Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Game 102: Swallows vs. Tigers - Swingin' in the Rain

On Tuesday the 29th, the junior high school I work at had a track and field event at the National Stadium in Sendagaya -- that big stadium that happens to be right next to Jingu.

So after a day of cheering for kids from my school as they ran past things, jumped over things, and threw things, I walked over to Jingu to cheer for the Yakult Swallows as they also ran past things, jumped over things, and threw things. All things considered, the oldest kids at my JHS are 15 years old, and the Swallows starting pitcher Yoshinori Satoh is 19 years old, so it wasn't THAT different, really.

I ran into two people that I'd met at the Tokyo Big 6 games over the weekend, a Meiji alum guy who is now in his 70's, and a lady in her 50's who just loves college baseball. They also happen to be Fighters fans, so I think they were as surprised to see me going to the Swallows game as I was to see them. So we got tickets and lined up to go into the stadium together.

On the way there, we saw a few Swallows players go by! I'd heard that if you got to the stadium super-early, you could see some of the players as they go from the clubhouse to the stadium, but this is the first time I'd ever actually experienced it. First we saw Takehiko Oshimoto, who used to be on the Fighters, but was part of the Fujii trade. I got a photo with him!

I told him, "I'm actually a Fighters fan, I used to cheer for you all the time!" and he was sort of like "Oh? I see, thank you."

(Also, close up, he looks kind of like my favorite Dragons player Masahiko Morino. It's kind of odd.)

We saw a few other players go by, and as we went towards the line to wait to go into the stadium, we saw Ryota Igarashi on his bicycle. He seemed to be in a pretty big hurry after signing one or two things for other people so I didn't get a photo with him, but I got a photo of him...

We told him "ganbatte" and all, and he thanked us and pedalled off.

We went into the stadium and sat up near the top of section D. It was raining on and off all day, even a bit during the game.

Christopher from Tsubamegun showed up around 6:45pm, which was good, since I didn't remember which people up there were with his group or not. It was good to hang out with him again, and another guy named Mike also came by, so we got to be the token foreigners in the outfield, I suppose.

Actually, Christopher already recapped the game, so I'm not going to go through everything myself as well, but just add a few of my own things:

- I hadn't noticed since I'm only ever in the outfield for Giants games there, but apparently it's not ALWAYS "Kutabare Yomiuri" during Tokyo Ondo. Really, "Kutabare Hanshin" doesn't have the same ring to it.

- Norichika Aoki hit a home run. Actually, his 2-run homer accounted for all the runs the Swallows scored.

- Oshimoto pitched in the game! Hooray! But unfortunately, his very first pitch was sent over the wall into the Tigers cheering section by Takahiro Arai. Doh.

- Former Fighter Hashimoto followed him and pitched a scoreless inning.

- Former Fighter Keizo Kawashima is out with a sore elbow. I bought a Kawashima towel after soul-searching between whether to get a Kawashima one or an Iihara one. I like Iihara a lot, but I think having a Kawashima towel is easier to explain to people since I used to like Keizo a lot when he was with the Fighters.

- Yuji Onizaki has gotten really good since I last saw him at ni-gun. Good for him! I wonder if he's going to step over Miyamoto and Kawabata in the ladder for the left half of the infield next year.

- Yoshinori really should have gone to college. More specifically, it would have been awesome if he'd gone to, say, Rikkio. Then we could still see him at Jingu all the time, but at least he'd be pitching on a more appropriate level for his development as a player, instead of getting his arm blown out as a hyped young star.

- I will admit I know absolutely nothing about Formula One, so it was pretty bizarre to me when they suddenly out of nowhere had David Coulthard driving a Red Bull race car around the Jingu field between innings:

Seriously, huh?

- Yakult ouenka are somewhat hard for my poor gaijin tongue to keep up with. However, I figured out that part of it actually is just that since taiko drums aren't allowed in Jingu, it's just a little hard to figure out the right cadence for the lyrics to the songs. (As in, I KNOW the words, but I always seem to be stumbling over them trying to keep up with everyone, if that makes any sense. Hiroyasu Tanaka's in particular always gets me.) I think that a lot of people are actually a little off-beat anyway, so it's not that big a deal.

- Anyway, the final score was 8-2. 12 hits by the Tigers plus 5 walks from Yoshinori and his own two errors certainly didn't help. I feel bad for the kid, really.

(I just hope they don't screw up Mikinori Katoh. I suppose he's a lot less of a "big name" per se.)

I'll be back at Jingu on Monday night for the Swallows-Giants game. Kutabare Yomiuri!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Games 95-96: Adventures in Osaka

I'm always joking to my Fighters friends that I am extraordinarily bad at planning trips here in Japan, and yet things always seem to work out okay. Going to Osaka during "Silver Week" was definitely a prime example of that.

("Silver Week" was a calendar glitch in 2009 wherein the relocation of Respect for the Aged Day to the 3rd Monday of September made it the 21st, and the Autumn Equinox holiday of September 23 gave them a "sandwich holiday" day on September 22nd as well, or effectively, a 5-day weekend for many people.)

Generally, travelling during big Japanese holidays is expensive and a bit of a nightmare, as pretty much everybody in the country is also travelling. My original idea for how to spend the Saturday and Sunday of Silver Week involved not leaving Tokyo, going to some minor-league and college baseball games, as well as possibly kicking it back at Jingu, kutabare Yomiuri style.

Instead, I found myself at the Osaka Dome with Team Shinozawa and friends.

Thanks to not booking my trip until only a week in advance, I took a shinkansen to Osaka at around 6:40am, arriving a bit after 9am, and got to the Osaka Dome around 10am... for a 2pm game. There weren't many people around at that time, but fortunately, I recognized a guy I'd met in Hiroshima that was part of our group for this game, so I got to sit with him and his friends at the very front of the line, as we waited until they opened the stadium at 12:30pm. It sounds crazy to wait outside in the sun for two and a half hours, but it really isn't so bad. I had people to chat with, and I also spent some time in the big baseball merchandise shop inside the Dome, which was open from 10am.

