for lefty batters that have no theme of their own... this one is for righties... I've heard this is the new catcher's cheer theme. Oh, and this must be the new one for Matsumoto that I don't know yet. Hmm."

Though, as it was only a preseason game on a Wednesday afternoon, it wasn't quite as crazy as a full-fledged normal-season game. But I think it gave them a nice taste of the Japanese baseball experience.

After the game, we went touring around Sakuragicho and Minatomirai, which is part of why it took me forever to post about this game; first I spent a while being a tourguide, and then I spent a few days being sick, which sucked. Funny part is, the three of us were walking around Yokohama's waterfront after the game, and it appears that so were Bobby and his staff! It would have been pretty weird to run into them there, though from the photos it seems we were a bit further down, closer to the ferris wheel.

(I did get to say hi to Frank and Paul a little bit after the game while the team was doing post-game stretching, so that was nice. I hope I can see them more down in Chiba sometime. It might depend on whether the Marines Mind Control Task Force stops being a gimp soon.)

And here are some of my photos from the day. I'm not sure why it takes me so long to go through these photosets these days, but it does. Still, it was a gorgeous sunny day out in Yokohama and I snapped around 400 photos total...

Bobby-manager, waving to fans as usual.

Wow, it's weird seeing Ryan Glynn not in a Fighters uniform.

Saburo seems to have decided that facial hair is cool. I'm not sure I agree.

Jamie Moyer Kimiyasu Kudoh, getting into shape for another season.

Keijiro Matsumoto, Waseda's finest, and perhaps the new leadoff batter for the Baystars, doing his best Yoshinobu Takahashi imitation.

Marines starter Naoyuki Shimizu.

Benny Agbayani and Toshihisa Nishi share a laugh at second base as Old Man Kudoh takes a timeout and requests a cup of water from the umpires.

Shigeru Morikasa, who is just tuning in from the Hiroshima Carp. Poor guy.

Hosoyamada: "Um, I have this idea, see..."
Kudoh: "Kid, I'm twice your age. OVER twice your age. I don't need your advice."
Hosoyamada: "But sir, if you don't throw strikes..."
Kudoh: "I'm THROWING strikes! They just happen to be HITTING them! Now go away."
Hosoyamada: "Sir..."

Takeshi Hosoyamada, Waseda's other finest, and also posessing a bizarre stance. What is this, the "Weirdest Stance Since Taneda" competition?

Hosoyamada again, after watching Imae hit a home run.

Toshiaki Imae bows to the left-field stands after his home run.

Tom Mastny is quite tall.

He also has a high leg kick,

and a funky followthrough.

Another new American player on the Baystars, Dan Johnson. Hard to believe I was just watching him in Oakland two years ago.

Hayasaka and Ishikawa trash-talk over at third base.

Hisao Heiuchi. I have a ton of respect for this guy, but he's probably never going to be a regular, sadly.

Tomohisa "the other" Nemoto.

Yasuhiro Oyamada, who gave up TWO home runs to the Marines in one inning. Whoosh.

Naotaka Takehara on his way around the bases during his home run.

High-fives in the Marines dugout following Ken Shinzato's two-run homer.

It's Komi-chan!

Taiki Nakagoh. I feel like I have never seen him pitch before, even at ni-gun, though he's been around with Lotte for two years now. Weird.

Shoitsu Ohmatsu, smiling out in left field! I have high hopes for him this year.

Yusuke Kawasaki, the lefty setup man. He seems to have grown his hair out quite a bit over the winter.

Shun Yamaguchi.

Tadahiro Ogino, inspiring the next inning. Or not.

Game over, the Marines celebrate their victory over the Kansas City Royals Yokohama Baystars.


As a postscript, I went to a minor-league preseason Fighters vs. Marines game on Sunday, and saw Komiyama and Takagi and Nakagoh pitching there too, and Komi-chan looked downright terrible. I feel kind of bad for him; wonder if he's getting near the end of the line or just taking a long time to warm up, kind of like Kudoh. Will Kudoh be able to start games this year, or maybe just come in for an inning or two of mop-up every now and then? Time will tell. But he turns 46 on May 5th. And for the record, I really did look it up and Takeshi Hosoyamada turns 23 on April 29th, so he really IS less than half Kudoh's age. Crazy.