Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fighters Tokyo Dome Second Series: April 21-23, Humbled by Hawks

After sweeping the Marines in their first Kanto series and sweeping the Lions in their second Kanto series, the Fighters nearly got swept by the Hawks in their third Kanto series. I went to all three games, and by the end of it I was just totally exhausted. Thank god they didn't get swept, at any rate.

(I'm trying to catch up on stuff, see... it's Golden Week now!)

Tuesday, April 21: Hawks 10, Fighters 5

The Hawks got out to a pretty quick 7-2 lead after Nobuhiko Matsunaka hit 2-run homeruns in both the third AND fourth innings. Ouch. Both were off Fighters starter Kazuhito Tadano, and to his credit, during the 4th inning he threw an eephus pitch to Matsunaka with a 2-2 count, which was awesome. It didn't help as Matsunaka slammed the NEXT pitch over the wall.

The Fighters did manage to get to 7-5, chasing starter Kameron Loe in the 4th inning as well, but could never catch up. Amidst the Hawks fans screaming "3-run homerun Hidenori!", Hidenori Tanoue did infact hit a 3-run homerun in the 9th inning off Keisuke Tanimoto, which pretty much slammed the door on any chance the Fighters had of catching up.

The highlight for my friends was getting to see Hideki Sunaga pitch:

Except that Sunaga ended up walking two guys and then hitting Matsunaka with a pitch. Whoops. Not the best outing.

The highlight for the Hawks bullpen was undoubtedly monkey-like Masahiko Morifuku coming in for one inning and striking out Itoi, Inaba, and Sledge, down in order.

The highlight for everyone else was probably getting to see that groundskeeper go nuts during YMCA yet again...

(April 21 YMCA dance, complete with him getting carried off the field... thanks to Yoshizawa for the film clips!)

Right, the film clips. That's another story in the line of "crazy coincidences".

After the game I wandered around to Gate 22 to see if BB and Cubby were out there again causing mascot mayhem, and sure enough, they were. There was also a guy holding signs about not buying unofficial Fighters goods from the Fukuhachi shop in Sapporo. And well, despite some initial confusion in talking to him, and I thought he was saying something about having HIS Fighters blog, it turned out he was asking me about MY Fighters blog -- and it was the guy who filmed the YMCA groundskeeper on April 8th that I linked to in my entry then! He'd seen my blog thanks to the youtube trackback link, and recognized me from some of my photos on here. (Not that it's all THAT hard to figure out, given how many American females there are wandering around Fighters games in oldskool jerseys, but still.)

He's been a diehard Fighters fan for something like 25 years, and he even named his son Yukio. That's so awesome I can't even begin to describe it. And it turns out that, just as expected, him and my friend Sakamoto and some of my other ouendan acquaintances all go way back in their Fighters-cheering friendships, and so they spent a while telling me stories about the old days and about some not-so-old days, and whatnot. It was really interesting!

Yoshizawa was carrying a Fighty plushie with him and harrassing BB and Cubby with it (or as Sakamoto yelled, "Fighty's your SEMPAI, you have to RESPECT him!"), and since I didn't really want to push into the line of people getting photos with the current mascots, being as I already have a few, instead, I got my photo with the Fighty plushie. And just for fun, I put the photo together with the LAST time I got my photo with Fighty...

(Left: 2009, Right: 2003)

Man, I'm getting old.

Anyway, it was cool to meet new/old Fighters fans and talk about random stuff with them! Yay. So that was a nice ending to a crappy game.

Wednesday, April 22: Hawks 3, Fighters 2

So this game STARTED OUT a lot better than Tuesday's. The Fighters ouendan were mocking the Softbank ouendan by yelling a lot of "ボールをよく見ろ [player]" cheers and "選球眼!" The first one, "boru wo yoku miro" means "See the ball well", and "senkyuugan" means... er, it means batting eye, I suppose. This was really funny, especially when we yelled it a lot and then Luis Jimenez hit a home run to put the Fighters up 2-0, we were joking that he really saw the ball well.

But then the Hawks cut that lead in half on a throwing error -- Munerin tried to steal second, and was TOTALLY out, except that they got into a rundown, which I have written down as "CS, 2-4-3-6-3 E6-3", basically since either Kaneko missed or Jimenez missed, but SOMEONE didn't catch the ball and thus Munerin ended up on third and Morimoto scored. Grr.

Yagi pitched 6 great innings, and then in the 8th, my arch-nemesis Yoshinori Tateyama came in to pitch for the Fighters, and just like he is always wont to do at the Tokyo Dome, he gave up his traditional 2-run homer to Hiroki Kokubo, which put the Hawks up 3-2. The Fighters might have evened it up in their half of the 8th, except with Kensuke at second base, Inaba singled to center, and it wasn't even that far back, but third base coach Makishi sent Kensuke home, where he was out by a MILE. Grrr.

And the groundskeeper did another dance...

(April 22 YMCA dance, also thanks to Yoshizawa-san.)

...this time finishing off with a cartwheel and not getting dragged off the field.

Also, guess where I will be on May 6th...

