Friday, May 07, 2010

A Post About The Seattle Mariners, For A Change

Or more like, a rant. Whatever, it's my birthday and I'll rant if I want to.

So, I went to Seattle for about a week as part of the Japanese holiday season known as Golden Week. Under normal circumstances, I spend Golden Week hiding in my house and/or going to college ballgames and other local stuff, and trying to avoid travelling or anything involving crowds, but this year I wanted to come spend some time with my boyfriend, who was crazy enough to take me to the Mariners game on Saturday. Which they lost 6-3:

I've been wanting to talk about the game for a few days, but it's really difficult. And really, it's not like anyone would be reading this blog to find out about a Mariners game any more at this point, so I can just rant without feeling any obligation to rant in a timely fashion.

There were two big things that were driving me nuts about being at this game:

1) No sense of being involved in the game, like a reason to actually BE there. I'm so used to Japan, where almost everyone who comes to the game has some emotional investment in either team, and I'm used to sitting in the outfield with a whole ton of people who are cheering and singing for each batter and hanging on every single pitch of the game. Without the ouendan, it's so quiet, relatively; all you can hear is booing, the murmur of people talking, occasional clapping, and uh, the cries of "BIG HUMONGOUS BEERS!" from certain beer vendors:

But seriously. I felt like I wasn't sure what to DO while watching the game. I used to say that baseball was a sport where it really was better to go to the stadium than to watch at home, but now I'm not so sure that it's quite so far apart as I once thought, at least, without cheering groups. Obviously there's a big difference between a full stadium and an empty stadium, and I'm sure players prefer being in the former, but for the most part, how exactly do people "support" a team in the US, really? I'm pretty sure that buying a jersey and showing up and yelling obscenities at the opposing team is not really the way to go.

I've been told that I should probably consider becoming a Sounders fan when I move back to Seattle, if I want to continue cheering and yelling and singing with a big group of people during sports events.

2) Do any of these players actually give a shit about the game? Do they actually PRACTICE fielding? At ALL?

I mean, in Japan, if a player isn't giving their all, if they're not running out a grounder or hustling towards a fly ball, or throwing it in with all their might, or whatever, they'll probably get taken out of the game and berated by the manager, possibly sent down to the farm team, and you might even see them apologize to the fans for their lack of effort. (Actually, I guess that doesn't happen all that often anymore, but I also don't usually see players goofing off in the field in Japan.)

I was astounded by how many miscues happened in this game on both sides. Some were hard plays, but some were just guys being dumb or lazy. It started with Milton Bradley in the 2nd inning basically letting a ball just fall for a single in left field -- like he had briefly forgotten he was actually playing baseball or something. I mean, there was this ball, and it was landing in front of him, and suddenly he seemed to go "Shit, I'm an outfielder, I need to uh, catch that?"

Supposedly, he thought Gutierrez was going to get it. So what? You run towards it anyway for backup. What if something happens to Guti? There's no excuse for that play. And the kicker? It wasn't called an error.

Then, right after making a fantastic field of a bunt, Michael Young let a ball go through him at 3B (also not called an error). The next half-inning, Jose Lopez repaid the favor by throwing the ball over first base, but apparently that ALSO wasn't an error. The guy in front of me claims that Matt Treanor might have been safe even if the throw hadn't been towards the upper deck, and it only would have been called an error if he got an extra base on the play, which he didn't. But he didn't get an extra base on the play because he ran through first and didn't even stop to turn around and see what was going on. And then some people yelled about interference. Whatever.

Elvis Andrus, two batters later, hit a grounder to short, and Jack Wilson picked up the ball, went to throw it to first, and literally dropped the ball on the ground behind him. Huh? (And why is the play not at second anyway?)

I finally got to write down the 6th or 7th error of the game as an actual error in the bottom of the 4th when another grounder to third didn't make it successfully to first base. Hooray!