(In case you don't already know, the Osaka Dome shop completely beats the Tokyo Dome shop in every way possible -- it's bigger, nicer, and has tons more merchandise for every team and an MLB corner and then even random stuff like Ibaraki Golden Golds.)

The craziest thing I saw there this time was:

NPB-flavored Crocs! You could get a pair of Crocs for any of the 12 NPB teams here, for around 4000 yen. I don't wear Crocs, but if I did, I would totally have gone in for a pair.

Finally, we went into the Dome, and we staked out what we thought was a prime space for our group -- right behind the ouendan:

Which would have been great, except for when the ouendan leaders stood on a stepstool to lead chants, and were right in my line of sight. Oops.

I did the usual pre-game aisatsu routine of saying hello to a bazillion people, including yelling hello down to Brian Sweeney. Bizarrely, the Fighters cheering section was pretty much packed, but the Osaka Dome itself was relatively empty. I suppose it makes sense -- not only was Hanshin also playing at home, but all the Fighters fans were travelling for the big weekend.

Anyway, there was a game. Keisaku Itokazu started for the Fighters, which was kind of ominous to me since I've seen him pitch a lot this year but he always seems to have bad luck. Yoshihisa Hirano started for Orix.

It ended up being a low-scoring game, though -- the Buffaloes got up 1-0 in the 3rd when hotshot-of-the-future Takahiro Okada singled and was driven in a bit later by Masahiro Abe, three consecutive singles for Orix. The Fighters tied it 1-1 in the 6th when Hichori walked, moved up on an Inaba walk, moved up on a Shinji groundout, and then Terrmel Sledge hit a double to center that went far enough to the wall such that we couldn't see it land from our viewpoint.

(This is one of my friends, wearing a silly American flag hat every time Sledge came to bat. People generally hold up flags of the countries their foreign players come from, but for American players, often anything gaudy that screams "USA!" is acceptable.)

And so it continued, Itokazu vs. Hirano, on and on, 1-1 until we got to the 9th inning. Yoshio Itoi, for whom an entire gigantic cheering group came down from Hokkaido wearing blinking devil-horn hairbands and black t-shirts, hit a single to left, and then Tomohiro Nioka hit a ball that rolled up the 3rd-base line... and WASN'T foul! Ha! Iiyama pinch-ran for Nioka, as we all broke out the Kita no Kuni Kara chance music, some of us using the clicky-clacky Buffaloes noisemakers we'd received upon entering the stadium. Tsuruoka bunted up the two runners successfully, and then Kensuke Tanaka walked. Bases loaded for Hichori, who slammed the ball out to centerfield for a triple! Everyone else scored, making it 4-1!

Bullpen musical chairs ensued for the next two batters, as former Fighter Akio Shimizu struck out Atsunori Inaba, and then Ryan Vogelsong got Shinji Takahashi to ground out.

We kind of figured Hisashi Takeda would come in for the save, but... no, the bottom of the 9th came and it was still Itokazu out there! He retired the side in order for a complete-game win, and was the game hero as well!

After the game, our group split up for an hour or two to take care of things like checking into our respective hotels and dropping off luggage and whatnot, and the plan was to regroup at 7pm at a restaurant called Nakatani, which one of the actual local fans in our group had made reservations at.

Nobody told me anything about the place, other than that it was a chanko-nabe restaurant. They just gave me a map and said it was in the basement, and if I got lost, call one of them and they'd help me figure it out.

Well, I get there a little after 7, half our group is there, and sure enough, it IS a chanko-nabe restaurant, which means cooking a bunch of meat and vegetables in a big hot pot:

But the decor is... well... interesting, to say the least:

After staring at the photos and the jerseys for a little while, I have the sudden realization that HEY WAIT A MINUTE THE GUY SERVING US DRINKS AND FOOD LOOKS JUST LIKE THE BASEBALL PLAYER IN THOSE PHOTOS.

Yes, the proprietor is a guy named Tadami Nakatani who used to be a professional baseball player. He is from Kansai and played for the Tigers, Kintetsu Buffaloes, and Orix Blue Wave, pretty much never leaving Kansai. He didn't have an illustrious career as an outfielder but apparently was well-liked, judging from the sheer amount of signed stuff in his store and whatnot. And he certainly SEEMED like a nice enough guy.

One of the other guys in our group asked for a photo with Nakatani-san, so I figured I would bug him too. Nakatani has an Orix jersey hanging by the front door -- it's #132, from when he was doing some sort of instructional work with the Buffaloes. (I was like "Why do you have an ikusei jersey?")

Anyway, good food, good times -- although the bill ended up running around 4000-5000 yen per person depending on how much beer they drank. We had the chankonabe and also a weird kind of rice that I forgot the name of, where you also cook that in the huge nabe pot, with eggs and some other stuff. It was tasty though.

There were really only 3 or 4 tables at the place depending on how you look at it, and our group took up 2/3 of the restaurant. We got a guy at the other table to take a group photo for us:

We lingered at the restaurant a bit, and took some more photos outside the restaurant, and Nakatani-san even came up with us to say goodbye, and so on. I wonder whether the people who come to his restaurant are always baseball people, or if he gets a mix, or what. It was definitely an appropriate place to go to with a big group of baseball tourists, at any rate.

And I got to talk to some people in our group who I hadn't met before, but will undoubtedly see again, either in Sapporo or around Kanto. So that was good. (One guy, he was even in town from Sapporo, but is a Takuya Nakashima fan and was continuing his Silver Week by going to ni-gun games, so we hung out a bit at Kamagaya on Tuesday too.)