...yup, Kamagaya! Since Yukio Tanaka will be a special guest for the pregame festivities that day. I want to see him again. I miss Yukio.

Anyway, Wednesday's game REALLY had me feeling grumpy, and I didn't even bother sticking around the Dome afterwards, but pretty much just came home and crashed.

Thursday, April 23: Fighters 7, Hawks 6


So Pau came with me to this game. This actually wasn't the first time I dragged him to a Fighters game; he came with me last year in Interleague when the Fighters played the Giants and Nishimura broke Hichori's hand and MAN that still pisses me off. But this was the first time he sat in the outfield with us, and he got to meet my crazy friends, the Kamagaya Ojisan posse. We had a huge group, actually, though a funny thing is that I usually eat dinner and then tons of people offer me food, but this particular day I didn't eat dinner and nobody offered me anything. Weird. Call it Murphy's Law, I guess.

(Heck, on Wednesday, Ojisan's friend Sasaki-san who recently retired from working for Nippon Ham came up to visit us and brought "omiyage", or, well... ham. Bunches of pork products, which the rest of our group was like "Yum! Let's eat!" and I was like "Err... is that raw?")

Anyway, this game started off crappy, with Hawks starter Kenji Ohtonari striking out the first three Fighters he faced, but it got better. Or maybe I should say that both Ohtonari and the Fighters starter Masaru Takeda both ended up being similarly mediocre, so it worked out. Whatever karma had bitten Kensuke on Wednesday when Makishi sent him, apparently reversed for Shota Ohno as he scored the first run of the game running from first base on the most impossible RBI double ever (and he'd reached first on error in the first place). Makishi had no business sending him and he had no business scoring, but at least Hichori made a funny pose when we cheered for his double.

Matsunaka had to get another 2-run homer in, but then Luis Jimenez got in a 3-run homer to balance it out, making it 4-2. Then the Hawks had a rally in the 5th inning, which started with Hiroshi Freaking Shibahara hitting a pop fly to left that fell for a double between Sledge and Kaneko, and scoring on a subsequent single. I don't blame Nashida for walking Matsunaka when there were runners at 2nd and 3rd with two outs, but well, it WAS setting up for Hiroki Kokubo to hit a 2-RBI double to put the Hawks up 5-4. Hidenori Tanoue made it 6-4 in the 6th inning with a solo shot that bounced off the top of the wall in dead center.

The Fighters managed two runs in their half of the 7th though, after the Hawks staff suddenly stopped being able to find the strike zone. Even Morifuku couldn't throw a strike to save his life. So the Fighters fans got to sing the Kanto Chitty Chitty Bang Bang chance music a whole lot (much to Pau's amusement), we got to see Kume-kun pitch for the Hawks (also to our amusement, since we saw Kume pitch back in college), and then Tomochika Tsuboi hit a 2-RBI single to tie up the game, much to EVERYONE'S amusement.

Oh, and speaking of everyone's amusement, in the 5th inning, the groundskeeper ended his routine with a headstand. Kind of.

(April 23rd crazy groundskeeper YMCA dance, again thanks to Yoshizawa-san.)

So yeah, the game was tied 6-6 during the 8th, and it was around that time that Pau mentioned he needed to go home around 9:30pm so he could make an international phone call, and Hiromi was also saying she wouldn't be able to stay if there was extra innings, and so on and so forth. So I was really, really hoping the Fighters could pull it out and win quickly.

As it is, Pau left at 9:30, in the top of the 9th.

At 9:42, Terrmel Sledge hit a home run that literally landed about 5 meters to my right! 7-6, Fighters win!

Naturally, he was the game hero.

And then a little bit later, the players came out to the stands to throw signed balls, and one of them ricocheted and pretty much landed on my foot, so I picked it up! And it was a Kensuke signed ball! WOW! I'd never even SEEN one of the balls that the players throw out after winning games, let alone gotten one! They're actually not hard baseballs, but soft slightly squishy ones, with the Fighters logo on one side and the signature on the other. Pretty neat.

Maybe Pau is just bad luck for the Fighters.

Most of my friends left fairly soon after the game ended, but I stuck around for the entire after-game cheering, because I really enjoy that. It's no fun winning if you don't get to celebrate afterwards, right?

So instead, I sang with the people to our left, since I'd seen them at almost every Tokyo Dome game this year. The teenage boy always brings signs and holds them up for every player, and we'd been cheering for Inaba and Sledge and Koyano and waving our signs together...

He's a nice kid, they're a nice group of people. Hopefully I'll run into them at some other Kanto games at some point.

I wandered out to the Gate 22 area for mascot mayhem again, hoping to run into some more of my friends, and I did see a few people I knew out there, but the craziest thing was this group of people...

See, apparently whoever wears the Cubby costume got in an accident and was in the hospital, which is why Cubby hadn't appeared at this game, nor was he out there with BB after the game. But a bunch of fans got together and made this huge "get well Cubby!!" board and were having as many people sign it as possible. It was really sweet of them.

Also, since I'm trying to track my Fighters pinbadges, I got 18 more over the three-day series...