Now here's something more messed up: Michael Young booted another grounder through first base, and it ended up going into the stands, and that was called an error. Fine. But then Gutierrez bunted, and the pitcher and the first baseman both charged the play -- and Ian Kinsler DIDN'T GO COVER FIRST, so the pitcher and 1B are standing there with the ball like "...who's on first?". I guess not bothering to work out who covers what play is also not an error, or a mistake at all?

The last play of the game that pissed me off was in the top of the 8th, where Julio Borbon was standing on second and Michael Young singled to center, and Gutierrez just kind of stood there with the ball for a second or two, waited for all the runners to be safe, and then threw it in. I fail to understand that one either. "Shit, there's no play at home" doesn't really fly for me; let a relay man deal with it then, you can still get the dude running from 1st to 3rd.

And as for "WTF is going on" moments on the field, someone's got to tell me why Vladimir Guerrero even thought about trying to steal second base in the 3rd inning.



I wonder why there's this perception that the MLB is so exciting, and that Japanese baseball is boring compared to it? I mean, in the MLB, so many of the players look so similar -- all around 6'2 or 6'3 and weighing 220-225 pounds, and built up so that they all pretty much look exactly the same when playing. Even before I moved to Japan, I always got really excited about players who were *different* in some way. I loved sidearmers and submariners, and guys who had different batting stances from the norm. Or guys who were only 5'9 and managed to make it to the show anyway, or guys who were 6'9 and had to wear high socks in the minors (I'm looking at YOU, Doug Fister).

I love how in Japan I don't even necessarily need to see a player's uniform number to know who they are, because I can recognize a lot of them from their build and their play style. With the Fighters, we usually see a pinch-hitter coming in all the way from the outfield, but it's not hard to tell who it is just by seeing the guy. It's odd, but for a country which is known for homogeneity and for everything being and looking the same, what I love about the baseball here is how unique every player is, and how you get to know a lot more about them and their history and their personality than you would with an MLB player.

I suppose a lot of people in the US don't really care about that kind of thing. And worse, because of how much money the players make and how elevated the celebrity status is, as well as how much they can get in trouble for interacting with fans (ie, photos from parties getting out on the internet, or even worse in some cases, like some of the things that used to surface here), that there's more of a wall up between them, and the players probably guard their personal lives even more than they would otherwise. But here in Japan, it is not really that impossible to meet a player if you really want to.

(Heck, this morning at my school, I had brought my Hichori Morimoto folder with me to a class of 7th-graders, and not only were we sharing stories about going to his parents' yakiniku restaurant which is relatively near here, but one of the other kids told me about another Teikyo HS grad named Takaaki Matsumoto who plays for the Hiroshima Carp now -- and who grew up 4 blocks from the JHS I teach at, and his parents run a restaurant there too. I knew he was Teikyo, but had no clue he was from this area!)

I get the feeling that most people who call Japanese baseball boring do so because they don't really know who the players are or any of the rituals behind the game, and if they learned about it, they'd see that it's just as interesting, if not moreso, than the American version.

So on another note, the player I was most excited to see in the game was this guy, Darren O'Day:

Since he came up to the pros after I left for Japan, I had barely really heard about him at all. But he's a sidearmer! And even better, he has some crazy stuff in his past. Like, apparently the day the Rangers claimed him off waivers, they put him in a major-league game and he didn't even have a uniform and he wore someone else's. And in another article it turns out he's got a bit of an intellectual side; apparently he studied to be a doctor, spent a significant amount of time working in hospitals and such, and that he basically had good medical school and law school test scores, but decided not to go in favor of trying professional baseball first. He picked his sidearm delivery up in his senior year at Florida as a way to get himself back onto the team, and went all the way to the college World Series.

I guess there are still interesting stories to be had in the majors sometimes.

And look who else I got to see play:

I didn't move to Seattle until 2002, so I've never been part of the Griffeymania. It vaguely reminds me of when Tatsunami was being the Uber-PH for the Chunichi Dragons last year, except I actually think Tatsunami was more likely to get a hit and help his team than Griffey is now. Still, I guess now I can say I've seen the guy play in a Seattle uniform.