I crashed pretty hard when I arrived back at the hotel, and next thing I knew, it was morning, I woke up and checked out and found myself back at the Osaka Dome at 9am. For a 1pm game. Yeah. There were very few people there at that point, mostly just mats on the ground and bags people had left:

Well, and there were several members of the Fighters ouendan sleeping on cardboard slats outside the gate. I have no clue whether they were there all night or not.

I found the place where I was supposed to be waiting, but only one guy was there, and he seemed willing to acknowledge my presence but totally unwilling to talk or anything, so I ended up wandering around a bit again. Went to Lawson's to get some water, stopped back in the Dome store for a while, stuff like that. I also took some silly photos around the Dome, like this one:

(Mister Buffaloes, Tuffy Rhodes!)

And by the time I got back to the gate at 10:45am, it was PACKED!

Even more folks were there on Sunday than Saturday, and from even further places. I saw the Michinoku Fighters boss guy and a few of their group, and I saw a few more Sapporo people that I hadn't seen before. I also ran into some Osaka fans that I've always run into there.

We ran into the stadium at 11:30 when they let us in, and this time staked out a part of the first 3 rows one section over from the ouendan, so I got to sit in the very front!

I ran up to watch batting practice a bit. This time I saw Terrmel Sledge out there catching flies in the outfield, so I waved at him and he actually waved back. We yelled some stuff at each other but I couldn't hear him and I am not sure he heard me, but he made some motions like batting and catching, and someone said "Did he say he will hit you a home run?" Heh.

A bit later, my friend with the ridiculous USA flag hat put it on and asked me in Japanese, "Deanna, how can I tell Sledge that he is cho kakkoi?" and I'm like "well... you would say 'You are cool!'"

But before I could point out that it is really weird for men to tell other men in English things like "You are cool! I love you!" he yelled down "HEY MISTER SLEDGE! YOU ARE COOL GUY!!!!" And a few things in Japanese, and then "GIVE ME HOME RUN!"

I was thinking that Sledge was going to wonder what kind of wackos we were up here.

But Sledge just laughed and waved at us and yelled at me, "Tsuyaku!" ("Translate!")

So I'm like "He's a really big fan of yours. Also he wants you to hit him a home run. Take a look at his crazy hat!"

I would have yelled hello to Sweeney again, but this time he was taking... infield practice?

I dunno.


You know what? This entry has been sitting in my pile for several days now, and rather than just let it continue to slide, I'm going to just sum up by saying: the game was Darvish vs. Komatsu, and Darvish's shoulder is apparently still tired, because he walked SEVEN BATTERS in five innings, and the fact that it only accounted for giving up 2 runs is some kind of miracle.

Despite all that, it WAS actually a 2-2 game for a bit there... until the Buffaloes went and totally beat up on the Fighters bullpen (namely Miyanishi and Tanimoto) in the 8th inning for a whopping FIVE RUNS, with a 3-run homer by Koji Yamasaki. Ouch.

The final score was 7-2.

Here's your game hero, Yamasaki.

Most of my friends went to the train station directly after the game, to take their trains that were scheduled at reasonable times, or go to the airport, whatever. Me, I was taking a night bus back to Tokyo, so I wasted a few hours hanging out near Osaka station, then got on my night bus. The next morning I got back to Tokyo, slept for like 2-3 more hours, then went to Jingu for the Meiji-Rikkio game.

The end.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

You Still Gotta Have Wa, 20 Years Later

Look! It is me with a famous baseball-related person that is not a baseball player, for once:

Yes, I met one of my heroes tonight -- the "Godfather of English Yakyu Writing", Robert Whiting. He was speaking at a book event at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, and I was lucky enough to be invited as a guest.

It was a little hard not to be starstruck there -- as a wannabe Foreign Correspondent, being surrounded by tons of industry names was pretty intimidating. Even worse, being a harmless English teacher by day and crazy baseblogger by night, I had totally forgotten to bring business cards. Oops.

Anyway, if you are not already aware, this year they released a 2009 Edition of You Gotta Have Wa, for the 20th anniversary of the book.

I'll tell you -- the core of the book itself is exactly the same as the old edition. If you are expecting an actual revision, that isn't the case here. There's just a new introduction and afterword, of about 12,000 words. Most of the new content just discusses what Robert considered the two most significant changes to the culture clash since Wa was written: the influx of Japanese players to the US along with the WBC competition, and the influx of American managers who came to Japan, and the trials and tribulations facing them.

Robert gave a speech for about an hour, essentially talking about those subjects covered in the new parts of his book, and telling a few bonus stories uncovered during his research. Then there was a Q&A for a while, where many people asked him questions like "What's the deal with Matsuzaka?" or "Why didn't guys like Darvish just go straight to the MLB?"

For once, I actually piped up and asked a question, though mine was probably a bit odd: "My favorite chapter in the original book is the one on interpreters -- if you were going to update that one, what would you do?" He answered mostly by saying "I probably wouldn't write that chapter at all now, thanks to them getting real bilingual people who have a clue about baseball as interpreters. The crazy mistakes that used to happen 20-30 years ago just aren't an issue anymore, since the interpreters aren't just guys cracking open their old JHS English textbooks or guys who speak perfect English but know nothing about baseball. You're not going to have an interpreter these days who thinks a 'hit-and-run' is a crime rather than a play."

I finally did get to chat with him for a few minutes way after most people had cleared out. I told him how he's been one of my heroes nearly forever and how I moved to Japan with only 8 books and 3 of them were by him, and how he's an inspiration to the rest of us who try to convey the craziness of Japanese baseball to the rest of the world. And he had a lot of encouraging words for me as a fledgling wannabe baseball writer, and even suggested that I really *should* try to write a book about my crazy experiences infiltrating the ouendan, as it were.

I asked him to sign my copy of the new You Gotta Have Wa edition. And he wrote -- I am not kidding --

"For Deanna -
It was a pleasure finally meeting you.
signed, Robert Whiting, 9/24/09, Tokyo"

Them's fightin' words!