Tuesday (6 more, 16 total): Asanuma #68, Takahiro Imanami #45, Ryan Wing #49, Kensuke Tanaka #3, Shinya Tsuruoka #64, Seiichi Ohira #54 (fan club present). Didn't trade at all, which meant I had doubles of Kensuke and Ohira. But...

Wednesday (6 more, 22 total):
What came out: Kensuke (fanclub present), Yoh #24, Matsuyama #57, Takaguchi #58, Itoh #60, Fighters Girl rare pin. Yeah, that was my THIRD Kensuke pin.
Traded Kensuke, Ohira, and Yoh to Hiromi for Sweeney #42, Ugumori #65, and Kaneko #8.
Traded Kensuke to Chizaki for Ohno #28.

Thursday (6 more, 28 total):
What came out: Naoto #5 (fanclub present), Takeda #21, Sledge #10, Kanamori #59, Inaba #41, Miyamoto #17.
Traded my second Hisashi Takeda pin to Hiromi for Yanuki #33.

Now I just have Sledge doubles. I suppose it's appropriate given what he did that day.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Road Trip: Fighters vs. Buffaloes @ Skymark Stadium -- Tuffy Thwacks Three

Those who have read this blog for a while might remember that I was trying to complete an entire tour of seeing games in all the stadiums in Japan back in 2006 and failed to get to Sapporo and Fukuoka and Skymark that year. Last year I saw games in Sapporo and Fukuoka, but then only got to see Skymark when wandering around Kansai, didn't get to actually see a game there.

Well, I can now proudly say that I have completed the baseball tour of 2006. Unfortunately, Japan seems intent on thwarting my plan of actually seeing games at ALL the regular stadiums in Japan, since now I also have to go to the new one in Hiroshima in order to complete the baseball tour of 2009. Doh! (I'm planning to go there in June, by the way.)

Anyway, I took a night bus from Tokyo to Osaka, arriving in Osaka at 6am on Sunday. Let me tell you that there is absolutely nothing to do in Osaka at 6am on a Sunday, so I did the only thing I could think of: I wandered out to Koshien stadium to look at the renovations, at least from the outside, since I have no clue when I'll be back there.

It looks nice, and at least they've taken the coverings off a lot of the stadium, though it's missing the traditional ivy now and looks very different than it did a few years ago.

If you did miss the fake ivy, there's still plenty out past the outfield fences. This is where they say there will be a Koshien museum opening up in March 2010, by the way.

This is not a photo of trash cans so much as it is a photo of the Koshien logo, which I found interesting and hadn't seen before.

And even odder -- somehow I never knew there was a shrine right behind the back outfield wall! I guess it was always too crowded whenever I was there for a game, or maybe I am just oblivious.

So after a bit of wandering around Koshien, I stopped at the McDonald's there for breakfast (I generally don't go to McDonald's, but I knew they were likely to have a place I could charge my cellphone), and then figured, what the heck, I would just head out to Skymark Stadium.

I arrived at around 9am. The game was starting at 1pm. The gates were opening at 11:30 am. Hence, this is pretty much what I saw at the left field gates...

There were literally about 6 people standing around. Two were guys sitting by the actual gate itself, and then there were about 6 or 7 mats on the ground with about 3 or 4 people actually sitting on them. Nobody looked like Fighters fans that I recognized, though the two guys by the gate looked vaguely familiar, so I asked, "Are you guys Fighters ouendan?" and they said "Yeah." The younger one said "Oh! I saw you at the Seibu Dome, right?" and I'm like "Yeah, probably!" and explained, "I've never been here before, am I in the right place?" and they said "yeah, just go put your stuff in line with everyone else's over there", and I said okay and did that.

The guy sitting next to me had an Omiya Ardija chain on his bag, so I asked him if he also came down from Saitama, but no, he's just FROM Saitama, he's lived in Osaka for years. I talked to one or two other people, then mostly got bored waiting by myself and wandered off to look around. I went into the Sports Complex visitor center for a little bit, and walked around the goods tents, and also saw the Orix mascots, though I couldn't get them to take a photo with me (probably because first, I am foreign, and second, I was wearing my Fighters jersey).

Ripsea signs stuff for some kids.

It was, by the way, COLD out there, around 9-10 degrees Celsius, which is basically in the upper 40's, Fahrenheit-wise. I was wearing two layers of shirts, plus a winter jacket, plus my jersey over it, and gloves, and my Kamagaya towel as a scarf, and I was still really cold. There was also insanely strong wind blowing the entire time we were out there, so I could either sit still and be cold, or walk around and have my eyes tearing up from the wind blowing at them.

So from about 9am to around 10:30am I mostly just sat there by myself being cold and staring around at people. Then at least a few familiar faces showed up -- some folks from Tokyo, and even more surprising, some folks from Hokkaido! Seriously, a bunch of the people who I sat with at the Seibu Dome were also down in Kobe! I also ran into a Hichori fangirl who I met in Sendai last year and her friend who I know I met at another point (I forget when) who is a huge Itoi fangirl. So I ended up sitting with them and a few others.

