I was pretty busy last week with some personal obligations, notably that my boyfriend was visiting from Seattle, and other than taking him to the two Fighters games at the Tokyo Dome, and watching the Koshien finals together, I pretty much ignored baseball this past week.
Naturally, I had quite a few shocks when I was catching up on news.
Shock #1, which had actually been texted to me on Friday: Giants' Coach Kimura Takuya had a stroke and is in a coma. Apparently he was doing pre-game practice at the Carp stadium in Hiroshima and suddenly just collapsed; they used a defibrillator to revive him and took him unconscious to a hospital, where he has been for the last two days in intensive care. The diagnosis was a subarachnoid hemorrhage, bleeding in the brain, a kind of stroke. (Decent Mainichi translation here.) Apparently he is in the hospital but reports are that his condition has worsened and now people are praying for a miracle. I can't read medical Japanese very well and a lot of stuff hasn't come across in English yet, although I saw someone tried to update his Japanese wiki page to say he died today, which makes me also kind of freak out.
Look, you know I hate the Giants, but Kimutaku actually started out with the Fighters, and when I first came into the whole Japanese baseball thing, he was the Super Utility Man for the Hiroshima Carp. Much as I was always making fun of him and the way his name coincides with the prettyboy from SMAP, the truth of the matter is that Kimura was always a thorn in my side because he would always seem to find a way to come out of nowhere and be productive in any Giants game I watched. (Although he sucked in the Japan Series against the Fighters, so that was at least good.)
But you know what the really disturbing thing here is? He's going to be THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS OLD in two weeks, assuming he lives that long. He's only a couple of years older than me, for crying out loud! A guy who was in physical shape to be playing baseball professionally less than 6 months ago, who had a long and productive career, should NOT be falling over with a stroke at such a ridiculously young age. I feel pretty terrible for him and his family and hope he recovers, although it seems like a long shot at this point.
Shock #2: The Fighters traded Shintaro Ejiri to Yokohama for Yuya Ishii. This is more of a shock on a semi-personal level as Ejiri has been one of my favorite guys on the Fighters for years. He was one of the few players who's still around from when I first started following the team in 2003, and he's also the closest in age to me, being one week older. But what I always loved about Ejiri is that whenever you'd see him at Kamagaya -- or anywhere, really -- he always had a smile on his face and was ridiculously nice to everyone around him.
I was lucky enough to get to talk to him a few times, and my favorite Ejiri story is from when he was still retooling his delivery to more of a sidearm slot. I went to the May 2nd Fighters vs. Futures game at Kamagaya last year, and after the game Ejiri came past all of us regulars standing by the dorm, and he asked Ojisan if he had any photos of the inning he pitched. See, the minor-league pitchers sometimes don't get to see photos or video of their pitching until much later if at all, so he was really curious what he'd looked like. Ojisan had a few, though not many. Well, I love Ejiri so I'd taken like 50 photos of him or so, but was feeling a little too shy to butt in. Kazuya Murata's mother told me "Oh, you should show him these, he'll really appreciate it!"
So I scrolled to where I had the inning of him and told him I had a whole bunch of photos, and he took my camera and was looking through them, and was really excited about it, nodding to himself as he saw how he looked while throwing. He told me I took really great photos, thanked me, and then said in perfect English, "The Nikon D200 is a really good camera!" I giggled and thanked him. Turns out Ejiri loves digital SLRs, he even has a D90.
Ejiri also had a great back story, kind of like Satoru Komiyama, in that he didn't get into Waseda based on sports recommendations, but actually spent 2 years studying his butt off after high school to pass the entrance exam. The funny part is he originally wanted to go to Keio, so when he got into Waseda and started pitching really well, he made a point of trying to be a Keio-killer.
Ejiri's just the kind of guy you could really get behind as a player -- tall, smart, cute, positive, nice, etc. You know, the kind of guy you'd want as a role model for your kids. It's a shame he's had such streaks of greatness and mediocrity as a baseball player, and has largely sucked lately, because then I have to explain the Japanese fan mindset to people outside who don't really understand why people could totally love this guy.
It's also funny in that it continues my bad luck in which I get a photo with a player and they disappear from the team within a year or so. (I got Ejiri in September 2008.)
On that note I'm going to leave you with one of the cutest photos ever from when Sledge and Ejiri were game heroes last summer during Obon and Sledge's son was up on the podium with them. Well, and I'll also leave you with Ejiri's blog link since I got totally sidetracked catching up on it while I was writing this. I'm now really bummed out.
Shock #3: The Fighters suck.
No, really, WTF? Lotte is in first place at 9-2-1 as I write this and the Fighters are in last place at 2-8-1. Only Hiroshima's 1-7 record is worse than ours, even the Baystars have 3 wins to their name already. Ugh.
Shock #4: Shimabukuro and Konan HS managed to win Koshien!
This is not a shock exactly, but it is true that it seemed like a REALLY long shot at the beginning. Yosuke Shimabukuro is this kid from Okinawa who's been striking out batters at a ridiculous rate over the last year, but his team never gets past the first round when they go to Koshien. (Last spring he struck out 19 in a game and lost 2-0; last summer he went up against Imamiya-kun and Meiho and struck out 9 and still lost 4-3.)
So it's been interesting following them this year, especially since they did NOT have an easy route to that victory! Look at their games: 4-1 against Kanzei, 7-2 against Chiben Wakayama, 5-0 against Teikyo, 10-0 against Ogaki Nichidai, and the extra-inning nailbiting final 10-5 against Nichidai San. Those are ALL strong schools and he pitched 46 innings in 5 games, striking out a total of 49 batters with like a 1.17 ERA. He's not huge like Kikuchi and his max speed is 90mph or so, but he has a funky delivery and is left-handed and I'd bet you'll see him as a big name in this year's draft for sure.
I was, of course, cheering for Teikyo this year, and still am bitter that I didn't get to see them play in person thanks to the 2-day rainout, but I didn't mind seeing them lose to Shimabukuro-kun as long as he could win the entire thing, so that was good.
Oh yeah, something funky about the Koshien final game: both Konan's Ganeko-kun and Nichidai San's Yamasaki finished the tournament with 13 hits apiece, which ties them for the tournament hit record. The best part is that Yamasaki is Nichidai's pitcher. Go figure.