But seriously, he was a really nice guy, and it was a pretty good event. I got to see several familiar faces, meet a few new people, and even learned a few new things.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Game 99: Chunichi @ Gomiuri -- Things I Really Didn't Need To See

(I went to 5 games over the last 5 days of "Silver Week" -- two Fighters-Buffaloes games in Osaka, a Tokyo Big 6 game on Monday, a Fighters-Marines minor league game in Kamagaya yesterday, and then the Giants-Dragons game today. Yes, I've fallen into the problem of being too busy going to games to blog about them again. I'm also heading back to Sapporo on Oct 3rd and 4th, although I still don't have game tickets. Oops.)

The Giants-Dragons series at the Tokyo Dome over Sept 21-23 sold out ages ago, due to a combination of it being all national holidays, and being around the right time period for the Giants to clinch the Central League 1st place title. I had pretty much figured on not having a last chance at yelling a lot of "Yomiuri taose!" again this year, until a friend of mine emailed me last week, saying "Hey, it turns out I have an extra ticket to the game on the 23rd, a few seats over from the Chunichi outfield area. Want to go?"

Said friend is a former Chunichi ouendan member (from before the Kanto ouendan self-imploded last year) and a bit of a crazy old guy, but the offer seemed sincere enough, so I took him up on it.

This is where we were sitting:

(Fans doing the Hirokazu Ibata fanfare in the 4th inning.)

I was, of course, wearing The Shirt, though I covered it up with a jacket for fear I was going to get denied entrance to the Tokyo Dome. Once inside, I wore it until I put my Morino jersey on right before the game started.

Two days ago the Chunichi starter was Masa Yamamoto, and yesterday the starter was Wei-yin Chen, so we figured today, with the "we do NOT want the Giants sweeping us, SERIOUSLY" factor, the starter had to be Kazuki Yoshimi. Right?

WRONG. Ochiai-kantoku was going for the "They'll NEVER expect this!" factor and put up...

...Daisuke Yamai. Hey, it worked in the Japan Series in 2007, after all.

Anyway, as it turns out, it didn't really matter. Fate, luck, air pressure, and the Tokyo Dome were all on the Giants' side, and I don't think anything the Dragons did today could possibly go right for them.

I've been trying to rewatch as many of the iffy plays as possible to try to convince myself that the Dragons didn't really get an unfair shake here. I'm mostly convinced now, though at the time, since they don't replay anything USEFUL at the Tokyo Dome, these all looked pretty bad from our vantage point.

To start off, we had Ogasawara grounding out to second in the 1st inning. Except... mysteriously... he was safe? It sure looked like the throw beat him there at the time, though rewatching it now I can see that basically, the throw beat him there, but Blanco doesn't fully have his glove tightened around the ball until Ogasawara's foot hit first base. So in that case, I suppose it's a tie and goes to the runner.

This is not an iffy play but instead a bizarre event: in the second inning, Yoshitomo Tani hit a home run. (1-0.) I am not disputing that he hit a home run, but what happened next was crazy -- the home run went right into the Chunichi cheering section, a few rows from where we were sitting. People were all yelling "Throw it back! Throw it back!"

So the guy threw it back. Everyone cheered. It rolled into the outfield and the ball boy had to go get it.

Then four Tokyo Dome security guards came down and escorted the guy out of the section, to great booing from the rest of us. I asked, basically, "WTF?" and was told "Well, technically, he threw something on the field... and that's against the rules... even though it wasn't a bottle or whatever..."

(The guy was escorted back to his seat by a bunch of guards a few batters later, to applause from the Dragons fans.)

Apparently, the already-annoying Giants announcer has decided to start calling Alex Ramirez "Big Daddy Ramirez", which was only made more annoying by Ramirez leading off the bottom of the 4th inning with a home run. 2-0. Kamei followed that up with a single to left, and then... again, with Tani at bat, we saw what looked like an inside pitch go by him, except it was called a hit by pitch. Really? Anyway, a Furuki single and Obispo BS hit later (it truly was a BS hit in every possible expansion of the letters, especially since Tani shouldn't have even been on base), it was 4-0. Fortunately, I suppose, wonder boy Hayato Sakamoto chose that moment to strike out and Furuki got caught stealing third for whatever reason.

(Replay: yeah, the ball hit Tani's hand. BARELY. Even Tani himself seems vaguely surprised he's being given a base.)

Well, at least things started to go right for the Dragons a little bit in the top of the 5th. Wada led off with a hit, and while Koike hit a big fly ball that was caught, Ryosuke Hirata hit a line drive that dove into the left-field corner, leaving runners at second and third for what was one of the more improbable moments of the day: Motonobu Tanishige hitting a huuuuge 130-meter home run into the Dragons cheering section. 4-3.

(This one didn't get thrown back.)

Anyway, for more variety on the "what kind of crap is this?" sort of luck the Giants were getting today, a pinch-hitting Ohmichi grounded out to third! Really! Morino was watching as the ball was going fair, and he got it and fired it to first in time for the out as slow-footed Ohmichi lumbered over. I wrote down a groundout to 3rd on my scorecard... except at that very moment the umpire suddenly decided that the ball was actually foul. What I don't get is, if the umpire knew the ball was what he was going to rule foul, why couldn't he yell something before Morino nearly killed himself getting to the ball?

(Replay: I have NO idea what the heck the umpire was thinking. Morino was clearly in fair territory fielding it, the ball was clearly fair in the path as it would have passed third base. The announcers even announce it as a "groundout to third, one out..." and even they're like "Wait a minute, it was apparently foul. Huh.")

Takahiro Suzuki pinch-ran for Ohmichi, stole second, got to third on a Sakamoto bunt, and came home on a Ramirez RBI single a bit later. 5-3. It was particularly frustrating since it felt like he shouldn't have been out there in the first place.