We finally got into the stadium at 11:30! I immediately bugged one of the women in our group to take a photo of me so I'd have my 13th pro stadium out of the way:

And then we watched the Fighters take BP and stuff. I yelled down hello to Brian Sweeney, asked why he wasn't pitching, he said he'd be starting on Wednesday instead, and then we just talked about the weather and stuff. Apparently it was snowing in Hokkaido, so Kobe was't THAT bad... he was like "feels like East Coast weather, doesn't it?" Anyway, honestly, I know Brian's having a bit of a rough start, but the fans are behind him and want him to do well, and we believe in him. (And yeah, that's what other people said to me in Japanese.)

It was pretty cloudy and even started raining a little bit during BP, which was kind of terrifying. I took a few photos anyway:

Shota Ohno!

Darvish was walking around. A bunch of little boys tried to get his attention but to no avail.

And um, this is Brian Sweeney juggling some baseballs. I hope he doesn't get in trouble for this. :)

I went and wandered around Skymark for a while. Or well, I WANTED to go wander around Skymark for a while, except it turns out that you basically have a choice: are you in the outfield, or in the infield? There is no going between them, even if you have a ticket for the better section. I had an infield ticket, and was basically told that if I left the stadium, I would not be able to re-enter, and there was no way between the areas. I suppose you could buy two tickets in order to be in a different area, but that is really annoying. I suppose, actually, that it is pretty much exactly the same as Yokohama Stadium, though, plus that you can switch between right and left field.

So instead I just wandered the outfield, and will have to go back again someday to wander the infield, apparently.

View of the infield from behind dead centerfield.

There are basically three food stands on each side, and not a great variety of choices, though enough that you should be able to find SOMETHING that suits you.

View of the bullpen from the rightfield stands.

I think this is a picnic area over the third base exit.

Here is the Fighters ouendan as we cheer our starting lineup.

While the Buffaloes lineup is being announced, they show these cute cartoons of the players to go with the pictures. (This is Hiroyuki Oze. I may have mentioned once or twice last year that I think Oze is pretty cute, and he wears high socks, too.)

So it didn't bother me too much that this was my view for half the game in left field.

Yeah, so there was a game. And just as it was starting, the skies decided to open up and start sprinkling rain on us to go with the cold wind. Yay.

Mamoru Kishida started for Orix, and Ryo Sakakibara started for the Fighters. The first three innings passed mostly uneventfully, and then...

...Tuffy Rhodes cracked a home run in the 4th inning. It turned out to be his 450th career home run in Japan, and the game stopped for a few seconds so people could give him flowers and stuff.

By this point it was raining quite a bit more, and the Buffaloes added two more runs to Tuffy's run to bring them up 3-0. It was somewhat annoying because Takeshi Hidaka basically hit a ball out to right that normally should have rolled and bounced off the wall, but instead, this time it just stopped in the mud. Ugh. So I amused myself by taking movies of the Towel Dance, which is one of my favorite Orix cheer songs...

Fortunately it didn't work, and Hiroyuki Oze grounded out anyway.

Here you can see Hideki Sunaga warming up in the bullpen during the top of the 5th as the stands are full of people holding umbrellas...

Sunaga pitched the bottom of the 5th, and it wasn't pretty, even with the rain. Sakaguchi led off with a single, then Jose Fernandez walked, and then Tuffy Rhodes came up and hit his 451st career home run, a huge shot over the centerfield wall. 6-0. Takeshi Hidaka knocked in another run to make it 7-0 a bit later.

I took this photo in order to jinx Mamoru Kishida...

...because I found it very unlikely he would actually continue his perfect game.

Infact, my friend the Itoi fan even got out her Itoi signs and we suggested that he was going to get a hit and break the game... and he did! Ohno followed that up with a double, and then Makoto Kaneko finally batted in a Fighters run, singling to right to score Itoi. 7-1. Kensuke hit a pop fly out, and Hichori grounded to third, only the ball somehow got away at first, so Ohno scored on that play. 7-2. Shinji Takahashi hit the ball into the leftfield corner where Oze had a similar problem as the one Itoi had before with the ground, and Kaneko scored on the play. 7-3. Unfortunately, that's all the Fighters managed.

It was kind of funny though because a guy sitting across the aisle from me had these BB mascot paw gloves that squeaked when you clapped them together... or high-fived them. Shame the Fighters didn't score more runs so we could high-five more...

I went up to the top of the Buffaloes section to try to get a good shot of balloons, but I quickly learned that cold weather plus wind plus rain makes for lousy balloon-throwing:

The rain let up a bit in the 8th, but the Buffaloes didn't. Keisuke Tanimoto pitched the 8th, and with two outs he walked Ohmura, gave up a double to Sakaguchi, and then then Koji Yamasaki (who??) came up and ALSO singled, scoring Ohmura and Sakaguchi, 9-3. I guess he got the memo that people besides Rhodes and Hidaka were allowed to get some RBIs. Anyway, with Yamasaki on base, Tuffy Rhodes came up and hit career home run number 452, also a towering shot over centerfield that we didn't even bother yelling "ganbatte Hichori!" during. 11-3.

