Hey. Is this thing still on?
I know, I kind of disappeared during the offseason, and I have some news to share eventually, but not quite yet. I am, however, back in Japan again for the time being, and getting ready for a fantastic 2010 campaign, or at least, part of one.
I figured I'd start blogging again when I started going to games again, but the Kanto weather hasn't been cooperating with me. Thought about going up to Lotte Urawa on the 4th for a minor-league Fighters-Marines preseason game, but then it was 41 (degrees F) out with a high chance of rain, so I skipped out. Sunday was supposed to be the Kamagaya Fighters Festival -- an event I really enjoyed two years ago and haven't been back to since -- and then it got cancelled due to rain.
Today I was going to go down to Jingu to see the Swallows take on the Marines, mostly in the hopes of getting a glimpse of Hiroki Ueno, but, you wouldn't believe it, right now it is SNOWING in Tokyo. Snow. Seriously. If it clears up by tomorrow I may try a second shot at Jingu, but who knows.
(For the rest of the month: I'll be at Baystars-Fighters on the 11th, Fighters-Marines on the 13th, Swallows-Fighters on the 14th, Fighters-Dragons on the 16th, Baystars-Tigers on the 18th, and then it's a little up in the air. For opening weekend I will probly go to Lotte Urawa for the Fighters-Marines since I won't be in Sapporo, then down to Koshien for Senbatsu for a few days, then the Marines-Fighters ichi-gun games in Chiba, and the Fighters-Buffaloes games at the Tokyo Dome. Then in theory I should be starting a job at the start of April.)
Anyway, yesterday a different baseball schedule came out, one that I had been waiting for for quite some time: the Tokyo Big Six University League Spring 2010 semester schedule. This will probably be my last semester watching these guys, and so I'm going to enjoy every last second of it. The opening day is April 10th; at 10:15am there'll be a big opening ceremony thing with the teams from all 6 universities, and then after that the traditional Champion-Stomps-Todai game will start with Meiji beating the tar out of Tokyo at 11am. (I'm assuming Yusuke Nomura will take the mound for Meiji and Yoshihiro Maeda for Todai.)
The prospect of college ball got me pretty fired up about the season starting, and I'm almost thinking of trying to see some college preseason games, mostly in the hopes of catching some of the younger players who won't end up playing at Jingu for a while.
On the other hand, it's a little sad when I think about all the seniors from last year who graduated and won't be around this year. Futagami, Ishikawa, Waizumi, and Kame-chan, Tomura and Ikarashi, Nakabayashi and Onodera and Urushibata, Yuichi Suzuki, Takayuki Chida, and even Hosei's little student coach dude Kentaro Abe.
So, now I'm trying to think more of the Top Ten Reasons I'm Psyched About Big Six This Year:
1) Kisho Kagami, Hosei, 4th-year, pitcher.
I've been told that I actually blush when talking about Kagami-kun sometimes. Heck, when I had to format and re-install my laptop recently, I also changed its name from Dragonbutt to Kagami. Seriously, despite him being injured for the spring 2009 semester, I still grew to love him more this year than I did last year, and he surpassed Ohishi-kun as my favorite college pitcher; partially because I started to hate Waseda this year, and partially because Kagami-kun just has this finesse and spirit that make him a lot of fun to watch pitch. It didn't hurt that the one time I got to meet him, he was really sweet and polite, too. He'll be the pitching leader of the Hosei team this year, and hopefully will have a fantastic year himself and get drafted, too!
2) Tatsuya Ohishi, Waseda, 4th-year, pitcher.
I know I've babbled about Ohishi-kun on here way too much in the past. Basically, he came to Waseda at the same time as Yuki Saitoh, but the first time I saw either of them pitch was at Soukeisen 2007. Everyone was making a big deal about the Saitoh kid, while I was like "...does nobody notice this freshman Ohishi who can throw 153 km/h?" Plus, the kid behind me was making jokes about "oishii-senshu" and "omae-senshu". Either way, despite that Ohishi doesn't seem to do so well as a starting pitcher (he'll do things like give up 6 runs in 4 innings as a starter, yet other times can flawlessly pitch 6 innings of relief and strike out 11), he's a kickass closer -- and even better, he's also a kickass shortstop and centerfielder and even a decent batter at that. I just hope they continue to use him as a closer this year instead of trying to convert him into a starter.
3) Kazuki Mishima, Hosei, 2nd-year, pitcher.
If you've never seen Mishima pitch before, and watch him walk out to the mound, you'll probably be thinking, "What the heck is the big deal about this kid? He's a little skinny twerp." And then he'll take a few warmup throws, and BAM, everything that comes out of his hand will cross the plate over 150 km/h (ie, in the mid-90's). Jesus. I've watched Mishima a few times and I have absolutely NO idea how the heck he does it, but the boy has SPEED. He's only slightly taller than me, so no idea if he'll ever get bigger or fill out more, but damn, what a deceptive body and delivery. Seriously.