Anyway, after 7 innings of Obispo, Daisuke Ochi and Marc Kroon finished off the Dragons in the 8th and 9th inning and that 5-3 score is where the game ended, with a runner at first and Kazuyoshi Tatsunami hitting a bloop to Furuki at third.

I guess the only amusing part was watching the penultimate batter, Kazuhiro Wada, walk -- as the count was 2 strikes and a ball with two outs, after the next three balls, every time, the Giants were clustered at the top of the dugout getting ready to run on the field and celebrate -- only to have the pitch get called another ball and have to fall back. Denied!

This is the closest thing I have to a final score photo:

Because basically as soon as the game ended, the freaking Giants started doing their celebration, so rather than doing something useful like displaying the final score, the scoreboard was displaying other stuff.

First we had to have people throwing tons of orange streamers on the field (and not getting escorted out of the stadium for it).

The Giants wait for critical mass in order to launch manager Tatsunori Hara into the air.

Hara actually smiled a few times during his speech. It was somewhat unnerving.

I left after about 5 minutes of the postgame stuff, and didn't stick around for the real ceremony. The funny part was, as usual, people were looking at me with a "Whoa, a gaijin" look as I walked by going towards the train station, but behind me I could hear people laughing as they read my t-shirt. For once, it was the good kind of laughing behind my back.

And then, to add insult to injury, the Keihin-Tohoku line was delayed for an "accident", so I had to play Train Tag to get around it to go home.

Yes, I'm whining. Yes, I hate the Giants, and this was a particularly frustrating way to end an otherwise pretty good vacation week. I'll try to put up short takes on the rest of the games I saw soon, maybe.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tokyo Big 6 : First Weekend

I was planning to go to the opening day for the Tokyo Big 6 University League on September 12, and had been looking forward to it for quite some time... until I woke up on that morning with two somewhat annoying discoveries: 1) I had a cold and 2) it was RAINING.

As it is, the cold kept me at home, but the rain just postponed the game starts until 11:45am.

I've been reading up on what happened this weekend since both matchups had slightly crazy results, so I might as well share with all of you what I found.

Hosei University vs. Tokyo University
Sept 12: Hosei 4 - Tokyo 2 (10 innings)
Sept 13: Hosei 8 - Tokyo 3

It is not surprising that Hosei beat Todai in both games of the opening series.

What is more surprising is that the Spring 2009 champions ONLY beat the perennial doormats of the league by such a narrow margin. (Last semester, Waseda pounded Todai in the opening series by a combined score of 24-1 in two games.)

Hosei 3rd-year pitcher Kisho Kagami is back, after having shoulder trouble in the spring semester. Kagami was unbelievable in the fall 2008 semester, doing things like striking out 26 Waseda batters over one weekend -- but at the same time, it's likely he overthrew and injured himself. Hopefully he will keep a reasonable workload this semester and remain healthy for a while -- having Kagami and Futagami in the rotation could very well spell another championship for Hosei.

Game 1: Hosei 4, Tokyo 2 (10 innings)

In Saturday's game, Hosei got out to a quick lead when the first batter of the game, Shuhei Ishikawa, hit a triple, and scored on a sac fly by Shota Waizumi. Ishikawa reached base in the 5th inning when he was hit by a pitch and scored again on a hit by Hiroshi Taki, to get a 2-0 lead.

Meanwhile, Kagami was pitching a no-hitter through 6 innings and a shutout through 8, until two runs came in for Todai in the bottom of the 9th inning, one on a sacrifice fly and one on an error. This tied up the score at 2-2 and the game went into extra innings.

Todai pitcher Koh Ageba, who had gotten out of the 9th inning unscathed, started off the top of the 10th by putting the first four runners he faced on base, 3 walks and a hit batter. (Nakao, pinch-running for Yamaguchi who pinch-hit for Kagami, was caught stealing, hence no run scored in those four.) Todai switched pitchers to Ikuto Nishimura, and a sac fly by Masatoshi Matsumoto immediately scored Shuhei Ishikawa for his third time crossing the plate. Another run came in an on infield hit to bring the score to 4-2.

Todai loaded the bases in the bottom of the 10th on two hits and a walk, but Shuhei Iwasaki watched a called third pitch go by to end the game.

Game 2: Hosei 8, Tokyo 3

Sunday's game was a little more straightforward. Ikuto Nishimura started for Todai and ran into a wall in the 3rd inning, where he walked a bunch of Hosei batters and paid for it when Masatoshi Matsumoto hit a bases-clearing double, and a hit from Kyosuke Narita shortly brought the score to 4-0. A Kento Kameda hit in the 6th inning brought in two more walked batters for two more Hosei runs, and two more runs came through in the 8th inning as Hosei beat Todai 8-3.

The crowning achievement for the Todai nine was probably Takashi Kihara's 2-run home run -- keep in mind that the Tokyo University baseball team as a whole hit exactly one home run for the entire Spring 2009 season -- and exactly one home run in the entire year 2008 -- so this is a nice start for them.

Keio University vs. Rikkio University
Sept 12: Keio 9 - Rikkio 4
Sept 13: Keio 1 - Rikkio 3
Sept 14: Keio 2 - Rikkio 3 (10 innings)

I wonder if this is an upset or an indication that Rikkio might finally be clawing its way above 5th place. For the first time since the Fall 2004 season, Rikkio actually managed to take a series from Keio.

Game 1: Keio 9, Rikkio 4

The first game certainly seems like a typical Rikkio game from last year -- Kenji Tomura, Rikkio's "ace" pitcher who is just a big skinny pile of arms and legs when pitching, hit two batters in the first inning, both of whom came around to score, and let up three hits for two runs in the second inning, so by the time Rikkio managed to get themselves on the board in the bottom of the second, it was already 4-1.