Whatever, the Fighters neded the game on a double play and the good part was that we could finally all stop sitting around in the cold.

Tuffy Rhodes was the game hero, and he even did the entire interview in Japanese and it didn't seem like he needed his translator much. Of course, most of what he said was "saikou desu!" and such, but it was still pretty good.

I rode the train back to Sannomiya with a bunch of other Fighters fans, then went to Shin-Kobe by myself, bought some omiyage for my coworkers, and got my train ticket moved up by an hour so I could get home a little earlier.

I should mention that I had a Gaijin Trap Bento, meaning a sukiyaki bento that had a heater inside it. Should you ever encounter one of these bento boxes that look way too big, and have a string, READ THE DIRECTIONS FIRST and just pull the string without opening the box. You will tear the heating part open and the chemicals will mix and form steam and cook your bento. Don't do what I did, which is to take apart everything and get really confused about this box with a string sticking out of it and THEN open it, because chances are good you will burn yourself.

Fortunately, the burns weren't that bad... I mostly kept my hand against a cold Coke for most of the trip, slept the entire way back, and the next day it's just a tiny bit red on two fingers. On the plus side the food was really good and I would totally buy one of them again next time I see one in a train station.

Not sure where my next road trip is. Maybe May 24th to Nagoya, or June 20th to Hiroshima. I really ought to make a "where is Deanna planning to go" post one of these days, but I haven't even had enough time to reflect on the fact that this blog passed its 4th birthday a few weeks ago...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Seibu Weekend Part 2: Oh no, Onodera - Double Trouble Sweeps Again

After all of the fun of the Fighters come-from-behind win on Saturday, I went back there on Sunday for more come-from-behind winning fun!

I showed up at 10:30am for a 1pm game, met up with my friend Hiromi, and this is the line we had to wait in, half an hour before the doors even opened:

Fortunately, our friends had arrived at like 8am and saved seats for us in the front when they went in.

Hiromi and I ran off to take photos at the bullpen and elsewhere. I already posted my exploring the new features at the Seibu Dome photos in another post, so here are just a few shots I got of the Fighters. I didn't bring my GOOD camera, just my new point-and-shoot, so I don't really have that many...

Kazuhito Tadano

Tomoya Yagi

Pitching coach Masato Yoshii laughing with bullpen catcher Shunsuke Sugiyama.

We wandered over towards the infield and saw some more batters doing tee batting before heading into the batting practice cage...

Tomochika Tsuboi!

Kensuke Tanaka

E-I-I-CHI (clap clapclap clapclap clapclap) Koyano. No, I'm not sure what he's holding.

After we explored the new restaurants and bathrooms and elevators and all, we went back towards the bullpen, where Brian Sweeney was running back and forth and warming up. We saw more of our friends hanging out there yelling stuff at Brian in Japanese...

The guy holding the Glynn jersey asked me in Japanese, "Can you help us? Talk to him in English for us?"

I blinked. "What do you want me to say?"

He said "Tell him that he should ganbatte for Ryan's sake too!"

I'm like "EEEEEHHHH?"

But I basically told Brian all the stuff they were saying -- "Brian, they want to tell you good luck but they can't speak English... this weirdo over here wants you to kick ass for Ryan's sake too..."

Then we headed up and got some delicious miso katsudon and went back to the outfield to cheer. One of the ladies in the Hokkaido posse had a ton of big felt signs that she and her daughter made, including this awesome one for Brian Sweeney...

(The kanji spell out "Bushido", in case you are wondering.)

Brian Sweeney was the Fighters' starter for this game, and the Lions put up John Wasdin, so it was a showdown of non-Japanese pitchers.

At first, it seemed like Wasdin was going to come out ahead, as Sweeney had a really rough beginning, walking the first two batters, Kataoka and Kuriyama, before Hiroyuki Nakajima singled home Kataoka to put the Lions up 1-0 quickly. Okawari-kun Nakamura singled next, Kuriyama scoring to make it 2-0, and then Nakajima scored a bit later on a groundout to short, so it was 3-0 in favor of Seibu coming out of the first inning.

However, the Fighters struck back in the second; Eiichi Koyano led off with a double, and then Shinji Takahashi grounded to third but Nakamura made a bad throw and the ball got past first, Koyano running to third on the play. Luis Jimenez singled after that, scoring Koyano, 3-1 (and Shinji ran to third, sliding in). Shota Ohno grounded out to third, the play forcing Jimenez at second, but Ohno beat the relay to first, and Shinji scored on the play. 3-2. Then our "saikou no kyu-ban", or greatest 9-spot batter ever, Makoto Kaneko, doubled to right, moving Ohno to third, so Kensuke Tanaka could almost hit a homer to right, but fail, instead getting the sacrifice fly, scoring Ohno, 3-3. Itoi grounded out but the game was tied.

I noted that despite us having one run in and runners at the corners with no outs, there was no chance music. On the other hand, the ouendan were being pretty goofy, at one point saying things like "Okay, time to sing the song for Inaba... if you don't know the words just make sure you join for 'Kattobase Inaba!' Things like that. One of the other guys came out and said, "Don't forget that this game is being broadcast on BS1 today, all over the nation, so I want them to hear us ALL OVER THE NATION! Now give me a loud voice and..."