Something I thought was funny is that they're giving away a "95 Slide" Griffey Bobblehead thingy to all fans 14 or under. But think about that -- by definition, those are all PEOPLE WHO WEREN'T ALIVE WHEN GRIFFEY'S SLIDE EVEN HAPPENED! Shouldn't it be a giveaway for "people who have lived in Seattle for at least 10 years"? I'm not sure how you'd prove that exactly.

And ranting side, I love the new scoreboard in left field, in full color and with the out-of-town scores on it:

I'm sure if I was back in the US and doing fantasy baseball again, this would be both the greatest thing ever and the worst thing ever -- greatest because I could keep up with all the other games going on, and worst, because I would never want to pay attention to the game going on in front of me. They not only show the score and the current pitchers, but also how many people are on base, and who is at-bat, and so on. It's pretty crazy. The display also looks quite nice for showing information about pitchers who come into the game or who are warming up in the bullpen.

On another note, I looked around the Mariners website just to try to get any context at all for what the heck is going on this year, and found an interesting article about Brett Merrick, who is an insurance salesman by day, and batting practice pitcher by night. The article is great and it's a really interesting story -- but me being me, I noticed they made a mistake in saying Tim Lincecum won two American League Cy Young Awards. I haven't even been living in the US for the last 3 years, and even *I* know that's wrong. Sigh.

Also, Eric Byrnes got DFAed, which is sad. I missed seeing him in a Mariners uniform by one day, apparently. It's a little sad because Byrnes was always one of my favorite A's players because he was just batshit crazy and always looked like he'd had a few too many cups of coffee on any given day.

On one final amusing note, I wanted a photo of us in front of Safeco Field...

The funny part is, I couldn't find anyone to take the shot. Every time I tried to approach anyone to ask, they either happened to walk off, or looked at me funny, or whatever.

Then I saw two Japanese guys walk by; one had a Hiroshima Carp Ogata #9 jersey and I had seen him in the Team Store a bit before, so I asked him in Japanese if he could take a photo, and he said sure! He took the photo (and knew EXACTLY what kind of "tourist shot" I wanted), and then commented on how I speak Japanese really well, so I explained I live in Tokyo and was just in Seattle for Golden Week. Turns out, so were these guys. They both live like 20 minutes from me and are huge baseball travellers. The Carp guy was actually from Hiroshima, and we talked about Colby Lewis and about Koichi Ogata and Tomonori Maeda and whatnot. It was great. I find it somewhat amusing that I feel more comfortable talking about baseball in Japanese than in English these days.

So, yeah, now I am back in Japan. Hooray?


Rakuten Golden Nate said...

This might be kind of a ramble because I had to wake up at 6:30 AM for my Japanese final today, but here it goes.

About the first point, it might be because you were at a Mariners game. It's been ages since I've been to an MLB game, but every summer I always go to Vermont Lake Monsters games, our Single A, Nationals affiliate. And even though it's held in this small baseball park that was built in 1906 and seats just under 4500, everyone in that park lives for the team, despite the fact that the last time they even got to the playoffs was 1996.

Sure, there's some old-fashioned heckling and such, but in the end, everyone comes together to root for the team. And because of it, it's always one of my favorite things to do in the summer.

That said, I can definitely see how one can feel more involved in the game at Japanese games. When I go to the Vermont Lake Monsters, because, well, they suck, there have been plenty of times where the games get boring or become blowouts. And then it just becomes a night of just chilling out in some nice weather while some baseball goes on in the background.

Meanwhile, when I went to the Fighters game at Tokyo Dome last summer, the Fighters were losing by a huge margin for the majority of the game, yet, I never had a moment where I felt bored. I felt that this was because of the ouenden. Even though, I wasn't sitting in the cheering section and I didn't know any cheers, I had a good time learning them and yelling and clapping along. I looked forward to when the Fighters came up to bat, just so I could do that.