Plus he's a nice kid and we have the same birthday.
4) Kazuki Nishijima, Meiji, 4th-year, pitcher.
Nishijima's one of those guys that kinda caught my heart for no apparent reason. I mean, he's tall and left-handed and went to Yokohama HS, and he's got talent and he's got power, but he's wildly inconsistent at times, which actually makes him somewhat exciting to watch. He managed to squeak out with the ERA title last year after Ohishi-kun flamed out in a start at the most lopsided Soukeisen ever. Kazuki's going to be a senior this year and probably trying to show off for scouts or recruiters; we'll see if he pulls it off. Oddly, with Bayashi gone, he might be one of the few significant lefty pitchers in the league this year.
5) Yusuke Nomura, Meiji, 3rd-year, pitcher.
Every time I see Yusuke Nomura's face, I'm drawn back to my first month living in Japan, sneaking out of my workplace to watch the final game of Koshien 2007, with Nomura pitching for Koryo against the miracle Saga Kita kids, making it within two innings of winning the entire thing, and then his arm gave out.
The crazy thing is, he's only gotten better in college, and under a normal workload has matured into a lot more of a pitcher and a lot less of a raw highschool talent. It'll be really interesting to see where he goes, and whether he becomes the ridiculously overrated man of the Big Six next year or not.
6) Kei Tamura, Keio, 2nd-year, pitcher.
I had such a ridiculous crush on Kei Tamura during Koshien 2008. He's tall, left-handed, and adorable, and pitched and hit and fielded and carried Keio's team pretty far in that tournament before they lost to Urasoe in the Best 8 round.
Now that most of the Keio players I was familiar with (the group of kids who were in the 2005 Spring Koshien with Keio HS) are gone, I was hoping to see the 2008 class take their place on the college level, and Tamura would hopefully become the next Nakabayashi. Or something.
7) Takashi Kihara, Todai, 4th-year, outfielder.
Now that Suzuki-kun is no longer playing for Todai, I had to pick a new player to get behind. I thought of maybe cheering for Iwasaki or Utsumi this year, but Kihara had two things going for him: 1) his name is funny because it looks like it should be "onihara" but it isn't, and 2) he hit a home run off Kazuhito Futagami last year, which was hilarious. While a "good player" on Todai's team would probably barely make it into the starting lineup for any other college in the league, it's still interesting to see when players show flashes of talent, so let's see if Kihara can have a nice senior year before moving on to become a government official or company president or whatever Todai graduates are supposed to do.
8) Yota Hirahara, Rikkio, 1st-year, pitcher.
Saw him at Koshien last year, pitching for Teikyo. Nuff said. I was pretty psyched when I heard he'd be going to Rikkio, though I would have been happier if he was at Hosei or Meiji.
(I thought about making this spot for Masahito Nihira, who actually is my favorite Rikkio player -- him and Yamada-kun -- but I'm really excited Hirahara is at Rikkio, despite that I will probably not get to see him play. Nihira, I've been watching him for 3 years now and really like him, but he's always been second fiddle to someone else; it'll be interesting to see whether he comes into his own as a senior like Kenji Tomura did last year.)
9) Kanji Kawai, Hosei, 1st-year, infielder.
Last fall, the colleges started mentioning which Koshien kids were going to be playing for them, which is always kind of exciting. However, Kawai-kun caught my eye for a particular reason: he's from Chukyodai Chukyo, the team that won Koshien this year, but not only that, in the game I saw him in, he hit a walkoff homerun to win the game for Chukyo. It was a nailbiter between Chukyodai and Kwansei Gakuin, and after this Kwansei kid Yamasaki had gone back and forth between being the pitcher and the catcher and pitcher and catcher and then BLAM, game over. Yeah, Dobayashi was the star of that team, but there were some other really good solid players there, and it'll be interesting to see whether Kawai can break into Hosei's team early kind of like Taki-kun did last year.
10) The ouendan and the marching bands!
Honestly, while I have no real desire to be IN the ouendan sections for the most part, due to their strict NO PHOTOS OR YOU DIE policy, it really is pretty fun to watch the huge groups of college kids yelling and cheerleaders in short skirts and guys in black ouendan jackets and marching band members running with sousaphones and waving flags and so on; just a very different atmosphere than normal baseball ouendan here, and certainly different than any college sports cheering that you'd find in the US, at least certainly for baseball.
I'm ready for baseball to start. Now if only the Tokyo weather would cooperate too.
I should mention that I have no idea whether any of the guys I've mentioned are injured or otherwise out of commission, though a quick scan revealed nothing in particular, so we'll see, I guess.
Tohto League has its schedule up as well, but I didn't have nearly as much of a chance to follow them last year. I'm rather fond of a Chuo University pitcher named Yuhi Yamasaki, though, and hope to see one of his games this semester, if possible... there's a LOT of good pitchers and players in that league, though.