Anyway, things were peachy until the bottom of the 5th when the Lions decided to score some more runs and make it 6-3 and knock Sweeney out of the game. Kazumasa Kikuchi took his place on the mound and mostly kept things under control through the 7th inning.

In the meantime, the Fighters chipped away at the Lions lead. Masamitsu Hirano, who we'd seen on stage outside the dome before the game, pitched the top of the 6th, and immediately gave up a solo homer to Shinji Takahashi (6-4). He struck out the next two guys, but then Kaneko hit another Patented Kaneko Double, and Hirano walked the next two batters to load the bases. With Inaba up to bat and bases loaded our hopes were pretty high, but Tomoki Hoshino came in to pitch to him and got a ground out to first. Doh.

The Lions decided they were no longer messing around and brought in Shinya Okamoto to pitch the 7th, but Koyano managed a double off him and Jimenez drove him in with a single.

Still, the Fighters managed to squander another bases-loaded chance in the 8th inning, so it was 6-5 in Seibu's favor going into the 9th inning. Their closer Alex Graman (who is mostly seen at the park these days on the big screen for their "baseball English" segments) was taken off the active roster in mid-April for problems with a stiff left shoulder, so I suppose right now the closer's spot is up for grabs, though one could note that Seibu mostly solves the need for a closer by bashing the heck out of their opposition anyway.

Former closer Chikara Onodera drew the short straw that day and got the call to finish out the game for the Lions.

And well, the Fighters just weren't having any of it. Shinji Takahashi led off with a double, and Toshimasa Konta pinch-ran for him, advancing to third on a Jimenez groundout. Saturday's game hero Tsuboi came in to pinch-hit for Shota Ohno again, and just as before, he delivered -- he hit a long low ball out to left field that we thought was foul, but turned out to be fair, and next thing you knew, Konta was crossing the plate and Tsuboi was standing on second and the game was tied 6-6. We all went absolutely CRAZY in the stands, being as a whole ton of us were holding up Tsuboi signs and towels and yelling like crazy for him to begin with. (I may or may not have mentioned that I was sitting with several Fighters fans from Hokkaido, including one guy who I met last year during the playoffs who is a huge Tsuboi fan. And I was wearing my Tsuboi t-shirt, so...)

Makoto "Double Trouble" Kaneko came up after that and hit his THIRD double of the day, scoring Tsuboi and putting the Fighters up 7-6, and he also scored after advancing on a Kensuke groundout and an Itoi single. Hisashi Takeda closed out the bottom of the 9th in a 1-2-3 inning and the Fighters won the game 8-6.

It should surprise nobody that Kaneko was the game hero...

...and they asked him about all of his doubles, and he basically said "I'm not really trying to hit doubles. I don't want to think about that and ruin my concentration. I just want to help the team. We are all working as hard as we can."

Postgame celebrations from a different angle than usual. It's so weird being on the first base side at Seibu rather than the third base side.

I've really got to start taking more photos of awesome jerseys I see. This one is of the lyrics to the Fighters 賛歌.

Oh yeah, and I have no idea who these guys are, but they basically sat down behind me and my friends right before the game started and cheered with us the whole time. They were really nice guys and had even made these awesome t-shirts (the left one is cheering Nioka, the right is for Kensuke Tanaka).

We've been really lucky that mascot BB has been touring with the team for most of the Kanto games so far -- the Tokyo Dome series and the Seibu Series as well. So it's a rare shot of BB in the away jersey, which we don't usually get to see.

Anyway, sweep is nice. Very nice. And it put the Fighters in first place, too, which made it even sweeter sweep.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Seibu Weekend Part 1: Unlikely Heroes

So, as I mentioned in my Seibu Dump Makeover post, I spent the weekend at the Seibu Dome cheering for the Fighters.

I showed up super-early before both games. On Saturday I finally got a chance to say hi to Fighters pitcher Brian Sweeney, and if I haven't already said how great a guy he is, let me say it again. He even remembered that I went home to Philly for a few months to visit my family over the winter, though I told him the bad news that my father died. I mentioned that I saw him pitch in Yokohama when he beat former teammate Ryan Glynn and he said that it was tough pitching against Ryan in the Baystars game in Sapporo because the pitchers were batting and he really didn't want to give up a hit. I told that to a few of the Japanese fans who asked me what we were talking about, and they said "just as expected, Sweeney has great fighting spirit!"

I didn't get to explore the stadium on Saturday because I only had an outfield ticket, and you can't go into the infield on that. Infact, you can't get to ANYTHING useful, and I exited the stadium in order to buy lunch -- and 45 minutes before game time, the main Lions bento stand had already sold out of all of my top three choices.

The game itself was a lot of fun. I sat in the front row with a variety of people from both Hokkaido and Kanto. The Tsuboi fans I'd met at the playoffs last year were there in force (and I later found out they came down from Asahikawa) and there was another group of Ojisan's friends who had a ton of lovely signs and were visiting from Sapporo.