Keio got two more runs in the 4th, as the Rikkio team committed two errors, though the runs were earned as the first came in off an Urushibata RBI single to center, the throw from center going wide and putting him on second; he moved to third on a wild pitch during Fuchikami's at-bat and subsequently also scored on a squeeze bunt by Fuchikami. Yamaguchi got on by a fielding error at third, but didn't come around to score.

Rikkio's Toshiaki Teshima led off the bottom of the 4th with a solo home run to left, but it only brought the score to 6-2.

Rikkio sophomore Hayato Saitoh pitched two perfect innings, but freshman Kenya Okabe put on two runners and Kenta Masuda gave up a bases-clearing triple to Tatsuya Yumoto, making it 8-3. Rikkio added a run in the bottom of the 6th and another on a rare Keio error in the 7th.

Masahito Nihira came out for the 9th and allowed another run to Keio, Hayata Itoh scoring for the third time of the day as Kazuya Onodera hit a triple.

Keio's ace lefty Nobuaki Nakabayashi threw 137 pitches for the complete-game 9-4 win.

Game 2: Rikkio 3, Keio 1

Freshman (!) Daisuke Takeuchi started for Keio, and within the first 3 batters was already down 2-0, as he hit Reo Nakayama with a pitch, and then BAM, Daisuke Ikarashi slammed a home run to centerfield.

Sophomore Tatsuya Maruyama started for Rikkio, and pitched a complete-game win on 122 pitches. The only run he gave up was in the first inning -- he walked leadoff batter Tetsuya Urushibata, who stole second, was bunted up by Fuchikami, and then scored on a single by Yamaguchi.

Rikkio scored another run in the 5th inning. They got to two quick outs before Nakayama singled to center, and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Daisuke Ikarashi hit a single to center that scored Nakayama, and made it himself to second base. At this point Keio switched pitchers from Takeuchi to Yuki Murayama, my favorite Keio crazy sidearmer, and he got a popout from Okazaki to end the inning.

Keio threatened in every inning from the 6th onward, but never made good on their threats. Urushibata got another hit and advanced to second on an error and third on a steal, but stayed there for the rest of the 6th. In the 7th, two hits put two runners on base, but a few popouts and a groundout ended the inning with them still there. In the 8th, with two outs, Naoki Yamaguchi broke for second, and Rikkio catcher Yusuke Yamada made a bad throw, so Yamaguchi made it all the way to third -- but again would end the inning standing there. In the 9th, yet again, a one-out hit and a bunt single put two runners on base, but a groundout saw a force at third, so another groundout to second ended the game.

Both Keio pitcher Murayama and the pitcher after him, Fukuya, kept Rikkio from scoring any more runs, so the final score was 3-1. The game heroes for Rikkio were Maruyama for his pitching, and Ikarashi for his home run.

(I know, "Maruyama" and "Murayama" can look kind of confusing in English.)

Game 3: Rikkio 3, Keio 2 (10 innings)

This was a straightforward rubber rematch between Nobuaki Nakabayashi and Kenji Tomura to see who was going to fall over first. You could say that perhaps Tomura had a little more at stake here, wanting revenge for Saturday's game.

Keio went up 1-0 in the 3rd when Masahiro Nagasaki reached base on a dropped third strike, was bunted up, advanced on a grounder, and came in on a single. But Rikkio answered that in the bottom of the 4th as Soichiro "Soh-chan" Tanaka and Daisuke Ikarashi both got hits, Ikarashi stole second, and Okazaki singled in Tanaka. Teshima then hit a sac fly that scored Ikarashi, making it 2-1 Rikkio.

In the top of the 6th, Hitoshi Fuchikami walked, was bunted up, and went to third on a grounder. He then scored on a wild pitch during Kazuya Onodera's at-bat to tie the game at 2-2.

Only one more runner would reach base at all through the end of the 9th inning, so the game went into the 10th inning still tied at 2-2, with starters Nakabayashi and Tomura STILL pitching for their respective teams.

In the top of the 10th, Nagasaki hit a one-out single to center, and Nakabayashi bunted him up, but Urushibata grounded out to leave him standing at second.

Kazuki Suetoh led off the bottom of the 10th with a double into the left-center gap, and Masanobu Sekine pinch-ran for him. Yusuke Yamada walked, and then Nakabayashi made a pickoff throw that missed, so Sekine and Yamada both advanced a base. With no outs and a runner at third, it wasn't too hard for Reita Asada to hit a sac fly to left, scoring Sekine for a walkoff 3-2 win by Rikkio.

My impressions

This is going to be a really fun season for the Tokyo Big 6 League, I think -- and it's killing me that I am unlikely to actually make it to any games until the first weekend of October! Who knows, if Rikkio can take a game from Meiji this weekend while I am in Osaka, I might get to see them play on Monday. I am not particularly expecting Todai to take a game from Waseda, given that the last time they did that was in 2005, and they have infact won exactly two games against Waseda in the last DECADE.

Hosei's team is still largely intact from the spring season, and as I said, Kisho Kagami is back, which could be huge if he doesn't blow a gasket. There are also rumors that Hisashi Takeuchi intends to showcase himself in the hopes of getting drafted, and of course Kazuhito Futagami should be solid as ever. If batting leaders Masatoshi Matsumoto and Shingo Kamegai can keep their bats out there, and they get a decent final semester out of Shota Waizumi and Shuhei Ishikawa, and if freshman Hiroshi Taki gets his glove on, it could be a good ride for them. Unless, of course, last semester really was just a lucky fluke for a lot of the aforementioned bats.

Waseda's pitching is likely to still be the usual suspects (Saitoh, Fukui, Matsushita, Ohishi) and fairly strong, so what remains to be seen is whether their offense can drive in enough runs to support that pitching this semester. The interesting thing about their team is that it has very few 4th-year impact players, so even if they fail to win the championship this semester, they should have a good shot at it next year after Hosei's wonder boys graduate.