I can't remember if I have ever mentioned this in here, but my friend's father is in charge of all the "utilities" (I guess that's what they'd be called?) at Meiji Jingu. For example, the garbage collection and the security staff are all managed by him. My friend told me that sometime ago, his father along with two marketing people with the Swallows went to the minor league affiliate in Albany to compare the differences in marketing baseball in America and Japan. Their conclusions were that, in America, baseball is marketed more as a thing to do during the summer. Kind of like a picnic or something you would do with family or friends. It is more about the social event than the baseball game. As opposed to Japan, where people mostly for the point of the baseball game. I agree. At the Fighters game, there was a single lone salaryman, drinking heavily and watching the baseball game. Rarely would you see such a sight at an American game.

In my opinion, I feel that both have their advantages and disadvantages. I really like the structured cheering at Japanese baseball games, but I also miss the opportunity just to yell out random crap. While American baseball games are fun because you can do that, but once the crowd dies, it becomes hard to pay attention. Neither is better than the other, they're just different.

westbaystars said...

Happy birthday?

westbaystars said...

- I get the feeling that most people who call Japanese baseball boring do so because they don't really know who the players are or any of the rituals behind the game, and if they learned about it, they'd see that it's just as interesting, if not moreso, than the American version.

This is why your book is so important.

Ted said...

I think the reference to the Sounders is right on. Though I think many people are into the game at Safeco, some fighting spirit and chanting and stuff like that could really liven things up.

And defense! I'm right there with you. There seems to be a certain sloppiness or maybe it's laziness in the field these days. It's almost reminiscent of the way players loaf it out of the batter's box. More discipline is needed, especially for the Mariners, who are supposed to be this amazing defensive team.

Deanna said...

Nate, you make several good points. I know that obviously, just like in Japan, different fanbases do things differently, and so some cities must get behind their team a lot more. I even remember that Oakland used to have some crazy people drumming in left field, which was kind of cool.

I actually noticed that Pittsburgh, after opening the new stadium and still having a crappy team, DEFINITELY seemed to have gotten their marketing to be "Come to the park with your friends and eat the food and watch the fireworks or rock music or mascot races... oh and by the way there is baseball too! You ever hear of baseball? It's what happens on a field sometimes that isn't the Steelers." Which sucks for people who actually DO want to watch baseball, of course.

You can yell out random crap in Japan too, you know :)

I tend to go to games by myself a lot in both countries, but I definitely have a better time doing it in Japan than I did in the US. The fact that there's a group to join and cheer with in Japan makes it so much easier.

And, hmm...

Westbay, thanks. I know my book is important, but I just have no time to write it when I'm actually in Japan, which seems like a catch-22, doesn't it?

Ted: you know what's funny? Even ICHIRO seemed more like a "major leaguer" than a Japanese player when I was watching him in the context of the Mariners. I swear he was different when with the WBC team here last year. Pretty crazy, huh?

Keith K. said...

Great post. Spot on in your assessment.

I went to a couple of A's games this year and didn't see the drummer guy. He was there last year but they are hurting for attendance including having a game with just 7000 there a couple of weeks ago. Google Brad Zeigler and you can read how much attendance is bothering him as a guy who pitched in front of more people at Triple-A Sacramento.

As for thoughts on the differences, I've only been to 5 games in Japan but you see it immediately in the states (barring Boston, NY, and maybe Wrigley)...people talk on cell phones, talk about anything but the game, arrive late and leave early. The lack of organized cheers sticks out immediately as it is contrasted by almost dead silence.

But look on the bright get to go back to Japan and watch games while I and others only have Justin TV feeds to rely on.

Thanks for all you post and I really enjoy reading it.

Megan said...

You really dropped by for a Mariners game during some of the most drama-ridden weirdness we've experienced in quite some time.
And yeah, the scoreboard-generated atmosphere kind of gets to me, too, after having gone to several Sounders games. The LF bleachers are preferable to the "good" seats. People talk about the game, and actually cheer for the players, rather than sitting around giving you dirty looks if you raise your voice for anything other than can't-hit-anymore Ken Griffey Jr. It's kind of ridiculous, but it's my team, and there isn't much I can do. :/