Both teams put out lefty starting pitchers; Kazuyuki Hoashi took the mound for Seibu and Shaggy Shugo Fujii took the mound for the Fighters. The Fighters put the first runs on the board to be up 2-0 after the top of the 3rd, but Seibu quickly tied up the game; Nakajima almost hit a home run in the bottom of the 3rd that hit the wall in front of us and fell down (Inaba ALSO hit the wall in front of us and fell down, Hichori fielding the ball) for an RBI double instead, and then Hiram Bocachica hit a homerun in the bottom of the 4th, making it 2-2.

To add injury to injury, Inaba was also hit by a pitch in the top of the 5th. I have no idea how he survives all of this stuff without getting seriously hurt. We did THREE Inaba Jumps while waiting for him to recover.

Yasuyuki Kataoka hit a home run in the bottom of the 5th to put the Lions up 3-2, and then Luis Jimenez had an RBI double in the top of the 6th to tie it at 3-3. Newbie Keisuke Tanimoto took over on the mound for the Fighters in the bottom of the 6th after Fujii walked Okawari-kun Nakamura. The Lions were able to score Nakamura through a series of groundouts and fielder's choices, to make it 4-3.

Hoashi came out after 7 innings and Eiji Shotsu took over on the mound for Seibu, and promptly walked Koyano and gave up a double to Shinji Takahashi. Another pitching change to Tomoki Hoshino didn't help Seibu either as Hoshino threw a wild pitch to score Koyano, tying the game at 4-4. Hoshino walked Jimenez and was pulled for yet another Seibu reliever, Koji Ohnuma. The Fighters put in Tomochika Tsuboi as a pinch-hitter and the crowd went wild! Tsuboi hit a fly out to left field, but it was enough to score Shinji Takahashi from third as a sacrifice, so that brought the Fighters up 5-4.

Tateyama pitched a perfect 8th and Hisashi Takeda handled the 9th, and as the Fighters added an insurance run in the top of the 9th (when Hiroyuki Nakajima ate the ball at short on a Shinji grounder), they won the game 6-4.

Amazingly, the game heroes were winning pitcher Tanimoto and go-ahead-run-sac-flying Tsuboi -- an unlikely set of heroes if you ever did see.

Also, Ojisan mentioned to me after the game that when he did his radio show for the Hokkaido Broadcasting Company that morning, someone actually asked him "Who's that gaijin we always see in your group at the Tokyo Dome?" and he told them, "She's my English teacher!" Which is totally not true, but either way, a little scary that someone actually asked that.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tokyo Big 6 University Opening Weekend: Photopost

I need to take a brief interlude from talking about the Fighters to post about the Tokyo Big 6 League opening day games, because otherwise they're just going to fall through the cracks and the second weekend has already passed. Opening Day was actually on April 11th, last Saturday.

I bugged my friend Pau to get discount tickets for the game, because he attends a certain Big 6 University that is completely abysmal at baseball. Infact, they are so abysmal and draw so few fans that tickets were discounted from 1300 yen to 300 yen. Score.

Unfortunately, when we actually arrived and sat in student seating, I got politely told to get rid of my camera by a bunch of totally nerdy-looking Todai ushers, who said something about how the cheerleaders didn't want people photographing them, so cameras were banned everywhere in Jingu from now on this year. What? However, we saw plenty of people with cameras further infield, so we wandered over that way and found some seats about halfway up. It was a bit far back for me to get good photos, but better than nothing, I guess.

I don't even really know what to say about the first game. It was a slaughter, and Waseda totally killed Todai, 11 - 0. Part of why I wanted to see this game, even though I knew it'd be a landslide, is that two of my favorite Big 6 pitchers were likely to be out there -- Tokyo's Yuichi Suzuki, and Waseda's Tatsuya Ohishi.

Suzuki is tall, left-handed, and doesn't totally suck at baseball, which makes him a rarity for a Todai player. I've gone on about him once or twice before on here, notably when I happened to be there for one of his only two wins ever.

Ohishi, well, I've been in love with this kid since fall Soukeisen 2007. At first I thought it was just funny that a little kid behind us was mispronouncing "Oh-ishi" as "oishii", which means delicious, and we were saying that this pitcher was really not delicious. However, as it turned out, he really IS delicious. He can throw 155 km/h and has the most unreal stats I've seen for anyone in the Tokyo Big 6 league in quite some time. He's a reliever and pretty much just always follows that handkerchief kid. Last season Ohishi struck out 34 guys in 16 innings and allowed 5 baserunners in that entire time, no runs. And he didn't even face Todai! He's amazing and I love him and I want him to be the Fighters closer in 2-3 years.

Anyway, I got to see both of my favorite guys pitch, and I got to see a lot of Waseda batters go totally postal on the Todai pitching. I'm not sure what's up with Suzuki-kun, as he threw 159 pitches in 7 innings and didn't pitch at all in the second weekend, though. I wonder if all of those weekends of throwing 300-400 pitches is finally catching up with him now that he's a senior. (In a message on the Todai club page he said something about suffering such a defeat to Waseda and he would leave the Meiji series to Nishimura, but... eh.)