Meiji... I'm not sure yet. Will have to see what they pull out this weekend. They suffered from a weak offense last semester, but did pretty well on the backs of sophomore pitchers Yusuke Nomura and Gota Nanba.

Todai, I'm still convinced the biggest thing that will make a difference is if lefty ace Yuichi Suzuki, the man who actually won two games in fall 2008, can actually pitch again for his final semester. I have a feeling it isn't possible, though. Amusingly, crazy man Furugaki might be the guy to look out for on offense instead of Iwasaki, but who knows.

Keio's team is about to hit a weird limbo -- see, the guys who were on the Keio HS team that were Best 8 at the Spring Koshien in 2005 -- Nakabayashi, Urushibata, Fuchikami, Takeuchi, Yuasa, Yachi, Shintani, Yamaguchi... well, those guys are all now seniors (one or two are juniors) at Keio University now, and make up a significant part of the team. And they will mostly all graduate this year, in theory paving the way for Keio Koshien Kids: The Next Generation. That is, the team that went to Spring and Summer Koshien in 2008, led by the pitcher tandem of Tamura and Tadano. So the question is, how many of those kids will be good enough to play for real at the college level? And how will the team transition? Will it happen now, or later?

As for Rikkio, they've recently generally had a somewhat mediocre team, but it's never TERRIBLE per se, so it's possible they could randomly happen to string together a lucky season for a bunch of guys and take a few series points. They also have a bunch of freshmen from significant Koshien teams, like Tokoha Kikuchikawa and Yokohama HS and so on, and of course Toho HS catcher Yusuke Yamada, who I became a fan of the instant he led off a Koshien game last summer with a home run. So who knows -- with some fresh blood and some good luck, they may end up being the wild card that rocks the boat this semester.

Or they could continue to suck, and only avoid being in last place by Rule 1 of the Tokyo Big 6: No Matter How Much Your Team Sucks, Tokyo University Sucks More.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Photopost: Fighters vs. Futures @ Kamagaya

I went down to Kamagaya for the Futures game on Sunday, the 13th.

Because these games are technically exhibition games, or "Eastern Challenge Matches", admission was free! But, because it was free, there were no charter buses to the stadium from Kamagaya Station, which meant either a 2.5-kilometer walk through 30-degree heat, or springing for a taxi. I spent 890 yen on a taxi to the stadium rather than the normal 100 yen on a charter bus and 500 yen on a ticket. Nothing in life is really free.

(At least the last few times I've gone to these games, I've generally managed to catch other hapless Fighters fans at the station and split a cab.)

Thing is, being Sunday, and the Fighters ichi-gun team being at home in Hokkaido, the stadium was really crowded. I would guess there were about 1000 people there, so I'm really not sure why they couldn't run a few buses for us. Everything else was like a normal Sunday game, including mascot events with Cubby, and all of the usual food stands and merchandise tables.

Anyway, Ojisan saved a few seats in the front row and I was the only person in his posse to show up, so I got to sit right behind home plate. Just like last time I sat there, I concentrated mostly on taking photos of the pitchers, since that's what I get the most ideal view of from back there. Sadly, the day was a lot sunnier than expected and I didn't correct well for it.

The Fighters starter was Keisaku Itokazu, who is cursed whenever I watch him pitch. Seriously. I saw him start at ichi-gun three times this year, for 2 losses and a no-decision. This Futures game doesn't count for anything, so naturally he went 6 innings giving up 3 runs and getting the win.

(Itokazu pitching to Kenji Satoh, who hit a 2-RBI double off him and scored on a subsequent Nakazawa single -- all in the first inning, which account for the 3 runs Itokazu gave up.)

The first pitcher for the Futures team was a really tall adorable kid named Shoki Kasahara. Well, he was adorable until I realized he plays for the Giants. At 190cm, he is tall regardless of how evil he may become someday.

Kasahara pitched 3 innings for the Futures, facing 9 batters. He allowed exactly one runner, Kazuya Murata, who led off with a single and then got caught stealing second.

The next pitcher for the Futures was Takashi Maruyama, who's been with Yakult for a few years. Maruyama went to Aikodai Meiden HS, Ichiro's alma mater. Oddly, Maruyama has also seen significant amounts of ichi-gun playing time, which makes me wonder what he's doing on a Futures team, but whatever. He pitched two innings and gave up 2 runs.

The next pitcher for the Futures was a guy named Keisuke Hayashi. He's a pitcher for the Chiba Lotte Marines, and I was convinced he had to be an ikusei kid since I've never seen him before and he sucked, but no, he's actually a numbered guy (#37). It seems he hasn't appeared in a single ni-gun game this year, though, and his numbers over the last three years are far from impressive: 24 games over 3 years, 0-2 with an 8.66 ERA, 35.1 IP with 58 hits, 6 home runs, 23 walks and 3 hit batters against 21 strikeouts. Not the most impressive career.

In this particular Futures game, Hayashi had the honor of coming out and giving up 8 runs in one inning, facing 12 batters. I don't think any of the runs were earned, though. The score was 3-2 when the inning started:

1. Takuya Nakashima singles to left. No out, runner at first.
2. Chon-so Yoh singles to right. No out, runners at first and second.
3. Atsushi Ugumori hits a pop fly foul by first base. One out, runners at first and second.
4. Suguru Ichikawa hits a grounder to short that the shortstop drops for an error. All advance. One out, bases loaded.
5. Masaya Ozaki strikes out swinging. Two outs, bases loaded.

(At this point, assuming normal play, the inning should have ended)

6. Yohei Kaneko walks. Oshidashi! Nakashima scores, 3-3. Two outs, bases loaded.
7. Takayuki Takaguchi hits a ball that goes through the first baseman's legs for what is also ruled an error. Yoh and Ichikawa score, Kaneko moves to third. 5-3. Two outs, runners at the corners.
8. Kenshi Sugiya walks. Two outs, bases loaded.
9. Kazuya Murata walks. Oshidashi! Kaneko scores, 6-3. Two outs, bases loaded.
10. Takuya Nakashima walks. Oshidashi! Takaguchi scores, 7-3. Two outs, bases loaded.
11. Chon-so Yoh singles to right. Sugiya and Murata score, Yoh goes to third. 9-3. Two outs, runners at the corners.
12. During Atsushi Ugumori's at-bat, a wild pitch scores Nakashima. 10-3. Ugumori eventually ALSO walks. Two outs, runners at first and second, and finally, a merciful pitching change.

High-fiving as Ichikawa and Yoh score the go-ahead runs for the Fighters.

Hayashi certainly sealed a win for the Fighters, but it isn't the kind of win you usually feel good about.

Anyway, the guy who replaced Hayashi on the mound and immediately got a fly out to end the inning was a kid named Kenjiro Tanaka, who I vaguely remember seeing at Koshien two years ago pitching for Tokuha Kikuchikawa. He was taken by the Baystars in the first round of the 2007 HS draft, while Atori Ohta fell to the second round. However, Tanaka had shoulder trouble and didn't appear in any games with the Sea Rex in 2008 anyway, and has been struggling this year.

A left-handed kid, he threw 1.1 innings of this Futures game and only gave up two hits! Unfortunately for him, the two hits were home runs to Masaya Ozaki and Takayuki Takaguchi. Oops.

The last Futures pitcher was a tall kid named Yuki Nishimura, an ikusei pitcher from the Giants. His only transgression was giving up a 2-run home run to Suguru Ichikawa. I somehow managed to not get any decent photos of him throwing.

As for the Fighters, after Itokazu went 6 innings, our half-Indian lanky pitcher named Romash Tasuku Dass pitched the 7th. He was terrible, just like he has been almost every time I've seen him. He walked the first two batters he faced, hit the third, gave up a single and a triple to the next two, and a sacrifice fly completed the avalanche of 5 runners scoring. Yikes.

Toshinori Asanuma pitched the 8th inning, and wasn't too bad aside from two wild pitches.

The game ended in 8 innings with the Fighters winning 14-8.

(I mostly took this because it was funny watching the guys jump up to high-five Botts.)

And a few more photos, for good measure... sadly, I do not have a good one of Takanori Suzuki, the former Baystars player who is now a minor-league coach with the Sea Rex. He was coaching first base during this game.

Futures (Giants) catcher Takahiro Ijuin. Here's something funny -- I thought he had borrowed Fighters bullpen catcher Teppei Komai's chest protector, because it had #96 on it and that seemed an unlikely number for a non-coach player to have. Little did I know that Ijuin DOES wear #96. Oops!

Futures pitchers Nishimura and Tanaka sitting by the dugout.

Futures manager, Giants ikusei batting coach Kee-Tae Kim, changes the pitcher and catcher for the 8th inning.

Chon-so Yoh warming up before the game.

Atsushi Ugumori.

Yohei Kaneko.

Kenshi Sugiya.

After the game I went with everyone out to the Fighters dorm and training facility, where fans often wait to try to catch players for photos or signatures. I got a few more photos -- surely eventually I will manage to collect all of the Fighters' minor-leaguers...

Yoshihiro Satoh! He has 4 career ichi-gun hits to his name and 3 of them are home runs. I am not making that up.

Kazuya Murata. One of my friends is a big Murata fan. Me, I was mostly wondering if I actually AM taller than him. (The answer: yes. Oops.)

Coach Kiyoshi Yamanaka... really, two of my friends got photos with him so I said "me too!" He's a weird guy.

I waited around after the game for almost an hour and a half, until the very last Sunday bus back to civilization left at 5:19pm. In the meantime, the mascot Cubby also had to come back to the dorm and pack it in for the night, but not before trying to brutally murder a fan who wouldn't leave him alone by shoving him in front of a truck:

No, no, not really. The fan sat down on the Cubby Wagon to pose for a photo and Cubby made a joke out of it. It was funny.

Anyway, in case you are wondering why I was waiting for an hour and a half after the game -- I was really hoping to see my favorite ni-gun guy, Ryota Imanari. It's been a really long time since I saw him at all, let alone player-stalked him to say hi and see how he is doing. The last time I saw him in a game was July 5th, when he hit a 3-run homer against the Marines. It had seemed that there was a good chance he might even come up to the ichi-gun team after the all-star break... and then he broke his hand during a game against Seibu in the beginning of August. Doh.

Rumor had it that his hand was okay -- he even did a sign-kai at Kamagaya on the 6th -- but apparently he hurt his LEG last week while in the last stages of rehab. Crap. Ojisan told me that Ryota was scorekeeping and charting pitches, though, and was likely to still walk back up to the dorm after the game, so I should just hang out and wait.

I waited.

I got my photo with a few players, and watched the fielding practice in the stadium, and chatted with various people. We waved goodbye to players who got in their cars and went off wherever. Shintaro Ejiri drives a big black SUV-looking car, surprisingly. Yataro Sakamoto drives a little white sportscar. Jason Botts left in a taxi.

Yohei Kaneko, who actually seems to remember who I am these days, gave a bat to a high school kid who had been hanging around watching practice for an hour after the game. That was really nice of him!

But after all the waiting around, and seeing some players go in and come out of the sports facility, and bowing to the coaches and to Mizukami-manager and all, and more waiting... there was still no Ryota. I felt remarkably disappointed when I got on the bus to leave, which makes me wonder if I truly am becoming converted to the Japanese fan mindset. I insist that isn't true as I have several favorite players and even switch from time to time, but who knows.

I entertained a vaguely amusing idea to just shift my favorite ni-gun player to Yohei Kaneko, and then I'd just say that my favorite player is Kaneko at both levels.

But no, I wouldn't really do that. I just hope Ryota can get better soon.