Anyway, some photos:

It is customary to bow before devouring your prey, see.

This is Yuichi Suzuki, the ace of the University of Tokyo baseball team, who may have pretty much blown his arm out. Oops.

This is the most famous college pitcher in Japan, Saitoh Yuki. He became famous back in 2006 for winning Koshien as a senior at Waseda Jitsugyo HS and carrying a blue handkerchief with him to wipe the sweat off his forehead.

Here is Mr. Handkerchief at bat, bunting away.

Todai first baseman Nagomu Kasai. Earth to Kasai: even if you wear Oakley sunglasses, it will NEVER be cool to be on the Todai baseball team.

Todai catcher Atsushi Tanaka. He's incredibly expressive, and he had to keep chasing foul balls or running after wild pitches from the non-Suzuki pitchers. I kind of imagine him smirking a Japanese equivalent of "That's all right, that's okay, THEY'RE gonna work for US someday!"

Todai cleanup batter Shota Utsumi, perhaps the skinniest cleanup batter ever, coming in at a whopping 5'9" and 155 pounds, if that.

After Suzuki finally gave out, and Ikuto Nishimura got roughed up, sophomore Hibiki Wada came out to pitch. He's named Wada and wears #21... and that's about all he has in common with the Hawks pitcher Tsuyoshi. Wada, at 5'8" and 150 pounds, is actually SMALLER than Utsumi. Wow!

(We were joking for half the game how Todai has an Utsumi, a Wada, a Tanaka wearing #6, all of these pro players!)

In the 7th inning, I saw my Ohishi warming up in the Waseda bullpen, and for whatever reason, even though they totally didn't need a closer, he came in to pitch the 8th and 9th. I was happy to see him pitch anyway, and of course he got 4 strikeouts. He's so good. Yeah, it's Todai, but he'd do that against any college.

Don't mind me while I swoon for a second. He's seriously probably my favorite college baseball player EVER. I just wish Waseda games weren't so well-attended, so I could sneak down to the field sometime.

Final score. Ouch.

Pau left right after Ohishi pitched the 8th inning of the first game, but I decided, despite that I was getting sunburnt to a crisp, to stick around for the second game, of Keio vs. Rikkio. I like Keio's starter Nobuaki Nakabayashi, and also their captain Tetsuya Urushibata, so this second game was a lot of fun for me to see, except that Keio lost the game 1-0 to Rikkio. However, Nakabayashi went the entire game and was far more economical with his pitches -- and Urushibata got 2 hits, more than anyone else on the Keio squad. Unfortunately, the Rikkio pitcher I like, Masahito Nihira, only got to make a brief appearance at the end. On the other hand, I hadn't seen starter Kenji Tomura before, and he was interesting to watch too.

Also, in the second inning of this game, Rikkio catcher Maeda fouled a ball back a bit behind us and it bounced and landed in the seat of the older lady sitting next to me! It bounced behind us and kind of got lodged in her back, and she was like "It's on my butt!" as she jumped out of her seat to retrieve the ball. An usher came by a few seconds later and basically asked her to give the ball back in exchange for a Tokyo Big 6 pin as a "present". That's kind of cool and kind of lame all at once. I'd certainly rather have a baseball than a pin.

Anyway, this was a super-close pitcher's duel and a lot of fun to watch, and well worth the sunburn I had to endure for the week afterwards.

More photos!

Rikkio catcher Daichi Iwabuchi, before the game.

The aforementioned Nobuaki Nakabayashi, Keio's lefty ace starter.

Another bow to start the game.

Rikkio second baseman and captain Reo Nakayama gets the first hit of the game.

Nakayama also scores the ONLY run of the game, also in the first inning.

Tomura, the tall stringbean-like Rikkio pitcher. He's seriously listed as like 6'2" and 170 pounds.

Keio captain Tetsuya Urushibata.

Sad, sad, sad.

I will note that the game ended in a very climactic way: Tomura walked the first two Keio batters in the bottom of the 9th, and then he was taken off the mound in favor of my guy, Nihira. But I wanted Keio to win, so I couldn't really cheer for him. Anyway, the next guy sac bunts the first two runners over to 2nd and 3rd, and then they intentionally walked pinch-hitter Kajimoto. The bases were loaded for Keio pitcher Nakabayashi to bat. He's actually a pretty good batter for a pitcher and all, but this time he hit a pop fly out to left. After him was my other favorite guy, Urushibata, and he... also hit a pop fly, caught by the shortstop in shallow left, which ended the game.

Rikkio, for their part, seemed absolutely delighted to win such a close game. They've been kind of crappy the last few years, so maybe they'll do a little better this year, make things interesting and all.

Anyway, I'm always the first one to say that Tokyo Big 6 baseball is completely lopsided competitively, but that doesn't mean it's not a ton of fun to watch. The student cheering sections are fantastic, the marching bands are great, and the baseball is almost as heartfelt as Koshien games, just the level of play is a lot higher, aside from Todai, of course. I'm looking forward to taking in a few more games this season and in the fall!